Tangrams: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Cori Hodges

Cori has degrees in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education and has taught lower elementary.

In this lesson, we will learn about fun puzzles called tangrams. You'll learn more about what a tangram is and its history, explore why people use these puzzles, and how they work.

What Is a Tangram?

A tangram is a puzzle made up of seven shapes that can be arranged to form many different designs. But they're not just any old shapes--a tangram is made up of two big triangles, one medium triangle, two small triangles, one square, and one parallelogram.

A tangram has seven pieces: five triangles, one square, and one parallelogram.
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With this many shapes to work with, the pieces can be assembled into an almost infinite number of different configurations. In fact, in the 1800s alone when tangrams initially became popular, people came up with more than 6,500 configurations. Today, as people work with these shapes, they continue to come up with new ways to put the pieces together.

A Brief History of the Tangram

The tangram is believed to have been invented in China thousands of years ago. But it didn't become really popular until the early 1800s, when the puzzle spread from China to England then throughout the rest of Europe and across the Atlantic to America. While original tangrams were made from glass, wood, and tortoise shell, today they're made from a variety of materials and can even be solved online.

A wooden tangram set
Tangram Picture

How Do Tangrams Work?

You can spend a lot of time just playing with tangrams--assembling the pieces into fun new shapes. But when solving a tangram problem, there's a specific method. You are given the seven shapes and an outline of a picture. Then, you have to place those seven shapes inside the outline, turning and flipping the pieces to make them fit.

To properly solve the puzzle, there must be no shapes that overlap each other or go outside the outline. You must also be sure there are no empty spaces inside the outline. Sometimes, you might solve the tangram problem on the first try! But usually it takes several attempts and rearrangements.

To solve a tangram, fit the seven pieces inside the image.
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Why Do We Use Tangrams?

Tangrams are more than just puzzles used for fun and to pass the time. They're tools to make you think. When working on a tangram, you must think about how the shapes can be manipulated (turned and flipped) so that they can fit in the space given without overlapping. It helps to sharpen your spatial awareness, your understanding of how objects relate to the space they're in.

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