"If You Can Make a Circle": A Simple Way to Use Art to Teach Shapes

the beauty of a circle

Exploring the beauty of shapes

I've been struggling finding engaging activities for our homeschool preschool, but this morning, as usual, it was she who showed me an activity we could both enjoy and learn from. Letting the child lead is truly the wisest principle for early childhood education in our household. She's a much better teacher and initiator than I am.

I'd tried other activities to help her practice her shapes, but she runs from anything pre-planned and presented to her as a "lesson". Quizzing her with flash cards? Not our thing. She knows her shapes already, and the goal is not memorization of shape names, but training the brain to see how shapes fit into our world and to see that there are shapes all around us. It was about exploring possibilities and using objects creatively. I'd bought her a wonderful Learning Resources wooden pattern blocks set to play with because a lot of moms seemed to have success with those, but she is completely uninterested in them. So it was back to the drawing board.

It just so happened, drawing was actually the answer I was looking for:

She came into my home office while I was painting. "What's this, Mommy?" she asked, picking up a compass from the table.

Now, if you're not familiar with a compass, it's used for making curved shapes and circles. I'd been using it to make a wreath for my morning art exploration. It's very useful. It's also very dangerous in the wrong hands.

But hers were not the wrong hands. They were capable hands. They were careful hands. They were hands that caused havoc, yes; but, I was learning, they were also hands I could trust. I feel no fear when she picks up a pair of scissors. She cuts confidently and carefully; she knows the boundaries and the sharp edges.

I explained what a compass was for and pointed out the danger zones. "This part is sharp; it's a small needle. We shouldn't touch it or play with it. It's not a toy. It's only for the paper, to keep the compass steady." She had recently become acquainted with the needle due to a prescribed blood test, so she was primed for this lesson.

I showed her how the compass made a circle, then I had her try. Where to hold with one hand. How to turn the paper with the other (easier for a preschooler than twisting the compass itself). Still, it is challenging for a three-year-old; her uncoordinated hands kept squeezing the arms so her circle came out crooked. "Can we make a circle without a compass, Mommy?"

We sure can. And then the fun began.

"A circle is a good shape to make. If you can make a circle, you can make a smiling face." She laughed, then drew her own circle beside mine. "What else can a circle make?" she asked.

"Let's find out," I replied. I drew another circle.

"If you can make a circle, you can make a..." I paused and waited for her response.


"If you can make a circle, you can make a..."

"The sun!"

"If you can make a circle, you can make two. And if you can make two circles, you can make a..."


use art to teach shapes

We'd played this game for awhile. She made her own circles, first a lollipop, then a balloon.
"If you can make a circle and a triangle, you can make an..."

"Ice cream cone!"

"That's right! Shall we learn how to make triangles next time?"

"Good idea, Mommy."

And, I agree, it was.

use art to teach shapes
A lesson learned with joy is a lesson learned well.