Geometric Solids: 3D shapes for kids

An ice-cream cone, a gift-wrapped box, a basketball, a can of soup--all these are geometric solids (3D shapes) that are common in our world.

Children in first to third grade are beginning to learn the names of these shapes. Even though they learned the 2D names for shapes a long time ago (square, circle, triangle, and so on), the solid shapes have names they may not have heard of. These are:

Rubic's Cube
can cylinder with can opener
safety cone
rectangular prism box
rectangular prism

These are all pretty straightforward, except maybe the rectangular prism. A rectangle is anything that has four sides and four right angles. A rectangular prism is the 3D version of this shape. A cube is actually a type of rectangular prism, but all its sides are the same size.

Learning the Geometric Solids

There are two things that make it tricky for kids to learn the names of these 3D geometric solids. First, these are words that we just don't use all that much. The 2D words (square, circle and so on) come up all the time, but when was the last time you talked to your child about a cylinder?

drawing of 3d cube

The second thing that makes elementary geometry frustrating is that most school assignments use drawings of 3D objects, not actual objects. Unfortunately, many kids can't make sense of these 3D drawings. A picture of a ball still looks like a "circle", and a 3 dimensional box is just an odd-looking square to kids' eyes.

To teach kids about 3D objects, we need to show them 3D objects. That's why geometric solids are so great. They are shapes that kids can touch, hold, and see in their natural forms. When they see everyday objects that match these shapes, the connection will be much clearer.

Which Ones Should I Buy?

There are three sets I love: two basic sets and a deluxe model. Here is why I like them:

Basic Foam Set: Lightweight, quiet, faux wood looks good, a comfortable size, nice value. They do the job of helping young kids learn the basic shapes.

Foam Geometric Shapes In later grades, kids will be taught more 3D shapes. This set has all the shapes to last through the elementary years.

Folding Geometric Shapes This set is absolutely amazing. The geometric shapes are hollow, so you can fill them with water or sand to compare volume in measurement. And each shape has a removable "net"--the 2D form that folds into each 3D shape. Kids will work a lot with nets in 5th grade and up, and this set gives kids an early start while making geometry fun and exciting.

I also highly recommend some kind of set that lets kids build their own geometric shapes. My personal favorite is Polydrons, but children tend to have trouble putting these together until about third grade. Magformers are a great alternative that are easy for small hands to manipulate.

Learn more about First Grade Geometry.


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey