Build with Shapes
Built EnvironmentStarter


Houses and buildings are common themes in children’s early representational work. As children print shapes, connect them and add to them, structures in the built environment are sure to emerge. Intentionally constructing a building or structure becomes an exciting adventure.


Find a nearby building or a picture of a building in which the shapes are very clear and easy to see. Ask children to quietly study the building. Then ask, What shapes can you find? 

If there happens to be a construction site nearby it is great fun to visit and draw, or just look. It helps to look with a line tool. Hand out large straight line tools and have children practice constructing with it in the air as they study parts of the construction.

building being built


Looking closely at a building by picking out and identifying the shapes is an exercise in analytical thinking and a helpful  provocation for constructing one’s own structure. 

Invite children to share their ideas about how and where to begin creating a building.


Demonstrate construction strategies as children suggest them.

You might begin constructing shapes at the bottom of your paper and then build up. You might start by creating the outline, or contour of your building.

After structures take shape, offering the small line tool invites the addition of details.

Share & Reflect

Talking to children seriously about their work helps teachers, parents, and friends understand and appreciate each child in a deeper way. You might try keeping a clipboard or notepad handy to write down what children tell you about their work. Try posting the children’s words along with their prints so that everyone can enjoy this window into children’s thinking.

“It’s my attic and those are boxes of stuff.” Henry (age 5)

Variations & Extensions

Students might like to work together, combining their buildings to make a street scene.

Street Scene in Hartford by Syncere Menzie and friends, Jumoke Academy, Hartford, CT, photo by art teacher Dawn Nolan Lombardi

By an art education student.