When lines touch, a shape is born

Learning to print shapes opens up the world of geometry and construction. Explorers of any age develop their own strategies and gain respect for the ideas of their peers when they work together to explore multiple solutions to the problem of how to use a line stamp to create a variety of shapes – both geometric and irregular.

Learning Objectives

When constructing shapes , children develop and practice: 

  • hand orientation
  • placement skills and understanding of spacing
  • multiple ways to solve a problem
  • planning skills
  • understanding differences between shapes
  • names of geometric shapes
  • using a beginning math vocabulary

Discovering Shapes

Stepping back from explorations, often with the help of a friend or teacher, offers a new perspective on one’s work, and can lead to many discoveries …

Calvin, age 3   Adam, age 4  

Calvin, age 3 A teacher helps a child notice a square and horizontal lines. Adam, age 4

Yoland's grandson

Constructing a shape – especially such an unusual shape, is a big achievement for a three-year-old!

While exploring horizontal and vertical lines, a child discovers that he has made a shape. The teacher reinforces his discovery by asking, Can you show me how you made that shape?

Squares: Two Strategies

Here are two ways to use line printing to construct a square. Each grows from a different way of perceiving and thinking.


To initiate a shape-making exploration, try asking, If you wanted to print a square, how could you do it? Listen for children’s answers and demonstrate according to their suggestions. To expand thinking and construction possibilities, and to show that there is more than one way to make a square, ask, Can anyone think of another way to do it?


Children demonstrate ways to construct and build with triangles.

Zoeth age 5 prints building roof

This kindergarten child [Zoeth, age 5] sets off to print the roof for a building. 

Vivi age 6 prints equilateral triangles

Another child [Vivi, age 6] uses her placement skills to create a design of equilateral triangles.

Watch Joseph (age 4) embellish his zig-zag line.


Repeating Shapes is a Way to Practice

Once a child discovers that she can print a shape, there is a desire to repeat a pleasurable experience

Repeating reinforces skills and offers the chance to improve and explore more possibilities [Grace, age 3].

Squares inside by Emma age 5

Emma, age 5


To encourage further exploration, pose a challenge based on what you observe: Can you show me how you made that square? Can you print a bigger square? ... a smaller square? Can you print inside a big square or around a small square?


A Connecting Exercise

This exercise (or game) encourages experimentation with shapes and space. It generates unusual shapes while also encouraging continued exploration.

Procedure: (Demonstrate while discussing)

Start at the edge of your paper.
Print a line
Each additional line must:

  • Connect to the last line, or
  • Connect to another line, or
  • Touch an edge of the paper

Daniel, a first grader, says he is working on shapes that don’t exist

When finished, look between the lines. What shapes can you find? One might discover many kinds of triangles, pentagons, hexagons, octagons…Ask, How do you know that shape is a ___? What are its identifying attributes?


Transferring Strategies to Other Materials

The physical act of constructing shapes and other forms with printed lines makes it easy and natural to transfer that ability to drawing, writing and painting.

Jessie age 4 & Neile age 4

When these friends finished printing, they decided to go to work at the easel. While observing them, I realized that the act of printing forms can transfer to other media when those media are available.


Add Color

Of course, color can be added to any line print – even if it is a very messy practice print. Just look for the areas between printed lines and color them in. Even a little bit of color adds a dramatic change! Use oil pastels, colored pencils, crayons, paints or a combination of studio materials to add color.

Hogwarts by Marina, first grade

Notice that Marina added found objects prints to her composition.

 group adds color to an earlier exploration

A group adds color to an earlier exploration.


A Shape Game

Make a set of shape cards on the back of blank index cards.

Directions: Hand out a shape card to each person. Encourage using the card to perceive shapes in the built and natural environment. Look up… Look down… Look all around. What shapes can you find? It can be more fun to work with a partner.

Taking a few moments to discover shapes is a helpful precursor to drawing. Keep clipboards or sketch pads handy for drawing shape discoveries.


Tape a Shape

Using tape is another way to practice the skill of constructing shapes.

cutting tape

1 & 2

tape as shape


taped shapes


decorate with tape




  • Attach the end of the tape to the table.
  • Cut strips(no longer than your hand).
  • Carefully press each strip of tape onto the paper.
  • Connect strips as you go.<
  • Can you tape a shape?
  • Decorate your design.


Paper Strip Construction


  • Cut paper strips about 1 x 9” long. Thicker paper works best!
  • Ask, How could I make a square (triangle, rectangle, etc.) from these strips?
  • Listen to the children’s instructions and demonstrate moving the strips according to their suggestions.

Getting Started:

  • Experiment with your strips. What shapes can you make? (no glue!)
  • Glue the corners and press them together.
  • Decorate with paper curls and smaller strips.

Mixed age classroom (ages 3-5)

Mixed age classroom (ages 3 – 5)

Adapted from Assemblage: a new dimension in creative teaching in action by Victor D”Amico and Arlette Buchman. Little Brown and Co. 1972


Blocks and Parquetry Tiles

Froebel Gifts 1-10

When Friedrich Froebel established Kindergarten, the first system for educating young children. He created a series of toys to provide children with focused educational experiences. Up until that time, toys were intended for amusement and education was provided through books and instruction. Froebel's Kindergarten used play as its engine. During his lifetime he codified the series of educational playthings, now known as Froebel Gifts.