Shape Exploration: Tangrams

We know a lot of KneeBouncers out there love our various Shape Games, so we thought we’d share a fun way to extend shape learning: tangrams!

Playing with shapes introduces your child to the different names of shapes and how they are formed. For example, a triangle has three sides. This type of thinking develops mathematical concepts and is actually early geometry; yes, even preschoolers learn geometry. We just don’t call it that!

While you may not have appreciated geometry class when you were 16, all geometry is, is understanding spatial perception and how we organize spatial relationships. I often joke that baggers at grocery stores should have to practice with tangrams because I just don’t get how or why they put things in the bags the way they do!

Early geometry skills are pretty critical for young minds, but there is no need to run out and get a textbook or flash cards. Play-based activities like shape scavenger hunts, drawing shapes on paper, and pointing out different shapes you see in your own environment will set a great foundation.

What are Tangrams?

Tangrams are a traditional Chinese puzzle made of a square divided into seven pieces: one parallelogram, one square, and five triangles. This set of shapes can then be arranged to match particular designs. They are also a fun way to encourage your child to develop their shape identification, geometry skills, and creativity.

Tangrams are easy to make on your own. Create shapes and cut out different colored pieces of construction paper, cardstock, or heavier-weight scrap paper you have lying around. Or they are inexpensive to buy from most retailers.

Now all you have to do is sit down with your child and identify the different shapes.

Together, work to create new shapes (real or imagined!) out of the tangram pieces. Here are a few questions you may want to ask your child:

  • How could you make a rectangle?
  • How could you make a square with the triangles?
  • How could you make an animal out of the shapes?
  • How could you make a monster out of the shapes? What is your monster’s name? Why did you pick that name?
  • How could you build a house out of the shapes? Who lives in that house? What shapes did you use to build the house?

Best part? Just have fun. This activity is all about creating. With a little math on the side.

Updated May 15, 2023, by L. Elizabeth Forry

written by

L. Elizabeth Forry 

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from The University of North Dakota and has a Bachelor of Arts in English and one in Music from Lebanon Valley College. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

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