Learning Shapes and Colors: Toddlers Master Skills Through Play

Learning Shapes and Colors: Toddlers Master Skills Through Play
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As children begin to play they are exposed to a variety of shapes and colors. As teachers work with young children they need to emphasize shapes and colors by using vocabulary that will eventually become absorbed by the child like a sponge. Other than toys, think about using art, books, songs, and manipulatives as tools for learning shapes and colors. Toddlers will love the hands-on approach for teaching these skills. Here are a few activities to try.

Color Lotto Game for Toddlers

This game helps toddlers recognize six basic colors (primary and secondary) as they match identical color cards to a master board. Prepare the playing pieces by cutting two squares from white poster board. Divide the cards into six sections. Color each section a different color; red, yellow, blue, green, orange, and purple. Cut out the sections from the one card and leave the other one uncut as the master card.

Place the colored master card on the table in front of the toddler. Present the single color cards one at a time and ask, “This is the yellow card. Where will we put it?” Demonstrate how the color card fits on the master card. Say to the child, “I’m putting the yellow card here, on the top of the yellow space.” Continue to present the color cards one at a time, encouraging the toddler to take each card and place it on the matching color of the master card.

Remember to name each color as you present the cards, but do not expect the toddler to repeat and understand all of these names at this developmental level. If the child does repeat your word, yellow for example, show your enthusiasm and encourage her to repeat the word as you play the game. Apply the color to other situations, such as, “It’s yellow like the flower in the vase” or “Yes, it is yellow like your T-shirt.”

Circle and Color Game

According to Jackie Silberg in her book Games to Play with Toddlers, she says, “toddlers learn from all of their experiences. When a child plays, she is developing listening, language, cognitive, motor, social, and self-esteem skills that are critical to her development.” Here is a game that is not only fun but also helps the child attain these skills.

Cut out several circles from two colors of construction paper, lets say red and yellow. Put the red circles on the floor in front of the toddlers. The teacher places her hands on the circles, touching them one at a time. As you touch them say, “I am putting my hands on the red circle.” Invite the children to copy you. Next, place yellow circles on the floor and say, “I’m putting my feet on the yellow circle.” Continue playing this game with the two colors and circles. Have the toddler repeat the color name with you. Talk about how the circle is round like a ball, showing a toy ball as you speak. Children at this age need plenty of visualization and word repetition to absorb the concept. After experiencing these two colors, you may wish to change to two new colors the next time you play.

Teaching About Shapes

Don’t expect toddlers to name all the shapes, but practice matching them in puzzles, or fitting them into holes of a form box. Let them play and try to find the correct hole by trial and error. Do not intervene unless the child is unsuccessful and you can then help before the toddler gives up or loses interest.

Think about using other manipulatives to make shapes like building blocks and other connectable pieces. Shapes can be drawn around templates with crayons or engage in painting onto cutout paper shapes. Play dough is another medium to construct shapes. Roll out snakes and turn them into squares, triangles, and circles.

A child between the ages of one and three is the perfect age to begin learning in a more structured way. Try reading some of these books, along with the above activities. Toddlers learn by repetition so make sure to incorporate these types of activities into their daily schedules.


  • Photo credit: by ausbar http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/92212
  • Infant/Toddler: Introducing Your Child to the Joy of Learning by Earladeen Badger, Ph.D. [McGraw-Hill, 1981]
  • Games to Play with Toddlers by Jackie Silberg [Gryphon House, 2002]