Shapes are everywhere: 5 ways to explore shape outdoors

Look in any direction and your eyes will fix upon a shape- a rectangular screen, a circular table, a square vase- our world is made up of 2d and 3d shapes. Children start to explore shape from a very early age; playing with small puzzle toys and building with blocks, they begin to develop spatial visualisation. From there, they can start to learn the names and properties of shapes. So let’s take a look at five ways we can utilise the outdoor learning environment to enhance inquiries into shape.

Looking for shapes

A great and simple way to get children to start thinking about shape is to go on a shape hunt. In your outdoor learning space, or on the playground, challenge children to find shapes. You can either focus on one shape, encouraging children to compare size and orientation, or supply them with a list of different shapes to search for. You can differentiate the challenge by giving children a list of shape names or showing them an image. 

You can also encourage children to observe shapes everyday by highlighting existing shapes on your in and around your space, as you can see in the photo of our shed below.

Sorting shapes

Whether you have a basket of Autumn treasures or a bucket of stones, invite the children to look for shapes. Find different ways to categorise the objects. Conkers can be circles, acorns are natural ovals, and ooh, how many sides does this stone have? Guess my rule is a fun game to complement this activity. After sorting a handful of objects, a child shows their groupings and says “guess my rule” then everyone else tries to work out the parameters they used to sort their shapes. 

Making shapes

There are so many fun ways to make shapes using natural materials. Here are some quick examples:

  • Grab some pots of seasonal treasures (leaves, acorns, pinecones etc) and challenge the children to make regular and irregular shapes. Using sticks and conkers, they can also identify the sides and corners. You can let the children create their own shapes or give them a template to work on top of. 
  • Add in some tool and measurement work by giving the children clippers and sticks. Using a pre-drawn template, children can measure the length of stick they need to cut to create each side of a given shape. 
  • Not sure what to do now with all the little sticks that have been cut? Use the sticks and air dry clay to make shape decorations. Count the sticks (sides) and balls of clay (corners) as you create! 
  • If you feel like getting a little messy, you can also bring out the mud! Mix it with water and get out the paint brushes to paint shapes, or create a thicker mud that you can mould with your hands to make many different shapes. 

Shape challenges

Looking for a brain teaser to get your students engaged? Try creating some challenges that allow them to think both mathematically and creatively. Here’s an example that always sparks excitement;

Using 9 sticks of equal length, can you create 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 complete triangles?

For each challenge, children must use all 9 sticks. Once they have made 1 complete triangle, they can collect the sticks up and make 2 complete triangles using all 9 sticks and so on. It is always interesting to observe the different solutions that children create to solve each challenge. Sharing solutions together also allows students to learn from each other and have conversations about shape. 

Shape patterns

Shapes can also be used to create repeating patterns. You can explore shape, size, colour and orientation as you use natural materials to create and continue patterns. You can create transient patterns that can be tidied away at the end of the session, or make your patterns into decorations that can be hung from trees or donned as necklaces. 


So there you have it, whether you have 10 minutes or 10 sessions, there’s an activity that can bring learning about shape to life in a fun and practical way. 

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