How to Make a Tangram Square: the Chinese Puzzle Game
What are Tangrams?
Tangrams are the most popular of all the Chinese puzzles.
A tangram is a kind of puzzle that was invented in China a long time ago. It is made up of seven flat shapes known in Chinese as tans.
The seven tangram pieces always have the same shapes, but the puzzle can be made any size.
The shapes are:
- 2 large triangles
- 1 medium triangle
- 2 small triangles
- a square
- a parallelogram
The aim of the game is to take the jumbled up shapes and fit them together to make particular images or silhouettes.
Some of the puzzles are quite easy and some would have made Einstein scratch his head!
Let's learn about the history of the tangram. Then we'll look at how to make a tangram puzzle game. Finally, there are some popular tangram puzzle shapes for you to try to some cool resources if you want to find out more.
Famous Tangram Players
Did you know that there have been some very famous tangram players?
The French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, loved to play tangram when he was on military campaigns. You can imagine that he had the sort of logical mind that was good at developing problem-solving strategies.
On the other hand, the British writer, Lewis Caroll (the author of Alice in Wonderland) also enjoyed the tangram game. Certainly a good visual imagination can help to solve the puzzles.
Who Invented the Tangram Puzzle Game?
Nobody really knows who invented the tangram puzzle game.
It is certainly very old indeed and may even have its origins in an ancient form of divination or fortune-telling.
The first historical mention of the game, however, is in a book from the nineteenth century. There is an old Chinese painting that shows two people playing tangram that dates back to the seventeen hundreds and the name of the game in Chinese could be as old as the fourth century before Christ.
But whoever invented it must have been pretty smart as it is still as popular today as it was all those years ago - and just as much fun!
Rules of Tangram
Like all games and puzzles, there are some rules that you have to follow to make it work.
The rules of the Chinese tangram game are very easy to learn.
The rules are:
- to solve each puzzle you have to use all seven shapes
- each shape must touch at least one other shape
- the shapes must not overlap
It's as easy as that! But like a lot of games with simple rules (such as chess or backgammon) it can still be quite a challenge to figure out!
Things You Will Need
To make your own tangram you will need:
- a piece of thick cardboard
- a ruler
- a sharp pencil
- a pair of scissors
- paint & brush (optional)
Make Your Own Tangram: Step-by-Step Instructions
You can buy tangram sets complete with books of puzzles to accompany them from stores.
But it can be fun and satisfying to make your own, too. It isn't difficult and you can usually find what you need around the home.
Once you've got these things together, you are ready to make your own tangram game!
Using your ruler and pencil, measure and mark out a 16 centimetre square on the cardboard.
Be as careful and as accurate as you can.
Skills Developed by Making a Tangram
You can develop some useful skills making a tangram game, such as
- understanding instructions
- making accurate measurements
- understanding geometric shapes
- working through logical steps
- safe use of tools
Plot out the shapes as shown on the diagram below. The measurements are:
A = 16 cm B = 5½ cm C = 8 cm
You might have noticed that not all the sides are given measurements. That is because you only need these measurements to make the template work. If you want a special challenge, you could think about why. But don't worry, you can just draw it out if you like!
If you find drawing this out too difficult just now and you have access to a printer - you are welcome to print a copy of the template and trace it! ;)
When using scissors be careful to keep them pointed away from you.
A young child should always be supervised.
Have a band aid ready just in case.
Once you have got your template marked out on the cardboard, the hardest part is over.
Don't worry if it took you a few tries to get it right, that's fine and all part of the fun!
Now you have everything marked out, the next step is to carefully cut the shapes out with the scissors.
Again, be careful and make sure you don't cut over too far.
When you've cut your pieces out, make sure you've done it correctly by putting them back together to form a square - well done, you've also solved your first tangram puzzle!
How to Make the Tangram Square
This is optional but traditionally the tangram pieces are painted black.
So now you can paint them.
Of course, you can paint them any color at all. Paint them all the colors of the rainbow if you like - there are seven of those, too!
Once you've made one tangram, you can experiment with making them different sizes.
How about a tiny one?
Or a humongous one that you could do outside!
Easy Tangram Puzzles
Well done making your own tangram puzzle!
It is thought by mathematicians that there are over ten thousand different combinations of the tangram shapes - but no one has ever tried to work out what they all are!
Tangram puzzles can be simple shapes such as squares and rectangles or more complicated silhouettes of people, animals and objects.
You can get books with thousands of puzzles in them. Or you can can make up your own.
Here's a few simple ones to get you started...
Each of these videos shows you a puzzle, gives some time to work it out and then shows you the solution. If you need more time, just pause the video! Good luck and have fun!
* after the last video you will find a fun quiz to check how much you've learned and some great resources if you want to explore the wonderful world of tangram further.
More Difficult Tangram Puzzles
If you found those quite easy to do, here are some more challenging tangram puzzles for you to solve!
Tangram Sitting Person
view quiz statistics
Beautiful Wooden Tangram Set
- ABCya! Tangram Puzzles for Kids
ABCya! Tangrams are fun for children of all ages. Complete the puzzle by moving and rotating the seven shapes. A fun way to work with shapes.
- Hundreds of tangram puzzles and tangram patterns to solve.
Each week find new brain-teasers for your tangram! This is the one and only Tangram Channel on YouTube, with puzzles for all levels!
I can personally recommend this tangram book.
It isn't the most colorful but it has loads of useful information, comes with a set of tans and hundreds of puzzles to solve!
"The TangramBook by Joost Elffers shows you the logic of the visual language and the way you can think without words. Best used before the age of 11 but its magic works at all ages." Amazon Review
Educational Benefits of the Chinese Tangram Game
The tangram is lots of fun but it also has all kinds of positive educational benefits.
There's no need to be explicit about that with your children - although you can be, too.
Just playing freely with tangram games can help kids to develop a range of mathematical, vocabulary and confidence skills.
It can help kids overcome the fear of math and geometry that many have.
It can aid them in learning to name and classify shapes.
It can help them develop their spatial awareness.
It can help them understand geometric relationships.
It can help them understand and assimilate vocabulary such as 'congruent' 'pattern' 'flip' 'rotate' and 'symmetry'
Social skills, communication and co-operation can all be encouraged by kids working together either with you or each other on solving tangram puzzles.
And it's not just math: letting kids just play with the tangram shapes can develop imagination, empathy and role-play, too.
I hope that you've enjoyed finding out about tangrams and that your kids will love it too - mine did and still do!
About the Author...
Articles at stuff4kids are written exclusively by expert author, Amanda Littlejohn. Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in a wide range of professional and informal settings. She now specializes in writing and publishing valuable resources for use in educational contexts.
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© 2013 Amanda Littlejohn