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LESSONS: GRADES K-3  ›  The Colors and Shapes of the White House
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The White House lends itself to an exploration of colors and shapes. The rooms that visitors see on the first floor are rectangles, squares and ovals. There are also arches and a semi-circular porch. Bold colors are represented in the paint, wallpaper, draperies and furniture upholstery of the rooms. To illustrate this point, three rooms are actually known as the Green Room, the Blue Room and the Red Room.

The original designer of the White House, an Irish-born builder named James Hoban, drew a floor plan of the first floor that still survives today. Hoban gave variety to the plan by incorporating (1) a large rectangular East Room suited for large groups of people gathered for receptions; (2) a somewhat smaller rectangular State Dining Room, for public dinners; (3) two square parlors, the Green Room and Red Room; and (4) the oval Blue Room, which was a space for greeting the president and first lady. He expected visitors to move from space to space and enjoy the changing shapes of the rooms. One of the most famous rooms, the president’s Oval Office, was designed in the 20th century and is part of the West Wing.

By examining architecture, students can readily see how shapes play a part in their everyday lives. They can begin to see when certain shapes are more practical than others — a large gathering room is more likely to be rectangular than square. They can also see when creative uses of shapes — like ovals, triangles and arches — add to the beauty of a space. The White House is a building that offers many such lessons.


By successfully completing this lesson and accompanying activities, students will:

  1. Identify two-dimensional shapes as they are represented in the White House.

  2. Recognize colors as they have been applied within the White House.

  3. Compare and measure lengths and widths.

Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics

    The Colors and Shapes of the White House conforms to standards established for grades K-4 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Reston, VA, 1989.

  • In grades K-4, the mathematics curriculum should include two- and three-dimensional geometry so that students can

  • Describe, model, draw, and classify shapes,

  • Investigate and predict the results of combining, subdividing, and changing shapes

  • Develop spatial sense

  • Relate geometric ideas to number and measurement ideas

  • Recognize and appreciate geometry in their world.


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