Wednesday, July 24, 2013

We are studying China and revisiting tangrams as part of our activities for China Elementary School Unit. I will share some great books with tangrams and explain how we use them as hands-on math tools.
Introducing Tangrams to Elementary School Students

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Look What Came from China

We are enjoying learning more about everyday objects and activities that originated in China. We learned more about science of tea, made paper, and added multi-digit numbers with an abacus. Now we have focused on another math tool that is readily available in our house – tangrams. In fact, a magnet tangram perpetually resides on our fridge, and daughter plays with it from time to time.

Tangrams for Elementary School

In my previous approaches to tangrams, I was taking a very optimistic point of view that my daughter would be able to figure out at least some of the challenges. Well, in reality she can’t solve tangrams from outlines yet and, to be honest, I am not good with them either. So now we are using a more playful scaffolding method when trying to solve tangram puzzles. There are many places to find tangram puzzles – in this particular exercise we used tangrams at Activity Village.
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  1. We look at a tangram puzzle for a minute trying to identify at least some of the shapes that are obvious. Then Smarty (and I) try to solve it for a couple of minutes.
  2. We look at a “decomposed” tangram for a minute – this also helps to train memory.
  3. Smarty is trying to build a shape again. If she is stuck, I am giving her “hints” one shape at a time. She “wins” if she can place at least 3 tangram shapes on her own.

Books for Kids About Tangrams


The Warlord’s Puzzle by Virginia Pilegard is a great fictional story about the origin of tangrams and the first book in The Warlord’s series. Virginia Pilegard and Nicolas Debon collaborated on several other books bringing us stories about an abacus, a compass, etc. In this book several learned men are trying to reconstruct an expensive square tile accidentally broken into pieces, but only a poor son of peasant is able to accomplish this feat. It’s a great introduction to the most famous tangram problem – a tangram square.


Three Pigs, One Wolf, and Seven Magic Shapes by Grace Maccarone illustrated by David Neuhaus is a fun retelling of Three Pigs classic story. It’s a Scholastic Reader level 3, so the text is fairly easy for independent readers. I really enjoyed the ending of this clever story, and it has about a dozen different tangrams (already decomposed into pieces) for kids to try out.

Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Tompert iluustrated by Robert Andrew Parker is the most complex and the longest story of three. Tangrams are beautifully woven into watercolor illustrations. This book might be a bit intense for younger children, since it has a conflict between friends and an injury to one of them. Smarty and I read it together when she was 4, and she was frightened by it. However, she seems to have forgotten the story, since she was delighted to read it now at 6, both with me and on her own.

Great Tangram Resources for Kids

Follow my boards Math and We Love Geometry

Your Turn

Tangram books and activities for kids age 5-10

Are you a tangram wizard? What about your children?

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9 comments:

Marie-Claude Leroux said...

Elle and I have been going through the book, first copying the animals, then trying to do them without looking - oh my, I just keep turning those pieces around in circles! Elle though, whips them into place. Ah, to have a young, supple mind :)

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

I love tangrams, but often end up cheating as well! They are a fun puzzle challenge.

I hadn't thought about how many books there were about China, but you are right, they are a popular children's book theme!

Joyful Learner said...

I noticed that some people are better at spatial problem solving than others. I tutor a 5 year old who is amazing at tangrams. K and I aren't as quick but practice does help! Here's an article about the benefits of doing tangram puzzles. http://www.parentingscience.com/tangrams-for-kids.html

Ticia said...

I'm with you and probably would have to cheat as well. I suck at them, I think more because I don't want to be patient and put it together, I just want to get it NOW!

Phyllis said...

We love tangrams here. I have much more trouble with them than my kids. LOL

lkgmita said...

Sounds like fun, although I'm not sure how I would do either! Thanks for sharing at the Culture Swapper!

Emma @ P is for Preschooler said...

I never knew there were books for kids about tangrams! We have some but I never really gave them much thought - may be time to bring them out again!

Susan F Williams said...

A great activity for children! Happy to see you at the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop!

Deceptively Educational said...

I think I must be the last person on this earth who hasn't bought tangrams for their kids. I don't know what's holding me back. Thanks for the encouragement!