Tangrams for Kids – Help Your Child Develop Spatial Skills

Tangram might sound like a funny word but there’s nothing funny about the way tangrams can help your children develop their math and spatial skills. Tangrams are puzzles designed to get you thinking about strategy and putting together larger pictures of a product. They are founded in Chinese teachings and are used by many a daycare, school and study groups to help kids further develop their skills.

A typical Tangram puzzle is made up of several shapes in various sizes. These shapes can be rearranged in any number of ways to create something new. For example, one way to introduce children to Tangrams is to have them build a simple shape out of another shape. You can use a number of triangles to craft a square. Children need to figure out how to turn the triangles on angles and move them around to create the square. After they have figured out how to incorporate triangles into squares, include another shape, such as a square or rectangle. Now, children can make the larger square from a series of triangles and squares. It won’t take them long to piece together the puzzle and they’ll be hooked!

593px-Tangrams v2There are official Tangram sets that can be purchased online or at retail stores. These sets are typically made from wood and come in an assortment of fun and bright colors. These sets incorporate several up to five shapes and come with instructions on how to make several larger shapes. This fun and interactive “game” teaches children to reason with shapes and to anticipate where a shape will need to be placed to finish the puzzle.

This touches on development of spatial skills in a number of ways: first, sometimes it is very hard for people to visualize what a finished product will look like. Tangrams helps to develop that anticipatory approach to planning. A second way that Tangrams help to develop spatial skills in children is to consider the three dimensional nature of the puzzle pieces and to begin developing their own puzzles from them. It is one thing to just follow along to the instructions to create a new shape, but it is a very different thing to begin working with your own imagination about how a shape can fill a space.

Think about the last time you re-arranged furniture in your family room. Did you draw out the room on a piece of paper and sketch in the sofa, tables, shelves? This is a technique we use when we are trying to figure out the “space” we have to work with. Tangrams can foster the notion of planning space, just like re-arranging the family room. When a child can visualize a finished product, they are much more likely to be successful in math, science, engineering and architecture because they can anticipate the ending.

Further still, other Tangrams use up to seven shapes called “tans”. These consist of a number of combinations of shapes and can be used to make limitless larger shapes. Tangrams can instill curiosity in children: they’ll find themselves asking the question “what if I put these two shapes together?” Or “what if I move this shape here…”

Tangram_015_Nevit_svgTangrams can be completed by a single person or a group of people and make for a fun family activity. There are even Tangram puzzle books that you can purchase for fun on the road. The great thing about games like Tangrams is that children don’t realize they are learning. Anytime a parent can sneak in a learning experience disguised as a fun and interested activity it’s a win! Children can start to become competitive with puzzle games like Tangrams and so having siblings or friends race against a clock can add an element of intrigue that you might not have previously thought of.

Try having your children make shapes from around your house. Try to create the refrigerator shape, the sofa, the kitchen table, the window. Try to determine which pieces your children will need and then set a timer and let them have fun! You can even make your own Tangrams game out of colored paper, or you can have children decorate the shapes in whatever way they want. Anything that will increase their interest in Tangrams is a great idea, considering how useful this tool is in teaching children about spatial planning and anticipation.

Another fun idea to get your kids using Tangrams, is to have them come up with their own shapes, and then challenge the other child to build the same shape. This is again pretty competitive but it’s definitely a fun way to approach Tangrams!

Noone likes to think about learning geometry – it’s a big scary word! Who uses geometry anyway? Well, the truth is that we all use it quite a bit! And you want to encourage your children to embrace math so that they can develop positive feelings toward it. Lots of kids hate math and geometry, but when you introduce it in a way that doesn’t feel like math, it can spark an interest they didn’t even know they had. The really great thing about Tangrams, though, is that they are great for any age group: even the smallest toddler will try to fit shapes together and make meaning of what he or she is seeing. It’s remarkable how we are almost instinctually drawn to put things together.

You can help your child develop their spatial skills, as well as they understanding of math and geometry but introducing them to Tangrams! It’s a fun way to take a big topic and your children are sure to enjoy trying to figure out those puzzles! Plus, it’s a fun word to say: Tangrams! Get the whole family involved and you’ll be making it a weekly tradition in no time flat!

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