Happy Lesson 8 Understanding Maths - Shape and Measure

Maths is a subject that many people find difficult to engage with. When I start talking to people about Maths it often brings out negative comments relating to their confidence with it. As a teacher I recognise this is because of their early association with Maths; when they learnt processes rather than concepts and never really developed an understanding of the subject. In this blog and Happy Lesson 7 I want to help parents understand better the development behind the number and non number side of Maths (Shape and Measure)

Understanding Maths - Shape and Measure

Young children need to have fun physically investigating Shape and Measure in order to develop their knowledge and understanding. Luckily there are loads of opportunities in the local environment or through games and activities in the home. I have had a think about how you can do this and come up with some suggestions to help you help your child develop these skills.

Names and Properties of 2D shapes

What is a 2D shapes. 2D shapes are the shapes you draw but can't pick up. They have only 2 Dimensions (2D) which are height and length but no depth. You cannot touch or pick up a 2D shape, you can only see it. Your child’s initial exposure to these shapes will probably be through play and the world around them. By talking to your child about the shapes you see, such as a square shaped window or a circle shaped table they will start to develop an understanding of these shapes. 

By the end of Year 2 your child should recognise and describe a triangle, circle, semi circle, square, rectangle, diamond, pentagon (5 Sides), hexagon (6 Sides) and Octagon (8 Sides) by its properties. This means knowing how many sides, points or corners a shape has regardless of its size. 

The following activities can help develop this understanding:

Go on a shape treasure hunt, this is very popular

Play shape eye-spy, describe the shape in clues

Create pictures with your child using sticky coloured shapes, and name and discuss the properties of the shapes you have used together.

Put some pictures of shapes in a bag. Pull 1 out at a time and show your child it, then ask them to name it. They get a point for each one they know - children love getting points :-)

       Once they can name the shapes, describe the shape by its properties and ask them to tell you the name of the shape.

Sort pictures of 2D shapes by their number of sides or corners.

Play shape bingo

Names and Properties of 3D shapes

Many of the same activities that help develop your child’s understanding of 2D shape will also help develop their understanding of 3D shape. However it is important for your child to understand the difference. 

A 3D shapes has 3 Dimensions (3D); length, height and depth. A 3D shape is sometimes called a solid shape; you can pick it up, turn it around and actually feel it. The sides (faces) of a 3D shape are flat 2D shapes e.g. a cube has 6 square faces. 

By the end of Year 2 your child should be able to name and describe a cube, cuboid, sphere, triangular based pyramid, square based pyramid, cone, triangular prism and cylinder by their properties.

The following activities can help develop this understanding:

Build junk models together using solid shapes. Discuss what shapes you have used and their properties

Put shapes in a "feely bag", can they guess them through touching them and describing what they feel?

Describe a solid shape by its properties, can they see it in their head and tell you its name? 


Children love to measure and compare things. When introducing height make sure your child understands that height is measured from the ground upwards. Teach them the correct language, if you are comparing height you might ask how tall or short something is. They can find the answer by measuring it using non-standard measures such as bricks (how many bricks high is it, rather than how many centimetres). You could then ask, which one was the tallest and which one was the shortest. As they master this concept they will be able to compare more than 2 objects and will have to describe an object as taller than or shorter than.

Put their toys in height order.

Measure how tall their toys are.

Create a family height chart.


Many children confuse length and height. It is important to explain that length is measured across something, not up and down it. Length is measured from left to right and all the objects must start at the same point; just like the starting line in a running race. The object that stretches the furthest across, is the longest. The object that stretches the least across, is the shortest. If you have more than 2 objects to compare you will need to compare if they are longer than or shorter than the other objects. Once again you can measure objects using non-standard measures such as crayons e.g. how many crayons long is it?

Put their toys in length order (lie them down next to each other).

Measure how long their toys are using crayons or bricks.

Draw around your family's feet or handspans (from the tip of your thumb on an outstretched hand to the tip of your little finger), cut them out and compare and measure the lengths.


Like all mathematical concepts learnt in the early stages, Capacity is best learnt through play. All you need are some plastic bottles or cups in the bath/sandpit or even a tray full of rice or dried pasta. The first step is to teach your child about empty and full, then show them nearly empty, nearly full and half full. Once they have mastered these, they can pour one full container into another of a different size or shape. If the new container is not full, you need to explain we know it can hold more than the original container. Alternatively if it reaches the top and pours over the sides, the new container holds less than the original one. Discuss these concepts with your child and then ask if they could use something to measure the capacity of these containers. Hopefully your child will suggest using a cup or small bottle, if they don‘t, you just suggest it to them. Now show your child how to measure capacity by finding how many cupfuls each container holds, this will later help your child understand the concept of standard measures such as grams or litres. Always talk about what you are doing together and most of all let them have fun investigating!


Children always enjoy measuring weight in role-play and cooking and this really helps their conceptual understanding. A simple balance scale and some pretend fruit make a great market stall. Show your child how the pan goes down if the fruit is heavy and up if it is light. Help them use comparative language; the apple is the heaviest and the orange is the lightest. Can your child compare more than 2 fruits, so they can establish which fruit is heavier than or lighter than another? When cooking together show your child how you measure ingredients, by explaining the practical application of weight they will start to understand how and why weight is measured. 


At this stage money should be kept very simple. Familiarise your child with the different coins to £1. Using pennies show them that a 5p coin is worth 5 pennies and a 10p coin 10 pennies and if they grasp that move on to a 10p is worth two 5 pence pieces. Initially they may find this difficult. The important concept is that the number of coins does not often relate to the value of the coin. This understanding will give your child a good grounding for learning more about the relationships between coins in later years. 


Time is one of the hardest measuring concepts to grasp. Before introducing minutes or hours you need to help your child experience other measurements of time. Teach your child the days of the week and the months of the year. Explain that years can also be measured in seasons (Summer, Winter, Autumn, Spring). Discuss how our days can also be measured in morning, afternoon and evening. Can your child tell you something special that they do at these particular times of day e.g. eat their breakfast in the morning, watch TV in the afternoon and go to bed in the evening? Developing an understanding that time is a measurement of our lives going by is very important. Now your child needs to learn what a minute feels like, a minute sand timer is great for this. Ask your child to see how many jumps they can do in a minute or how many pieces of jigsaw they can build in the same time. Help them understand if they do more things in a minute, they are doing them faster and if they do less, they are doing them slower. Only when your child has mastered all these concepts will they be ready to be introduced to hours, half hours, quarter hours (to and past) and minutes. This may prove to be a challenge until around 7 or 8 years of age.

Remember that every subject has a developmental process but probably none more so than Numeracy. If the early concepts are not mastered it becomes progressively more difficult to develop understanding and master future concepts. 

I hope this helps!
Take Care

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