How to Use Tangrams and Other Shapes to Enhance Thinking Skills

Geometry is an opportunity of math waiting to happen. It is everywhere in our lives. Even at the earliest months, children begin to become aware of shapes.

Tangrams will be a useful tool to stimulate interest in shapes. You can make some of the designs pictured in this article and talk about the shapes with your young child.

Capitalize on the moments of discovery with your child.. Blocks, trains, cars, balloons, books, boxes, cabinets, rugs,...the list is almost endless. As your baby becomes a toddler, you can ask questions about shapes. You can call it the 'find a shape' game or some clever name you choose to give it.

Some ideas are:

  • find something that is shaped like a rectangle
  • find something that is shaped like a circle
  • find something that is shaped like a square.

You can continue this way for a bit. As long as your child is interested in playing the 'find a shape' game.

Tangram template

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A rocket

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Constructing a camel/recycled paper

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The three wise men

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Tangram activities from about.com

The following activity can be found on in full at about.com/math

Use tangram pieces to make the following: Work alone or with a partner.

  • Put two or more of the pieces together to make other shapes.
  • . Put two or more of the pieces together to form shapes that are congruent.
  • Use all of the pieces to make a square.
  • Use the seven pieces to form a parallelogram.
  • Make a trapezoid with the seven pieces.
  • Use two pieces to make a triangle.
  • Use three pieces to make a triangle.
  • Use four pieces to make a triangle.
  • Use five pieces to make a triangle.
  • Use six pieces to make a triangle
  • Take the five smallest pieces and make a square.

Pattern pages are from making.learningfun.com

...tangram sailboat
...tangram sailboat | Source
tangram fishies
tangram fishies | Source

Use shapes to create....

As your child enters pre-k and kindergarten whether in a home school or public school setting, their world enlarges and exposure to even more experiences with shapes arise.

Children in these early years are vessels waiting to be filled. Each experience you offer makes another wrinkle in their brains and new understanding occurs, another tool in their tool box. (The tool box of which I speak is mentioned in some of my other articles.)

When your child is no longer in the 'eating' paper stage, you can begin to do some of the activities mentioned here. You can print shapes on card stock or purchase plastic shapes to be used to construct simple shapes. Initially you will want your child to experiment with the shape pieces creating whatever they can. You will be surprised at what they can make.

When you feel they are ready, you can begin to make some of the designs pictured here or some designs that you make. Model, model, model and allow your child to help with the construction. If a piece does not work, point to the location where it may be placed and ask if they think it will fit there.

This is not a race but when you feel you have provided enough modeling, allow your child to go solo. Begin with very simple designs and work from there. Assist when asked.

You may wish to provide a tangram mat that has the shape stamped on it like the ones pictured here. You can also buy from on line vendors or teacher supply stores, laminated mats that last for long periods of time.

It is a m a z i n g how well they will do...some children 'see' the design much quicker than some older children and get them together in a 'snap.'

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Cubes

To make a template for the cube, you can make your own, or, use the link that follows:

http://www.leslietryon.com/3dcolorcutout/cube.html.

There are also numerous others at your disposal on line.

If you are having children do this, make your template on card stock and give out to children so they can make their own. Careful construction of the pattern will yield a well constructed cube.

Laminating the cubes is a good idea for a number of reasons. One is that you can write on the outside of the cube and erase it. Otherwise it is necessary to laminate a skadillion little cubes.

The ones I have children make are sent home for the kids to use at home. The ones we keep in the classroom are laminated.

Number cubes

Number cubes are very popular with the kids.

After they are constructed, they can be used for a number of math activities.

  • addition facts
  • subtraction facts
  • multiplication facts
  • division facts

for the very young:

  • roll the dice and count, hop, or clap to number on top of the dice when it stops rolling
  • simple math facts (what 2 numbers equals the number on top of the dice when it stops rolling)

Children enjoy using cubes


Using cubes with young children is lots of fun for them. It is not a great idea to have them construct them. I have had second grade children make these but for some it was frustrating so I helped a lot.

However, the young children do like to use them. On the picture cube, you can draw pictures of familiar animals or objects. They first time they are used they can make the sound the picture begins with when it is their turn. After all pictures are identified, you can have them try to think of a word that rhymes with the name of the picture. They can also name another animal or objects that begins with the same sound as the picture on the cube.

Folding sections of a circle to teach fractional parts

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Learning about fractions using a circle

A circle is a shape that differs from most of the other shapes that children learn. It is a line segment that is bent so that the ends touch. Then it is adjusted so that all points on the line are an equal distance from the center point.Because of its unique shape it can be used for many kinds of interesting activities.

To begin your exploration of the circle:

  • You can have children draw a circle free hands. Then you can discuss why the shape they draw is not really a circle according the mathematical definition.
  • Next, give them an object that has a circular shape and allow them to trace around it and cut out their circle carefully.
  • Allow them to carefully fold their circle to see if they can fold it in half.
  • Allow them to cut along the crease that has forms each half.
  • Ask if they can fold the half in half. Then allow them to cut each half into two pieces.
  • Ask them at this point to count and see how many pieces they now have. Talk about fourths.
  • Continue along in this same way, creating eights..

You can provide glue and allow the children to paste them in their math journal.

Music + Tangrams What a Delightful Combination

Energize your lessons

Variety helps to keep interest and attention high within a learning setting. Hands on activities help to reach into the sensory part within and keep the learner connected.

Using circles in the ways shown here and other ways that you create will bring a newness to the lessons and stimulate interest and understanding. Do not stop with these:

  • to teach fractions
  • to write sentences on and cut apart and put together as a sentence
  • to show steps in a lesson such as a life cycle or steps in how to make something

Ask children for suggestions on ways to use circles as well. A cute one is to use the circle to make a portrait of themselves, adding hair and googly eyes.


Endless Possibilities

Dice that light up....

Light up cubes are so much fun. I had a sign up sheet to use them during math stations. They of course can be used during any subject area time but math was the time most kids wanted to use them.

When they are rolled, they light up like tiny Christmas lights. It just makes using them more fun. In addition, they are somewhat larger than regular dice.


As was suggested making them with younger children can be problematic. One solution is to make the pattern larger... 4x4 or 5x5 for example. Then putting them together will not be so tricky. However it is further suggested that much assistance and patience be brought to the table when making these. Older children seem to find constructing them a game-like activity so it does not present such a challenge for them.

As was stated, the cubes made in class are used the day they are made and then sent home. The teacher-made ones are laminated and left in the classroom. Sometimes children opt to have theirs become part of the 'class cubes' and in that case are laminated and kept for use.


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Tangrams are a math activity kids like to go back to time and time again. It is never the same unless it is by choice. Using 7 little or not so little shapes children can create whatever they can dream up.

First I would like to give credit to those from whom I used materials.

The ‘Sea Shapes’ pages are from AIMS Education Foundation.

The small black tangram designs are from abcteach.com.

As was mentioned earlier, tangram shapes may be found at many locations. In addition to the other types of tangrams mentioned, you can also buy foam shapes to use for tangram activities.

Remember that kids of all ages like to create new things. Even children do like to use tangram pieces to create a more complex work of art perhaps that they will weave into a larger design.


© 2012 Patricia Scott

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Comments 10 comments

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 15 months ago from sunny Florida Author

Yes peachpurple We can find all kinds of activities to stimulate our children's thought processes. I always found tangrams to be an excellent source of learning, critical thinking, and fun.

Sending Angels your way this evening ps


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 15 months ago from Home Sweet Home

yes, I also downloaded android games related shapes for him to play, it did improve his logical thinking


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 15 months ago from sunny Florida Author

Thank you Sujaya for stopping by to visit and comment. Tangrams really are fun for kids of all ages.

Angels are on the way to you this evening ps


sujaya venkatesh profile image

sujaya venkatesh 15 months ago

an excellent art with paper


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 15 months ago from sunny Florida Author

Thanks Shyron for dropping by...the children loved using tangrams; they thought it was all play...and they had to create some pretty sophisticated designs for kgn. children.

Hoping all is good with you...Angels are on the way ps


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 15 months ago

Patricia, what fun I can have with the little ones. we can all learn for this.

This is awesome and interesting, the thumb up has disappeared or I would give you a thumb up. Sharing.

Blessings and hugs ss


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 19 months ago from sunny Florida Author

Anyone can have fun with tangrams. I do enjoy coming up with new creations using them. I plan to make a large wooden set that my grandson can use outside.

Angels are on the way to you this afternoon ps


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 19 months ago

More proof that youth is wasted on the young. Adults should be able to play with these too. What's the harm? Surely it's better than looking to boost one's kill score on Grand Theft Auto.

I could easily be wrong but I would like to think that if committees of congress and of the legislatures of the several states were required to exercise their minds this way as a job requirement they would come up with more creative and useful solutions to problems.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 20 months ago from sunny Florida Author

Thank you Peggy. I appreciate your visit. They are so much fun to use with kids of all ages. They have so many ways to create with them.

Kids asked often if they could use them tangram pieces if they had a chance for free choice in station time.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 20 months ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Patricia,

What an interesting way to teach children about different shapes! Looking at the image of the swan in your video, it reminded me of making an origami one by folding the paper into that shape. I was truthfully not familiar with the word tangrams prior to reading this. If it was used in my high school geometry class...it was long forgotten.

Up votes and I will share this. I can't believe that mine is the first comment! Sending good thoughts your way! Hope that this will be a special day for you and those you love.

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