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Tessellations: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Explore the fascinating world of tessellations! In this lesson, you'll discover the artist that created complex tessellations, and learn how these geometric patterns are created and how to try one yourself.

What Is a Tessellation?

Try to say tessellation three times fast. Bet your tongue gets twisted! So just what is this tongue tangling word? A tessellation is when a flat surface, like a floor or a piece of paper, is covered with repeating geometric shapes. The shapes must fit together so that there are no gaps.

You've probably seen a tessellation before and didn't realize! For example, tiled patterns on floors and some quilt patterns are actually tessellations.

Tiles used to cover a floor create tessellations because the entire surface is covered with tiles that fit exactly together.
tessellated floor tiles

History and M.C. Escher

Humans using tessellations can be traced back for thousands of years. The Latin word tessella means 'little square.' These patterns were first officially studied in the 1600s, and hundreds of years later the famous artist M.C. Escher used tessellations in his artwork. He studied tessellation patterns from early cultures and became fascinated with including them in his own art pieces.

Simple vs. Complex

Some tessellations are extremely complex. They are intricate, or complicated, pieces of art that take time, focus and talent to complete. Other tessellations are relatively simple. However, it can be fascinating to see how the geometric shapes fit together in even the most simple tessellations. You can also use shading or specific colors to add definition to a tessellation artwork.

This tessellation features hexagons fit together with alternating white and black shading.
Hexagonal tessellation

Try one!

If you are feeling artistic, you can try your own tessellation. A word to the wise: be patient and do not get frustrated. It may take practice and several tries. You will need two square pieces of paper, one large and one small. The small piece of paper should be heavy, like card stock or construction paper. Take the small piece and on one edge or side, draw a design out of a single, continuous line without loops. Start simple: make your line look like one or two mountains.

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