How to: Learn the properties of 2D and 3D Shapes

We have arrived at the second of Whizz Education’s ‘how to’ blog articles, in which we help you to teach your children the foundational skills that will transform them into master mathematicians!

Why Learn about Shapes?

Shapes are everywhere. Learning about shapes not only helps children to understand and organize visual information, but also develops their skills in other key subject areas such as reading, math and science. For example, an early step in understanding numbers and letters is to recognize their shape. Learning about shapes helps children to understand other signs and symbols.


Geometry – learning about surfaces, shapes and their arrangement in different spaces – features in the school curriculum for every age group. The ability to recognize and talk about the properties of shapes is considered an important skill to master.

Learning about shapes can improve your child’s spatial awareness, their ability to describe and compare objects, their awareness of how objects fit together and tesselate within patterns and even their capacity to problem solve, perhaps providing the basis for future understandings of architecture, fashion, or engineering.

What does 2D and 3D mean?

Students begin by learning about the properties of ‘flat’, 2D (or two-dimensional) shapes, including polygons. These shapes can be drawn using straight lines on paper with just two dimensions, for example, length and width. Two-dimensional shapes with curved edges, such as a circle, are also introduced.

Students move on to identify and discuss 3D (or three-dimensional shapes) with the three dimensions of width, length and height. These shapes are solid structures and can only be drawn on paper using perspective to give the impression of a third dimension.

What are the properties of shapes?

The properties of shapes relate to the way we define and differentiate between different shapes by, for example, the number of sides, corners or lines of symmetry they have. Here are some questions that give the properties of shapes:

  • Is the shape 2D or 3D?
  • What is the width, length (and height, if relevant) of the shape?
  • How many sides does the shape have? Are the sides straight or curved? How many edges does the shape have if it is 3D?
  • How many angles does the shape have? Are they acute, obtuse or right-angled? What is the size of the angle in degrees? How many vertices does the shape have if it is 3D?
  • Is the shape regular or irregular? (Meaning: are all the angles the same size and the sides the same length?)
  • Where is the line of symmetry of the shape? (Meaning: where could the shape be folded or cut to produce two of the same shapes?)
  • How many faces does a 3D shape? (Meaning: how many flat surfaces can you count)

By the end of their school career, children are expected to be able to name and speak about the following shapes:

2D Shapes:

3D Shapes:

Activities for the home

Learning about shapes should be a slow and steady progress from Kindergarten to Grade 8. You can help your child in small ways to gain confidence in identifying, naming and comparing the properties of shapes as they grow.

Starting Kinder through 2nd, children learn to identify and name shapes to sort them into groups.

Elementary pupils begin to draw and compare shapes, speaking out loud about their properties.

Middle school students practice these skills with increasing confidence and speak about a greater range of shapes with increasingly complex properties.

To begin with, why not try out some of the following free Math-Whizz games on the properties of shapes for Kindergarten, Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5, Grade 6 and Grade 7. Here is our ‘Making Math Stick’ workbook for grades one to six, including plenty of exercises to help kids experiment with their knowledge of shapes.

Here are some fun activities you might consider doing with your child:

  •  Cut shapes from sugar paper or draw shapes on paper and count their sides and corners (move on to make nets of 3D shapes and count edges, vertices and faces)
  • Point out shapes in your surroundings and name them together
  • Find household objects of different shapes and sort them into categories based on different properties
  • Print a picture and draw regular shapes around different parts of the picture (for example, a bowler hat might be represented by a rectangle and a square)
  • Create a poster with all the shapes you know and their properties (periodically update the poster)
  • Try to include sentences starters like ‘how many vertices does our cupboard have?’ in conversation with your child

Engaging with the different properties of shapes can be made fun in the home and will help your child to thrive in the long run.

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