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What is a Tangram Puzzle? (Easily Explained) Purpose, Rules, Math, Art,…

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Tangram puzzles are one of the most popular dissection puzzles in the world. It consists of seven polygons, called tans. Players combine the tans in various ways to form different figures — minimal designs that repeat patterns, such as numbers, letters, and pictures, using all seven pieces. 

This puzzle, which is thought to originate in the 18th century in China, and later brought to Europe and the Americas at the start of the 19th century, continues to be popular today. Despite its simplicity, the concept of tangrams has profound effects on the mind, especially on young ones.

The Tangram puzzle can be used as an educational tool for children because it encourages creativity and spatial vision, and it’s an endless entertainment source for adults. Having fun and strengthening your intellect are excellent reasons to play Tangram.

Keep reading to learn how Tangram puzzles can be a fun and educational activity for children and parents.

1. The purpose of Tangram puzzles.

In addition to being a fun game, Tangrams serve many other purposes. Students can use them to develop problem-solving and logical thinking skills, perceptual reasoning (nonverbal thinking skills), visual-spatial awareness, creativity, and many mathematical concepts, including congruence, symmetry, area, perimeter, and geometry. 

Perhaps, the most fundamental change is the change from thinking about math as a dull subject to thinking about it as a fun and exciting activity that encourages further study. 

2. Simple pieces that make learning fun.

The Tangram is a 2D square divided into seven pieces:

  • two large triangles;
  • one medium triangle;
  • two small triangles;
  • one parallelogram, and
  • one square.

The tangrams you buy or print out come grouped into either flat squares, rectangles, or triangles. You will find that every piece is unique as you separate them. Each Tangram set is painted in red, green, blue, and yellow. The three Tangram triangles vary in size but are all right isosceles triangles. These triangles have 45° angles, 45° angles, and 90° angles, and the corresponding sides are equal.

You will combine these geometric shapes to form a variety of other figures. People can use Tangram puzzle pieces to create many different shapes. There are several categories of tangram levels, and the difficulty levels vary from easy to expert.

3. Easy rules to follow.

Tangram rules are straightforward. Basically, all you need to do is disassemble and rearrange the pieces to create the desired image. But there are some guidelines to follow:

  1. All pieces must connect.
  2. The figures must be flat.
  3. The pieces can’t overlap.
  4. You’re allowed to rotate or flip the tans.
  5. You must use all seven pieces.

An outline image of the target shape hides the seams between the composite tans. To complete the challenge, the player must recreate the form with the seven pieces. There is nothing complicated about it. It is an exercise similar to structured block play, where you replicate the structure described in a diagram. However, in Tangram, you have to figure out where the pieces go.

It’s helpful to understand how to create basic shapes from triangles because you have five of them in your tangram set. For example, two triangles can form a square, a diamond, a parallelogram, or a larger triangle. If you get into this mindset, solving the puzzle will be easier.

4. Tangram puzzles can help students understand geometry and math.

We already mentioned that the triangles in the Tangram are right isosceles, but if you look closely, all the shapes are covered by small triangles. That means that the angles of all the pieces are multiples of 45, and the smallest Tangram triangle is the measuring unit used to compare their areas. 

Yi Ling Cheng and Kelly Mix conducted a study that found that students who played with tangram puzzles for 40 minutes performed significantly better on a pencil-and-paper math test immediately afterward. The same was not true of crossword puzzles. (Cheng and Mix 2012)

Moreover, the use of tangrams can help make fraction algorithms both more straightforward and more understandable. Many teachers teach fractions in a superficial manner that does not stick with students and does not allow them to grasp the concept or the importance of learning it. 

When students solve metaphorical problems, they will have a solid, intuitive foundation to build these essential skills and rely on their intuitive capabilities if memory fails.

In addition, Tangram puzzles can also provide geometry knowledge such as 2D and an understanding of how to decompose geometric shapes. Tans can give a visual aid when teachers introduce the convex polygon topic in the classroom. 

The pieces can form polygons that are familiar to students and are composed of a square and triangles. Yet, it can also challenge a young mind to determine which pieces include a more complex structure. 

It also teaches students geometry vocabulary. They will learn terms such as congruent, parallel, angles, shape names, diagonal, vertex, etc. 

5. Building visual-spatial relationships.

Our brains constantly work when we play Tangrams, whether using our creativity to construct a figure or building shapes from templates. 

Players will rotate and move the pieces in different positions to create a bird, a letter, a number — just about anything that’s out there. Experimenting with the parts like that boost your visual-spatial skills, which is your “ability to generate, retain, retrieve, and transform well-structured visual images” (Lohman 1996).

6. Tans as forms of artistic expression — in and out of the classroom.

Tangrams are also an easy way to integrate art into the classroom or your life if you’re not a teacher. You can easily find Tangram outline templates and shapes to recreate with your tans. Parents and teachers can also integrate the puzzle into children’s storytime. They can ask kids to create shapes and figures that match the story while it’s being told. 

As they use their creativity, kids also learn abstract and critical thinking, spatial rotation skills, eye-hand coordination, visual closures, and spatial relations. 

If you are more of an artsy person, you will be happy to know that many artists, architects, and designers use the seven shapes to create beautiful pieces, buildings, and images. 

7. A puzzle that helps assess and calm the mind.

Tangram puzzles are one of the earliest psychological tests. In China, experts used the game to evaluate people’s intelligence, often used along another game called jiulianhuan, consisting of nine linked rings.

Muniba Salee, Dr. of Social Psychology and professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, published a study about a Tangram Help/Hurt Task protocol. It’s a relatively new method used for assessing interpersonal and intergroup helping and hurting behaviors.

8. Using Tangrams to teach is an excellent method of introducing concepts.

An essential purpose of this puzzle is to develop decision-making and visual orientation skills. A very versatile set of puzzles that encourage creative problem solving, Tangrams can act as a helpful diversion from regular classroom practices.

Both students and teachers can benefit from the ancient art of the tangram puzzle. Based on the idea of dissection and assembly, the puzzles are designed to stimulate the logical skills of applied reason and rational observation.

Teaching with Tangrams provides a great way to assess and engage with students. Working with Tangrams gives teachers an idea of how students tackle a mathematical problem. Tans are used to express thinking; when students split into small working groups, teachers can listen and ask questions about how students come up with different solutions.

It’s crucial to assess students on symbolic tasks and performance tasks by asking them to explain how they got to a conclusion. By having the students describe their problem-solving strategies and thinking in front of the class, you get another chance to assess their skills even further. 

In closing

Tangram puzzles are a great tool to have in the classroom and at home. This simple toy will encourage children’s curiosity and creativity and will seamlessly develop essential skills. 

The benefits and applications for learning and development are infinite. The progress of spatial reasoning skills can occur while children gain familiarity with geometric figures. 

Initially, some children may find spatial tasks difficult, but they will improve with practice. There are many resources online that you can access to bring this game into your kid’s routine.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.