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Sorting shapes (a fun math activity for young children)

Sorting shapes featured image

A fun shape sorting activity for young children. Great for identifying and naming basic 2D shapes.

So today’s sorting shapes activity was inspired by the ever-fabulous kids’ show Sesame Street. We’re all huge fans in this house.

Today’s episode was called Shape Hunt and our favourite Sesame Street characters were out and about trying to spot different shapes around the neighbourhood.

This gem of an episode got us thinking about a shape activity of our own. And so today’s post was born.

Today’s post is all about a simple yet really fun math activity for young children. The goal here is to get your child identifying, naming and sorting some basic 2D shapes.

So, let’s get going!


For this activity I used three cardboard ‘mailboxes’. Each mailbox is just a cardboard box with lid. I used a sharp knife to cut out a long, thin rectangle in the front so that things can be posted inside.

cardboard mailbox for shape sorting activity

The mailboxes are awesome and can be used for a whole variety of activities. If you don’t want to buy boxes especially for this activity, Kleenex boxes would work fine (you could either post shapes through the hole on top, or make a thinner rectangular slit in the back of the box).


Using coloured construction paper, I cut out three different shapes – circles, triangles and rectangles. To make the cutting-out part speedier, I put 6 or 7 pieces of paper in a pile and cut the shapes all at once. I ended up with about 30 different shapes altogether.

paper circles, triangles and rectangles

You could cut out whatever sort of shapes you want to practice. As I had 3 mailboxes, I chose 3 different shapes – circles, triangles and rectangles.

I would recommend making all the shapes the same colour so the different colours don’t become distracting.

I then taped a different shape onto the front of each of the mailboxes.

3 cardboard mail boxes, each showing a different shape

Let the shape sorting begin!

Once we had our shapes ready to go and our 3 mailboxes ready, it was time to hide the shapes.

With my kids temporarily in the other room, supposedly not peeking, I scattered the paper shapes around the downstairs of our house. (I didn’t make it terribly hard to find the shapes as I wanted them to find lots of shapes so they had lots of practice at sorting them).

Then, on hearing my holler of ‘READYYYYYYY!!!!!’, my kiddos started hunting for shapes and bringing them over to the mailboxes.

Once at the mailboxes, they had to match the shapes they had found to the picture on the front of each box. So all the circle shapes had to be posted into the box with a circle on the front etc.

I hung out at the mailboxes, as this was a great spot from which to annoy my kids with some ‘helpful’ math questions, such as: “what shape have you got there?” and “Ooo, a triangle! Which box does that go in?” etc.

My kids kept hunting for shapes and posting them into the mailboxes until there were none left to find.

When all the shapes had been sorted, we opened up each box and counted how many of each shape were inside. If we spotted a shape that was not in the right box, we would pick it out, talk about what shape it was and why it didn’t fit (ie. “this shape is in the circle box and yet it has 3 pointy corners!”). We would then post it into its correct box. My toddler joined in with this shape sorting activity and so we had quite a few shapes turning up in random places…

Having counted the number of shapes in each box, we then wrote the numbers on our whiteboard. This was a nice way to tie up the activity whilst also being a good excuse to do a bit of counting.

whiteboard with number of shapes recorded.

Variations on this shape sorting activity

So, there are a couple of ways you can vary this activity.

For example:

1. Try sorting some different shapes

Once your child has become more familiar with a couple of shapes, change it up and try sorting some others! If you’re doing this activity with a slightly older child, you could try introducing pentagons, hexagons and octagons.

2. Sorting shapes by their properties

If your child knows their basic shapes pretty well, you could instead sort shapes according to their properties. For example, you could sort shapes according to their number or sides, number or corners, or whether they have straight or curved sides.

3. Try sorting some real-life shapes

I’m a big fan of connecting math to everyday life when possible. With this in mind, why not try sorting some real life shapes?

To do this, I put together a selection of small toys or objects of different shapes and we sorted these objects into the correct boxes (depending on the age of your child, please make sure you do not use objects that are small enough to pose a choking hazard).

For example, we used: a measuring tape, Duplo block, a puzzle piece, note book, coin, wooden shape, cheese triangle and a sponge… you get the idea!

everyday objects for shape sorting activity

We then sorted these items according to their shape and then posted them into the correct mailboxes (and then promptly ate the cheese triangle).

Again, this makes a nice opportunity to talk about the shapes as you sort them. When your child decides the coin goes in the circle box, ask them how they know. They may say something like ‘because it’s round” or “because it has no corners” or sometimes you may get the classic response of “because I just know!” (and that’s fine too).

Final words

I hope this post has given you some ideas for some shape sorting activities to do with your kids at home or in the classroom. My kids found this activity really fun, mostly I think because they loved posting things through the different mailboxes.

The basic shape-sorting activity is great for preschoolers, but it’s also really easy to make this activity a little more challenging too.

Thanks for reading today’s math post. Happy shape sorting!

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