Yes, we did learn a few words in Mandarin Chinese (more on that another time!), but we've also spent our morning and afternoon projects learning about silk, kites, terracotta warriors, calligraphy, dragons, Buddhism, paper, rocketry, the abacus, fireworks, how to build The Great Wall, and other wonders of China. One of our most valuable projects, however, and one of the ones that I'll think we'll keep in heavy rotation even now that the International Fair's finished, was the tangrams.
Invented in China thousands of years ago, tangrams are a simple seven-piece picture puzzle, whose infinite combinations and tricky patterns have kept the girls (and me!) occupied for hours this summer. It's a sneaky little math manipulative, especially for Willow, who has gotten into the habit of exclaiming that she "hates" math, which isn't at all true, of course, for she adores all math activities when she doesn't know that they're math, such as the tangrams!
Using a PBS teacher handout on tangrams, I was able to make tangrams from scrapbook paper, at just about any size that I wanted. I also printed extra pages of the tangrams for the girls to color and cut out, and another copy of the tangrams page on an overhead transparency sheet:
I know a good deal when I see one, and I am ALWAYS on the hunt for homeschool supplies, so I'm not ashamed to tell you that it was years ago that I bought a complete and unused tangram-a-day calendar from Goodwill. The pages are unbound, the tangrams are magnetic, and it comes with a metal sheet that you put about five pages back from the page that you're working on, so that you can stand the calendar up and work on a vertical surface.
Of course, the tabletop also works well:
Although the girls had loads of fun making up their own tangram pictures--
Figuring out the puzzle is good for your brain, and pretty emotionally satisfying, too:
Making the tangrams and solving the tangram puzzles both nurture valuable math skills, so I personally suggest purchasing a tangram+puzzles set that has silhouettes on which you can place the tangrams (makes solving the puzzle more doable for a little), and also making your own tangram sets from a variety of materials.
Geometry in action! And the kid says that she doesn't like math...
Other tangram resources that we tried and loved:
- tangram games from the Sagwa the Chinese Cat PBS Kids site
- Ordinary Life Magic's shrink plastic tangrams