You know this thing.

This thing has been around for many, many years. You may not know that it is officially the “Tupperware Shape-O Toy” but if grew up in or near the United States anytime since about 1960, you have encountered this toy. It is the rare math-y toy that is actually awesome in the ways it was intended to be.

(See discussion of the Multiplication Machine on this blog for an example of a math-y toy that is awesome in unintended ways. See your local Target for a wide selection of math-y toys that are not awesome in any way at all.)

We had some fun on Twitter last fall when a math teacher and father, Dan Anderson, invited speculation about which shapes would be easiest and most difficult for his year-old to put in the holes.

[Fun fact about Dan Anderson—if you heard last year about how Double Stuf Oreos are not actually doubly stuffed, it was his classroom that got the media ball rolling.] Anyway, here is his ranking—following his son Calvin’s lead:

@Trianglemancsd easiest: circle. 2nd easiest: triangle, square, hexagon, pentagon. middle: plus, star, ellipse. hardest: sector, trapezoid. — Dan Anderson (@dandersod) October 21, 2013

And here is an amusing video of a cute kid playing with one. The parental participation in the play may be a bit heavy-handed but the spirit is right—encouraging and playful.

Notice that the triangle is harder for him to fit in than the square, and that it’s tough for him to distinguish the hexagon from the pentagon.

Tons of fun to be had with this classic!

Update! The kid can solve the puzzle by himself now (he’s turning 2 in March), but the hexagons and pentagons are now the hardest shape. In the fall he’d pick up a shape, and I’d find the correct place and he’d put the shape in the hole by just mashing it (the more lines of symmetry, the easier the shape). Now he’s able to recognize a shape and find the hole himself, but he’s unable (or unwilling 😉 ) to count the number of sides, implicitly or explicitly, and so the shapes that “look alike” are the hardest.

-Dan

Pulling the hemispheres apart and getting the pieces back out is the hardest part!

Interesting! My son, who is only a couple of months younger than your son, has exactly the same toy. I blogged about his experiences with it here:

http://davidwees.com/content/learning-about-shape

My son finds the circle easiest, and can relatively easily identify by shape the oval, the star, the plus sign. He often confuses the pentagon and the hexagon, and although he can identify the sector and the trapezoid, he struggles to get them fit through the hole. We don’t have the square (it is missing).

very fun article! just read it to my daughter and she is going to go buy one now!

I’m buying one of these for my son! I don’t know how I ended up so badly sheltered, but I’ve never seen this toy before. Thank you for sharing.

LOve it…A Math Specialist…Teacher/ Presenter/ Curriculum Development Character for over 10 years…After needing a Big Break, I have just started to feel my passion this Area in Life Slowly Awaken…I was at a friends house the other day and she had 4 Tupperware O-Shape Toys out on the floor- My eyes lit up and I said to her, “that is the only toy a child needs”…The amount of learning this particular object generates is phenomenal…