Exploring Three-Dimensional Figures

One of the most effective ways to teach children about three-dimensional figures is to provide them with hands-on opportunities to build the figures, like in the marshmallow shapes activity. When working with three-dimensional figures, it can be difficult for children to visualize the figures by simply looking at a drawing on paper. Seeing real-life examples, and even better, creating the figures themselves, supports their understanding of how multiple two-dimensional shapes combine to create three-dimensional figures. 


Three-Dimentional Figures

There are many three-dimensional figures for children to learn, including the cube, triangular and rectangular prisms, and triangle-based pyramid. Through building the figures, children are introduced to several important concepts in geometry. First, it is easy for children to identify the sides in each figure. For example, the cube is made up of six squares, and a rectangular prism consists of two squares and four rectangles.

Building three-dimensional figures also make it easier for children to identify the edges on each figure. A child can pick up their square-based pyramid and touch each edge, determining eight in total.

Another essential learning concept when exploring three-dimensional figures is the number of corners, or “vertices,” each figure has. Like edges, a child can hold their 3D figure and touch each vertex. For example, a cube has eight vertices.

When learning about three-dimensional figures, children can explore further attributes of each solid. Introduce children to the concepts of sliding, stacking, and rolling. Figures like cubes and prisms can slide across a surface and be stacked on top of each other. When you talk to your child about why specific 3D figures can slide or stack and others cannot, this should elicit discussion about flat faces versus curves.

To discuss rolling, have your child try to roll some of the figures they made, like a cube or prism. This will help him discover that these shapes cannot roll because of their flat faces. On the contrary, figures like spheres and cones can roll because of their curved surface.

Having models of each three-dimensional figure can help children compare them to the shapes in their environment. Using their models as benchmarks, children can go on a 3D shape “hunt” around the house, outside, or in other settings. Challenge them to find everyday objects that are made of 3D figures. For example, a can of food and a cup are cylinders, and a shoebox and a cereal box are rectangular prisms. Children can record their findings by drawing the objects and labeling which 3D figures they look like. Or, for younger children, they can simply sort the objects they found by categorizing them with each of their 3D shape models.

For an added challenge, try presenting your child with riddles that will help them consider the attributes of each 3D figure. For example, a riddle could be, “I have six faces, and all of them are squares. Which 3D figure am I?” Or “I have no flat faces, and I cannot stack or slide. Which 3D figure am I?”

The next step in their learning is to have children explore each figure’s net, a two-dimensional pattern that can be folded to create a three-dimensional shape. Exploring nets helps children further see how 2D shapes create the flat sides of 3D figures.

Building 3D figures, exploring their attributes, and using them to compare everyday objects will support children’s understanding of three-dimensional shapes in a fun and concrete way.

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