Area of Squares and Rectangles

by Laurie Laurendeau on February 21, 2012

Children begin exploring the concept of area as early as First Grade.  The area of a polygon or shape is the space inside of it.  The area is a bit more difficult for children to visualize.  Perimeter and area are often taught together, so watch that your child does not confuse the two of them.

COUNTING SQUARES: We usually begin teaching area by showing various polygons such as squares and rectangles with squares drawn inside of them.  Children find the area of the shape by simply counting the squares. Try this: On large graph paper, draw various-sized squares and rectangles, and ask your child to find the area of each shape.  He should be able to count all the squares inside the shape.

UNIT OF AREA: Be sure to explain that the area of a figure is expressed in square units.  Your child will begin by writing this like “12 square units”, or “12 sq. units”.  He then will progress to actual units such as square inches or square centimeters, and express his answer as “12 sq. in.” or “12 sq. cm”.  Eventually, he will express the unit as an exponent, such as “12 in (to the power of 2!)”.

FORMULA FOR FINDING THE AREA OF A SQUARE OR RECTANGLE:  Once your child has found the area of various squares and rectangles using the “counting squares inside the shape” method, he will be ready to move on to finding the area of squares and rectangles by using the formula LENGTH x WIDTH, or sometimes referred to as BASE x HEIGHT.  When your child moves on to using the formula to find the area, be sure he understands why he is multiplying the length times the width.  Try this: Draw a rectangle on a large piece of graph paper.  Make the length 6 squares long, and the width 4 squares long.  Ask him to first count the squares inside the rectangle (24).  Next, ask him how he could have counted the squares more quickly or efficiently (count each row at a time, or 6 + 6 + 6 + 6 = 24).  Remind him that 6 + 6 +6 + 6 is repeated addition, which is the same thing as multiplication (6×4).  This explains why we would multiply 6×4 to get the area of the rectangle.


  • As always, playing math games at home is a great way to reinforce math skills learned in school.
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