Tessellating Prints

I was inspired recently to make some geometric patterned paper with T. I had an idea in mind of what I was hoping we could achieve, but in order to enable her to really grasp the activity and be able to succeed, I needed to lay the groundwork by teaching her about tessellation.

Artist Inspiration

To begin, I introduced the concept of tessellation by showing T images of art work using tessellating patterns. She loved looking at them, particularly the work of Escher! We discussed how the pictures had been made by using the same shape over and over. We looked at some quite complicated patterns and some simpler ones using regular shapes.

Patterns with 2D shape

I thought the simplest way to begin would be by using T’s Melissa & Doug Magnetic Pattern Blocks* set to explore how shapes tessellate. These shapes are designed to fit together, and they do so pretty well, which would maximise her chances of success. We had a go at creating tessellating patterns using one kind of shape at a time. We talked about how to line up the sides of the shapes and ensure not lo leave any gaps.

Tessellating with wooden blocks

We repeated the above activity the following day using 3D wooden blocks, which I wanted to use later for printing. As well as cubes, cuboids, and triangular prisms, this set includes cylinders, arches, and semicircular prisms. T first identified which shapes would tessellate, and then had a go at making patterns using the remaining shapes.

She experimented with using different layouts to tessellate the shapes. I loved watching her investigate and seeing her thought process.


Before printing, I explained to T that we needed to cover the whole paper with a tessellation. We talked about what we had done with the shapes earlier, and how they needed to be right next to each other with no gaps. She chose three colours and soon got going! While she was printing, we discussed how consecutive shapes needed to be different colours so that they didn’t merge in to each other.

She created two designs, and I did it alongside her – she loves it when I am fully immersed in an activity with her, and it was a very relaxing way to spend some quality time with her! I love the finished designs – I think they’d make good wrapping paper! I’m tempted to colour photocopy them and add the copies to her writing drawers! T was so proud of the designs that she’d created, and was really excited to show J when he arrived home from work.

This was such a fun activity to do with T, and definitely one we could develop. I’d love to extend the learning by helping her to make geometric patterns which tessellate more than one shape, or helping her to create her own irregular tessellating shape.

What she is learning:

Maths: Properties of 2D and 3D shape; creating and describing patterns
Communication: Following complex instructions; concentration and focus
Art & Design: Manipulating materials to achieve a planned effect; designing and creating

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