I love teaching math! There are lots of great hands-on materials that you can use to make math more interesting and engaging for kids. If you’ve never used a tangram before, this is a great activity to try them out!
Tangrams for kids in math are a great tool and an easy way to introduce math concepts such as, shapes, flips, slides, turns, and even matching similar shapes.
I did not have a class set of tangrams, so I made some out of felt. You could quickly and easily make some out of foam or even construction paper too.
I have also included a link at the bottom to a free tangram for you to print off and use.
A tangram is basically a large square made up of 7 different shapes that when put together they create the square.
I used tangrams today, for our math activity to challenge children to look at an image and recreate it using the tangram pieces.
To start, I introduced tangrams to my students by telling them that we were going to do some puzzles together. Everyone was very excited to use their own tangram!
Although I did this activity at school, it could easily be done at home.
I started by handing out a bag filled with a tangram along with a sheet of laminated paper to each child.
I laminated a class set of yellow sheets of paper that we use when working with small manipulatives. The sheets help to keep materials from going missing and helps keeps everyone’s materials contained in front of them.
Once everyone had their tangram, I gave children time to explore and play with the pieces. Since tangrams were new to most kids, I wanted them to get familiar with the pieces before we started our puzzles.
I also asked children to share what they noticed about the shapes that made up the tangram.
- What shapes do you see?
- Are any of the shapes the same?
- Can you put any of the shapes together to create a new shape?
- How many triangles do you see?
- How can you describe the triangles?
I had a large tangram that I used on my felt board to model the puzzles. Together we discussed what shapes the children saw (triangles, square, parallelogram).
I made sure to point out that there were 2 large triangles, 1 medium and 2 small triangles.
Looking at the shapes in this way is also a good chance to discuss congruence (same shape and size).
Once everyone was familiar with the shapes, we started on our puzzles! I used the tangram story “Leah’s Adventure” to guide our lesson. (Link to story available below.)
I read the story aloud to everyone, stopping as I got to each new shape/puzzle. I like using the story format because it is an easy way to blend language arts with math. It also keeps children more engaged. Plus the story is really cute.
For the first few shapes, I created the puzzle with children piece by piece. I modeled how I sometimes had to flip and rotate my pieces to get them into the proper place.
By demonstrating that I had to play around with and rotate the tangram shapes helped children to see that it is okay to not get the pieces in the right place on their first try.
Part of solving the tangram puzzle is trial and error. We worked through the story by creating each puzzle.
I tried the story and tangrams with kids 3-6 years old. It was a challenge for them, but I was amazed at how much children improved at creating their tangram puzzle by the time we got to our last picture.
They were so excited when they were able to create a puzzle independently and loved having their own set of tangram shapes.
There was so much language and math involved in this activity, but children were just having fun figuring out puzzles! They didn’t look at the activity as a math class. Aren’t these some of the best math periods?
For me it was rewarding to see so many children persist to figure out each puzzle. They loved learning how each shape could be used differently just by turning or flipping it.
As children learned what each flip and turn could do to each shape, they got faster and faster at being able to solve the tangram puzzles.
It was also interesting to watch how basic math concepts (flips, slides and turns) are introduced at this level and built on year after year in school. I feel that this activity creates a great foundation to build upon.
For the story, which includes 6 different tangram pictures to create, and a story that turns the math activity into an adventure. Click the picture below.
Without the story, you can still do a lot of tangram activities. There are lots of shapes and pictures that you can create with them. Try creating a picture and challenging a child to recreate it on their own.
In class, once we had completed the story, I also had one child create a picture using the tangrams on my large felt board, and challenged the other children to create the image using their own tangram shapes.
You will be surprised and impressed by the math involved in using tangrams. They are great for spatial awareness and working with 2D shapes. They are also just simply a great new math manipulative for children to get their hands on!
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