Materials to Support the Geometry and Spatial Awareness (page 2)
Children in the early childhood years are learning to name and describe shapes. They are also learning to transform shapes and describe spatial relations. As children become familiar with shapes they are able to form mental images (NCTM, 2000). When providing materials for geometry and spatial awareness, it is very important to be aware of children’s common misconceptions. This is especially crucial for early childhood teachers because concepts of two-dimensional shapes (whether right or wrong) become stable as early as age 6 (Clements, 2004). So what are the common misconceptions?
Because children are often introduced to only prototype shapes such as an equilateral triangle, they often mistakenly believe that any triangle that does not display the same orientation or symmetry is not a triangle. To prevent this misconception, it is very important to give children a variety of examples of each type of shape (shapes that are different sizes and that have different orientations). Children also need to see both examples and nonexamples (Clements, 2004). For example, when you are introducing triangles, include many types of triangles (acute, right, obtuse, and equilateral), but also include nontriangles (three-sided objects with a wavy line, or a three-sided object with an opening).
Another common misconception occurs when teachers teach squares and rectangles separately instead of teaching that squares are a special type of rectangle. Rectangles are a type of parallelogram. Parallelograms are a specific form of a quadrilateral. Obendorf and Taylor-Cox (1999) advise that we first introduce children to quadrilaterals by encouraging children to explore a variety of four-sided forms. Then have children classify these forms into different categories. Discussions should focus on sides and points. Below are sample activities to enhance geometric thinking:
- Games—Create a “belongs and does not belong” game where children sort objects or cards by a certain attribute such as circle/not a circle. Other games that involve shapes include concentration with different types of shapes, shape bingo, or twister.
- Feeley box shape activity—Create a feeley box by cutting a hole in a heavy cardboard box and adding a sock cuff to the hole. Place differently shaped objects into the box. Children can draw a shape card and try to find an object in the feeley box that matches that shape.
- Picture shape cards and materials for children to use in creating shapes (clay, Tinker Toys, toothpicks and plasticine, a geoboard). Varying the items used to create shapes enhances interest. Children draw a card and then create the shape using the materials.
- Legos, Unifix cubes, Cuisenaire rods, pattern blocks, tangrams, and parquetry blocks along with graphics and diagrams for children to create pictures and objects (Golbeck, 2005). In addition to premade cards, at Burlington Little School, preschool children take digital pictures of their designs. These are printed and placed in a three-ring binder allowing children to recreate their own and others’ designs.
- Mirrors so that children can explore the line of symmetry (the line where both halves are the same).
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