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Home School Life Journal
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales
painting by Katie Bergenholtz

Playing Pentominoes and Blockus

We played with pentaminos today. A pentomino is a geometric figure formed by joining five (Ancient Greek πέντε / pénte) equal squares connected edge to edge. There are twelve different ways to place the squares to form pentominoes, often named after the letters of the Latin alphabet that they vaguely resemble. The object of the standard pentomino puzzle is to fill a rectangular box with the pentominoes so that it covers it without overlap and without gaps. (A little like tesselations.) Since each of the twelve pentominoes has an area of 5 unit squares, the box must have an area of 60 units. Possible sizes are 6×10, 5×12, 4×15 and 3×20. You can buy the game, play it online, or you can make one.
For my younger students, I printed out this set.
For my older students, I had them figure out the 12 different pentaominos by gluing 5 squares together in different ways and then cutting them out. Tiffany at Child's Play had the unique idea of not telling her students what pentaminos were, having them put the five squares together and she would tell them whether it followed the rules for the 12 pentaminos (connected edge to edge) until they understood what the rule was.
The shapes reminded us of one of our favorite games, Blockus.
The differences are that Blockus' pieces come in many size combinations and that they are laid down corner-to-corner and not edge to edge. (BTW: There is a two-player Blockus game that has a slightly different strategy to it. I actually enjoy it more, but then perhaps it is because I got it first.)
For our first experience with pentominos, we just played around with trying to get all the pentominos in a grid, and it is more difficult than you would think.
Games can be played with the pentominos.
One of the games is played on an 8×8 grid by two or three players. Players take turns in placing pentominoes on the board so that they do not overlap with existing tiles and no tile is used more than once. The objective is to be the last player to place a tile on the board.
Another tie-in for this is the book Chasing Vermeer, which features the puzzle. I have not read the book yet myself, but I have heard positive things about it and it is on my list of books to check out.


  1. Great math activity! I bet your boys loved it.

  2. We love Blockus - so maybe we'd like the other game as well.

  3. I love pentominoes.

    I'm lukewarm on Blokus, but my kids LOVE it!

  4. Oh, we are tip top Blokus fans here at the Hodgepodge. Any and all kinds!! Love this.

  5. Thanks for the detailed introduction to a new game! I've never played it but it reminds me of Tetris for some reason which I love! We'll definitely try this!

  6. By the way, I can't thank you enough for all the great resources you've provided.


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