Stencils serve as an introductory step for a toddler drawing shapes.

Are Stencils Good for Teaching Toddlers to Draw Shapes?

by Anita Holmes

Sherry took what she thought was a quick shower, leaving 2-1/2-year-old Colt busy with washable markers, taped-down paper, and a shape stencil at the kitchen table. But when she exited the bathroom, she found her little Da Vinci had drawn stencil shapes on the living room walls, picture window, sofa, cream-colored carpeting, and was working on applying a circle shape to the family cat.

To this day, she can only explain how Colt could accomplish so much in such a short time as a time warp. In addition to facilitating Colt's burgeoning interest in decorating, the stencil shapes served as an initial step for him independently drawing shapes.

Using a Stencil to Faciliate Drawing Shapes

Stencils are the ultimate rigid shape drawing tool. Recognizing and drawing shapes are important skills as a child looks towards school. Introducing your toddler to the small-motor art of drawing shapes begins with a shape stencil. The inflexible raised sides of the stencil keep the child's marker, crayon or pencil in proximity to the shape's edges.

When a toddler first uses a stencil, he is usually uninterested in the shape, but if you provide him with other shape-reinforcement activities, he will begin to connect 2-D stencil shapes with the concept of "shape." For instance, you might play shape bingo with him, and then quiz him on the stencil shape names. Keep in mind that stencils are just the first step in helping your toddler to independently draw and identify shapes.

Transitioning to Tracing Shapes

Drawing shapes is a small-motor activity that demands concentration and fine muscle control. These are challenging skills for toddlers. Many children entering kindergarten still resort to scribbling rather than deliberately drawing shapes.

Nevertheless, if your toddler exhibits the interest and patience to try the next step in drawing shapes, provide her with card stock paper on which you have drawn basic shapes with a large marker. Tape tracing paper over the top of the shape master, and working hand-over-hand, aid her in running her marker over the line of a shape. When she feels confident enough to try on her own, keep those tracing paper pages coming!

Drawing Shapes with a Model

When your toddler is comfortable with tracing shapes, set the card stock shape master on a table-top easel and allow him to copy the shape on paper free-hand. As needed, provide hand-over-hand assistance to help your toddler understand how to draw the shape. This step in learning to independently draw shapes is a big one; don't rush the process, and keep the practice opportunities short so that your toddler does not lose interest over time.

Free-Hand Shape Drawing from Memory

The final hurdle in learning to independently draw basic shapes is free-hand shape drawing without a model. This is an advanced skill for a toddler, and a major accomplishment when she first draws a just-recognizable circle, square or triangle. Provide your hard-working toddler with high fives and hugs when this moment comes, and don't sweat it if it doesn't happen until just before entering kindergarten. Focus on savoring your toddler's ability to verbally name shapes, and continue providing practice opportunities for independently drawing them.

About the Author

A retired teacher, Anita Holmes is an experienced seamstress, wood worker and home decor specialist. She's designed and constructed new homes, gardens, remodeled multiple homes, built furniture, decks and cabinets and sewn everything from custom drapes to intricate quilts. Holmes holds a Master of Public Administration degree.

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