Step 1: Gather materials.
- The book, The Secret Birthday Message by Eric Carle
- Shape hunt sheets (Sheets should have pictures of the shapes in the book—semicircle, star, oval, triangle, circle, rectangle—and a place where the children can draw these shapes once they identify and locate them in the room.)
- Ensure that there are objects that match the shapes around the room (If there aren’t, strategically place shapes cut out of construction paper around the room, such as a yellow star placed high enough for the children to plainly see it and high enough to represent a star in the sky.)
- Large poster paper and different-colored cutouts of all of the identified shapes in the book
Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.
Step 2: Introduce activity.
- Explain that today the children are going to go on a shape hunt. This is similar to a scavenger hunt in that you find hidden objects, but on this shape hunt, the children will locate different shapes around the room.
- Introduce the book. Say: “Before we go on our shape hunt, we will read The Secret Birthday Message by Eric Carle. In this book, a boy decodes a secret message by following the shapes in the book. We are going to find the same shapes on our shape hunt.”
- Look at the cover of the book. Ask: “What shapes do you see?” (stars, squares, rectangles) Ask: “I wonder if we will find these shapes on our shape hunt? What do you think?” The children might start to look around the room and call out various shapes that they see. Refocus their attention on the book and ask them to save their observations for their hunts.
- Read the book, The Secret Birthday Message. Read the secret message with the children.
- When you get to the part in the book that reads: “When the (shape of a half circle) comes up” the children will most likely chime in “sun.” Instead of the word “sun” in the book, there is a semicircle shape. Ask: “What shape is the rising sun?” Continue to ask the names of the various shapes included in the secret message.
- Continue to read the book. As you come to an object that represents one of the shapes (e.g. the oval-shaped boulder) identify the shape by taping your cut-out oval shape onto your large poster paper and writing “oval“ next to the shape. Leave space next to the shape so that you can write down a few objects that are in the shape of an oval. By the end of the book, you will have a poster that has identified the shapes in the book, as well as objects that have those shapes. For example: Cutout of oval → OVAL → egg, big rock, football, rug.
Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.
- Explain the shape hunt. Show the shape hunt recording sheets to the children and explain that they will now go on a hunt around the room to try to find the shapes that they looked at in the book. They can find the actual shape, or an object that is shaped like one of the shapes that they discussed while reading the book. Once the children have located a shape on their sheets, they are to draw that same shape next to the original shape to indicate that they have found the shape. If a child identifies a door as a rectangle, they can either draw a picture of the door or a picture of a rectangle. Shapes like stars can only be represented as stars and children might need assistance drawing this or other shapes.
- Explore the room. Encourage the children to go off on their own in search of the shapes. They might need some guidance as to where to look or how to look at the shape of an object.
- Share their findings. When all of the children have finished with their shape hunts, have them gather in front of the shape poster and contribute their findings to the poster. Add to the shape list by adding objects of different shapes or, in the case of the star, add places where you can find stars (e.g., the night sky, the American flag).
- Give the children a number of pre-cut tissue paper shapes in all different sizes and colors and have them create an “Eric Carle” collage out of the shapes. Use the book, The Secret Birthday Message or another Eric Carle book to model and show examples. www.eric-carle.com/EricCarleCollageMakingInstructionSheet.pdf
- Create an attributes chart of all of the shapes discussed during your shape hunt. Various-sized rectangles vs. squares, circles vs. ovals vs. semicircles and the triangle and the star. Compare and contrast the shapes and discuss what an attribute is with the children.
Step 4: Teach math vocabulary.
- Triangle: A pointy shape with three sides and three corners (e.g.,”A slice of pizza is a triangle.”)
- Square: A shape with four straight sides that are the same length or size and four corners
- Circle: A round shape that has no straight edges or corners (e.g.,”A wheel is a circle.”)
- Rectangle: A shape with four sides and four right angles
- Oval: A stretched-out circle that is shaped like an egg
- Hexagon: A shape with six straight sides and six corners (e.g.,”A stop sign is a hexagon.”)
Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.
Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
- Not easily identify the shape of objects
- Need to learn about one shape at a time
Home child care providers may:
- Modify the shape hunt to make it more like an egg hunt. “Hide” shapes in clear view and have the children collect one of each of the shapes discussed.
- Create a simplified shape poster to help the children identify their shapes. You can add a color twist to the shape poster by providing shapes of different colors. Once the children have found their shapes, have them sort the shapes by color on the poster (the blue shapes will be in one column, the red shapes will be in another column, etc.)
- Provide assistance when the children are looking for shapes. Help them to see the shapes of objects by asking them leading questions. Ask: “Is that window in the shape of a triangle?” (No) “What shape is that window?”
- Start by introducing just one shape (circle) and only go on a hunt for circles
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
- Be able to identify a variety of shapes
- Be able to draw and talk about the attributes of several different shapes
Home child care providers may:
- Provide a variety of shapes pre-cut from colored tissue paper or construction paper (allow the children to manipulate the shapes—flips, turns, rotations—and create a collage while working with the various shapes)
- Provide an opportunity for the children to compare and contrast shapes by identifying the various attributes of each shape
- The Secret Birthday Message by Eric Carle (New York: HarperCollins, 1986)
- Shape by Shape by Suse Macdonald (New York: Little Simon, 2009)
Music and Movement
- “Shape Up” by Jack Harttman www.songsforteaching.com/math/geometry/shapeup.htm
- Sing and act out “I Spy Attributes” by Ron Brown. www.songsforteaching.com/math/earlynumberscounting/ispyattributes.htm
Instead of looking for shapes indoors, look for shapes outside. You might need to strategically place some shapes around your outdoor space, but there is potential for greater creativity and more possibilities. A bird’s nest could be a semicircle, the leaves or top part of a tree could be an oval, a fir tree could be a triangle and there are infinite possibilities with clouds.
- Instructions by Eric Carle on how to create a collage of tissue paper shapes www.eric-carle.com/EricCarleCollageMakingInstructionSheet.pdf
- Play “Puzzle Shapes.” www.thekidzpage.com/learninggames/shapes.html
- Children help Purpy (a purple circle) find his favorite shapes in “Purpy’s Shapes.” www.sheppardsoftware.com/preschool/ngames/shapes.htm
- Online shape puzzle games www.cookie.com/kids/games/shape-shadow.html
- Ideas for teaching shapes to kids www.giftofcuriosity.com/20-ideas-for-teaching-shapes-to-kids/