12 ways to play and explore with tangrams.

Grandma Vicki brought a lovely blue tangram for Max and then she told me that there was an actual Chinese legend or story about the origins of the tangram. So of course I had to find it.

Max and Grandma Vicki draw tangrams in his journal.

Or maybe they were playing Scrabble Slam at this point…

For sure they were playing.

Tangrams are ancient Chinese puzzles which consist of seven pieces each called a tan. There are many different legends which explain how tangrams came into being. One legend has it that a young man was walking into town carrying a square tile, when all of a sudden he tripped and fell. When he fell, the square tile broke into seven pieces ranging in shapes and sizes. The young man tried to put the tile back together, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to succeed at this task. Instead, he wound up creating pictures with all of the “puzzle pieces.”

Today tangrams are used in creating pictures, where all seven pieces must be used, and they must touch, but none may overlap. Besides creating pictures, tangrams are also used in storytelling, where tans show the shape of a character in a tale.

Tangrams are a great way to play with shapes and learn to think geometrically. If you don’t have a tangram set, I encourage you to print one, put it in a plastic bag, and keep it on hand for random explorations. More on tangrams and such:

  1. Make tangram toast for breakfast.
  2. Print this great big tangram pattern to use as you play and explore.
  3. Print and read A Brief History of Tangrams, a printable Word Doc that offers two pages of fascinating information
  4. Share The Tangram Legend, which explains the God of Thunder’s role in the creation of tangrams.
  5. Use the Constructing Tangrams Lesson Plan, which comes free from the Utah Education Network. Includes information about history as well as how to use tangrams and make your own.
  6. Make some tangrams from these printables. Just print on cardstock or print and glue on cardboard.
  7. Solve these 12 tangram puzzles.
  8. Use tangrams to illustrate a favorite story or to illustrate a journal entry.
  9. Make tangrams from craft foam.
  10. Use the Legend of the Tangrams Lesson Plan to investigate the properties of two-dimensional shapes. This PDF document also includes worksheets and handouts on Tan, the son of the Chinese nobleman who dropped his tiles.
  11. Enjoy the Tangram Print and Play.
  12. Construct tangrams by folding and cutting. This fleshes out some of the geometrical properties of shapes involved in tangrams.

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