Art and Math

Making Shapes with 4-&5-year-olds…

…. which includes blowing bubbles with Platonic Solids

Shapes made with cubed potatoes and toothpicks
Shapes made with cubed potatoes and toothpicks

The local program for rising kindergartners has begun, and once again I get to hang out with these kids, once a week for 6 weeks, doing all sorts of explorations that have to do with paper projects, with relationship thinking and with numbers.

This group of kids, about 15 of them, seem to have a good grasp of number recognition so we’ve jumped right into playing with shapes.

Circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles are already part of these kids vocabulary. One boy volunteered the alternate name for diamond is rhombus. I’m going to have to work hard to keep ahead of these young scholars.

Pirate hat
Pirate hat

Since our first project was going to be making a paper hat, we talked about triangles for a good bit. Some schools that I work with don’t want children to talk about all the different kinds of triangles, as the only one the kids see for quite a few years is the triangle with equal sides. The kindergarten teacher from the local school gave me the go ahead to talk about all kinds of triangles, so that’s what we did.  I heard some really interesting comments from the kids, comments that got me thinking about these shapes in ways that I hadn’t considered before.

Rotations of an Equilateral Triangle
Rotations of an Equilateral Triangle

There was some hesitation from the kids about saying that differently proportioned three-sided shapes were all triangles. Then one boy pointed to differently proportioned triangles and suggested that these are different sides of a triangle. This got me wondering if  different triangles could be seen as the same triangle seen from a variety of vantage points.  I came home and tried out rotating equilateral triangles in my Adobe Illustrator program, and, oh my, yes, seeing the same triangle from multiple perspectives gave the same triangle  different appearances. What an interesting discovery!

Eight Jewels
Eight Jewels

Each child received this array of jewels to use as decoration on their hats.  I asked them to please count the jewels that I gave them to make sure that they each got 8 of them. These children recognize the number 8, they can count to eight, but they counted the amount in the photo above as 6 or 7 or 9 jewels. This was good for me to notice, as it will inform planning for my next session with the kids.

How to Make a Paper Hat out of Newspaper
from post

The hat making went well. I will likely do some kind of paper-folding every time I meet with these kids.

Shadow of a cube
Shadow of a cube

Next (well, after a snack) we went outside and played with the shapes that are featured at the top of this post. The shapes were created with cubed potatoes and toothpicks. We talked about what their shadows might look like, then, mounting them on a knitting needle, looked at all the surprises that showed up on the ground. This was such a great activity (as long as the sun was shining.) It wasn’t easy for them to get this flower-like shadow, but they badly wanted to create it, and did, discovering lots of other surprising shadows along the way.

Dipping 3d shapes
Dipping 3D shapes

Next we dipped the shapes into bubble mixture that was laced with a bit of glycerin to give the bubbles extra staying power. We talked about what shapes the bubble might make within the confines of the shapes’ boundaries. I can’t even begin to tell express how amazingly rich and interesting this activity is. I highly recommend this. Especially surprising is the shape that forms within the cube. Go try it. Please. Or at least look at this video, made by the Lawler family from their post 

One thing I told the kids at the outset of this project is that Mr. Lawler had warned me that the kids would want to pop the bubbles as soon as the shape emerged from the bubble mixture, so I suggested that we do some running around and popping bubbles before we moved into the observing part of this project. These 4 and 5 year-old were aghast at the suggestion that they might pop the bubbles, and assured that this would not happen. Unbelievably, they did not pop the bubbles.

What shape bubble does a cube make?
What shape bubble does a cube make?

Instead, then blew into the shapes and created more bubbles.

What shape bubble does a tetrahedron make?
What shape bubble does a tetrahedron make?

And more bubbles.

Square bubble maker
Square bubble maker

When the cube broke apart, bubbles were blown through square shapes.

And then it was time for another snack.

I’m loving this time I’m spending with this age group.

In searching for wisdom to inform my planning I’m revisiting posts on and 


This morning I came across this video by dad and educator Kent Haines, that I wish every parent would watch.

The next few weeks these kids and I will be talking about numbers, shapes, how when one thing changes, another thing changes (especially with shadows), we’ll be getting those little fingers to fold paper, attempt to tie knots, make patterns, and run around and have fun.

kids in hats
kids in pirate hats

Argh! Shiver me timbers!


6 thoughts on “Making Shapes with 4-&5-year-olds…

      1. The shadows stuff was sheer genius. A totally brilliant way of exploring links between three-dimensional objects and their 2D images.

        How on earth do children make sense of most of the things we give them? The child’s world is totally three-dimensional, so we ignore that and teach them about two-dimensional abstractions, assuming that in some way these artificial constructs are easier to work with than real objects!

        And not only is their world three-dimensional, the objects in it – food, clothes, people, animals – are all amorphous. So as soon as we can, we give them books with pictures of our artificial abstracts, and much of shape work in school consists of little more than learning the names of these things rather than actually doing anything with real items.

        Your children have mastered a terrific amount about this two-dimensional stuff. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but Joel Hamkins folding and cutting work is great. I’ve only used the ideas with ten-yearolds, but the idea of how do you fold paper so that a single straight cut gives a square window seems a natural for your pupils.

        All good wishes, Alan


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