Monday, February 14, 2011

I Spy Shapes in Art (Math + Art = Fun!)

I recently picked up a delightful book, I Spy Shapes in Art. Each left page says, "I spy with my little eye" and names a particular shape: a square, a circle, a rectangle, a triangle, etc. Toward the end of the book, shapes are 3-D: cylinder, cube, cone, etc. Each right page then shows a major work of art (think Matisse, O'Keeffe, Warhol, Escher, etc) in which the named shape can be found. Some are rather obvious, while others need a little searching. Interestingly enough, sometimes my 4yo found the shapes before my 8yo.

We used the book to begin an art/math lesson. As the boys located each shape, I asked my 8yo to identify properties of that particular shape. "Why is that a rectangle?" (sides are parallel, angles are 90 degrees, etc.) For my 8yo, this was review. For my 4yo, some of the concepts were new for the first time. He was delighted to tell me that a shape was a triangle because it "has three sides." My 8yo first said that the sides of a triangle had to be equal, then changed his response, as he remembered that sides could be of different lengths.

We then modified an activity from another helpful resource, Using Color in Your Art!: Choosing Colors for Impact and Pizzazz. The original activity (p. 17) calls for children to create primary color abstract paintings using tools. This is what we did instead:

1. The children collected 3-4 shapes from around the room that they could trace onto their paper. They traced lids to make circles, boxes for rectangles, and they drew their own triangles by connecting three dots with a ruler. My 4yo even found an oval shaped garmet tag to use. When they were finished, they'd successfully drawn 3-4 shapes on their papers; it was fine to overlap.

2. Next, they drew two lines across their paper, left to right. These lines could be anywhere, as long as they went left to right, off the paper.

3. They drew three lines from top to bottom of their paper. Again, anywhere as long as it reached top to bottom.

4. Now the tricky part...coloring. We talked about primary colors and I explained how it might be easiest to start with yellow since lighter-colored mistakes could be more easily covered. I also explained how they needed to avoid having the same color share a line; the same color can share a corner/angle/vertice, but not a line. My 8yo caught onto this easily and started with yellow on his picture, working from one corner to the next diagonal corner. Since I knew this wasn't developmentally appropriate for my 4yo (who still wanted to do it exactly like his brother!) I told him which places to color. He liked this method. After they finished with yellow, they used both red and blue, making sure that the same color never shared a line.

5. We took a coloring break and read Little Blue and Little Yellow, a book my son suggested when he noticed that sometimes green was being formed where blue and yellow touched.

6. When we finished, I posted the pictures on the wall so the boys could do their own "I Spy Shapes."

Note: The top left picture is mine, done the night before with tempera paint. I wanted to see how difficult it was to paint. After trying it, I had my boys use crayons. It was nice to have my sample, however, because we did "I Spy Shapes" with my pictures before the boys got started on their own. My 4yo's picture is on the bottom left, my 8yo's on the right.

P.S. Almost Unschoolers wrote about another experience with art/math last week, also using the book I Spy Shapes in Art. I'd planned my lesson before seeing her blog entry, so it might be interesting for you to see two different approaches using the same book.

P.P.S. Here is an on-line preschool activity for finding shapes in pictures:

Storyplace Shapes Online Activity

Link up or see other ideas at A Mommy's Adventures.


  1. This is a very fun lesson. I checked this book from the library once long time ago, but I think my daughter was not developmentally ready then. I might try again soon and maybe attempt the similar art exercise even though she is really not keen on coloring.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this! This is something that I am going to do with my little ones!! Thanks for the read!!

  3. I love love it all! The pictures came out fantastic. And what a great way to expose them to famous artists. I would love to try this when our daughter is willing to follow directions a little more. I would love to do a mural in the style that you did. It's beautiful.

    Thanks for linking!

  4. This looks like a great activity going to see if our library has this book! Thanks for sharing

  5. I love the art project you came up with! I think I've had the Using Color in Your Art book in from the library before, but I might have to check it out again. Thanks for the link :)

  6. What a great project! I haven't come across that book yet, but am definitely going to find it. My little ones love I Spy games. (BTW, we have something in common: we both have our Master's in Education!) I'm so excited to add your blog to my RSS reader!

  7. What a great lesson, I know Emily would love this book! Thank you for sharing. I am going to feature you for this weeks stART project! Thank you for linking up :0)

  8. This is an amazing lesson. I love interdisciplinary connections. I bet you had a great time together. Thank you for sharing. You inspired me a lot. Hugs from Poland

  9. I am going to use this book to teach my Grade 1 students about shape. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  10. we have the the alphabet in art book, will have to check out the shape one too! TFS

  11. Great post. We read "shapes in" books (music, buildings, art, etc) quite often and I think they are a great learning tool.

  12. Hi all! Such exciting ideas! I love Lucy Micklethwait's books !
    I just published a book entitled, Math + Art = Fun: Activities for Discovering Mathematical Magic in Modern Art. It is written for parents/teachers of children ages 4-10, and is a collection of field-tested activities designed to bring to life the teaching and learning of mathematics by using the visual arts as a focal point. By engaging in the activities outlined in my book, children can begin to think more deeply about mathematics, see how it permeates their world, and develop a sense of art appreciation.
    My book is available on AND it is 30% off!!!
    As an aside, I am a Professor of Mathematics Education on faculty at Rice University, and I work as an educational consultant. I have also authored 4 books on integrating mathematics and children's literature in the teaching of grades K-8.


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