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  • Writer's pictureBecky

Early Elementary Geometry Activity: Making Space Creatures

Children are creative. They have stories to tell. Their imaginations and their homework assignments may seem to be at odds sometimes, but it doesn’t need to be that way.

Making "space creatures" was one of my favorite math activities with young elementary students. It incorporates "space shapes" (another name for 3D shapes because they take up space) recycling and creativity. I hope that you and your family are able to enjoy this geometry activity as well. Relevant educational standards are included at the end of this post.

You will need:

empty containers (cereal boxes, milk cartons, …)

glue (whatever type of glue you have in your house should work)

acrylic paint and brushes (optional)

markers or pencils


Step 1: Collect empty containers

As containers are emptied in your house, talk to your child about their shapes. Your child likely knows the 2D shapes (such as circles, rectangles, squares, triangles). These basic shapes help create 3D shapes (such as cylinders, rectangular prisms, triangular prisms). These are also called solids or space shapes because they take up space. Examples:

A Pringle can has a circle on each end. It is a cylinder.

A cereal box is made of rectangles. It is a rectangular prism.

A cap from a bottle or jug is a cylinder.

The top of a milk carton is a triangular prism, it's base is a rectangular prism.

A yogurt container is like cone with the point removed.

Step 2: Paint the empty containers (optional)

Prepare a space to paint by covering the table (and possibly the floor). Use acrylic paint to coat the empty containers. Allow them to dry. A second coat of paint might be a good idea if you don’t want labels to be visible. Clean paint brushes. One of my friends recommends having little ones fold their hands together on their walk to the sink, this helps reduce the odds of painting other things in the house. : )

Possible Questions and Responses: What shape is the Pringle can? How do you know? Great job! You know it’s a cylinder because it has a circle on each end.

How are you painting the milk carton? I like the way you are using blue for the triangular prism and orange for the rectangular prism.

Step 3: Plan how the space creature will look.

After the paint is dry, have your child talk about what parts will go where on their space creature. Talk about where each part will go using their space shape names (like cylinder and rectangular prism).

Step 4: Glue the shapes together.

Once a plan is in place, work as a team to glue it together. Depending on the glue you have available this will take some time. Elmer’s glue took around thirty minutes to be sturdy enough to move on to the next part. Hot glue is something the adult will need to do, the child is welcome to explain where to put things but little fingers must stay safe. : )

As your child talks about what parts go where, model what you want to hear. "I'm putting this yogurt cup a quarter of the way down the back of my creature...If I want my creature to stand up, I will need to balance it's weight. I think I'll try putting half of it's weight on an orange rectangular prism and the other half on this blue rectangular prism." Children need to be able to reason with shapes and their attributes. Hearing you demonstrate this will help her do the same.

Step 5: Add details.

Allow your child to add details with marker or pencil. Two dimensional shapes are a fun details to add.

Here I used a marker to add a half-circle drawing for a mouth and a tiny circle for a nose.

Step 6: Share the space creature!

Invite your child to name the space creature. Have your child tell you about what shapes she or he used to make the space creature. Perhaps grandma would love to hear about the space creature geometry project. Why not give her a call? Did you know this will help meet language arts standards for first grade students?

This geometry activity can easily be made into a creative writing assignment as well. Have your child think about what the habitat is where the space creature lives. This space creature lives in trees.

Why is it designed a certain way? What type of personality does it have? How is it feeling today? Why? In order to stick with the geometry portion of this, have your child mention the space shapes the creature is comprised of as well.


This activity incorporates many standards that young children need to meet. Specific standards are listed below. Here is an example: “Repurpose objects to make something new.” (National Core Art Standard)

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.G.A.1 Distinguish between defining attributes (e.g., triangles are closed and three-sided) versus non-defining attributes (e.g., color, orientation, overall size); build and draw shapes to possess defining attributes.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.G.A.2 Compose two-dimensional shapes (rectangles, squares, trapezoids, triangles, half-circles, and quarter-circles) or three-dimensional shapes (cubes, right rectangular prisms, right circular cones, and right circular cylinders) to create a composite shape, and compose new shapes from the composite shape.1

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.G.A.3 Partition circles and rectangles into two and four equal shares, describe the shares using the words halves, fourths, and quarters, and use the phrases half of, fourth of, and quarter of. Describe the whole as two of, or four of the shares. Understand for these examples that decomposing into more equal shares creates smaller shares.

1 Students should apply the principle of transitivity of measurement to make indrirect comparisons, but they need not use this technical term.

Artistic Process: Creating; Investigate: “Repurpose objects to make something new.”

First Grade Language Arts: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.1.4 Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.1.5 Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.



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