Have you ever played with tangrams? Known to the Chinese as qi qiao ban: the "seven-board of cunning" puzzle was invented 1500 years ago, and still used today as a popular toy and in schools to teach trigonometry and geometry.
It consists of 7 pieces, or tans, that are moved around to create a shape, often following an outline. The 7 pieces include five right triangles (large, medium and small), one square, and one parallelogram. The rules are simple, though the puzzles range in complexity. When doing a tangram puzzle, all seven pieces must be used, they must lay flat, they must touch, and none may overlap.
Read the Tangram Legend
You can buy plastic or wooden tangrams but we created our own using cereal boxes and decorative origami paper. We glued a square piece of paper to the boxboard, and cut into our shapes using this tutorial. You could also just cut them out of paper, but we wanted ours to be sturdier.
Of course, it would be easier :) to first find a tangram template, and cut the boxboard and decorative paper to size. Here are two tangram templates: large & small.
Also, All Things Beautiful, has a great post and tutorial on how to get your tangram pieces without measuring, but by folding your square into pieces.
Elle and I read "Grandfather Tang's Story" by Ann Tompert. It was a great way to introduce her to tangrams, as the characters are drawn alongside their tangrams, and the story is told with traditional Chinese characters of fox fairies, which are magical foxes that can change forms and get into mischief.
First we read the book, and the second time Elle and I had fun creating the character shapes as we read along. We then closed the book to see if we could remember how to shape some of the animals - though Elle remembered a couple, my pieces just kept going in circles.
Inspired by a game played with tangrams at Angelic Scalliwags as part of their ancient China study, I created an animal tangram challenge. The puzzle is placed in the middle of the table, with the shape facing in all four directions, and the race is on to see who can complete the puzzle first.
I thought I would have an unfair advantage, having put the challenge together. But though I would have a general idea of where to start, I was just as puzzled as the others! I kept hearing comments like: "It's missing a piece" or "It doesn't need the square" (that square kept stumping us). I think this game will continue to challenge us, and I particularly loved seeing the focused attention hubby gave it!
I also created two animal tangram puzzle booklets (seen in picture at top of post)- one with the outlines showing, and the other without. I'm hoping to try the ones with the outlines with my almost four year old nephew, who loves puzzles.
And you can find more puzzles here,and here with varying levels of challenge.
Here are some fun things others are doing with tangrams:
Jimmie's Collage created artwork using tangram shapes
Have you played with tangrams? Do you find them challenging?
You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:
You can find more creative and kid friendly activities at the following linkups: