Fun Ways to Teach Kids About Patterns

Learning about patterns can hone problem-solving skills and more

Boy with Down Syndrome uses abacus at school
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Children love to find patterns in the world around them as they reinforce feelings of safety and predictability. In fact, you may even find that altering certain patterns of colors or actions in a child's routine will inspire protest. Beyond this, though, there are educational benefits to incorporating patterns into your home activities and lessons.

Benefits

Studies have shown that encouraging a child’s understanding of patterns contributes to the development of various kinds of mathematical thinking, including counting, problem-solving, drawing inferences about number combinations, and even algebra.

Patterns are also essential to music education. Cultivating pattern awareness can develop a sense of rhythm and compositional awareness that sets the stage for music appreciation and participation.

Additionally, some scientific studies suggest that the inherent relationship between math and music can be fostered at a very young age, as infants have been known to respond to aural and somatic patterns as much as older children respond to visual patterns. 

How to Begin

Patterns can be found everywhere, but your child may need your help identifying them as such. When teaching your child to make or identify patterns, keep in mind how we perceive them.

Typically, when we think of patterns, we think in the most basic terms: repeating a set of items in a particular sequence. For example, “apple, banana, apple, banana, apple” is a basic ABA pattern. “Apple, apple, banana, apple, apple, banana” is a basic AAB pattern.

But if you look closely, there are other elements that make that a pattern. You could think of it as “red, yellow, red, yellow, red” or as “sphere, crescent, sphere, crescent, sphere” as well.

Keep this in mind when creating or completing patterns with your child so you can mix things up and make your home lessons more varied and interesting.

Other differentiators you can think of calling out when asking your child to make a pattern with items or images, depending on your child's readiness:

  • Size (small, large)
  • Texture (soft, hard)
  • Temperature (ice cubes are cold, soup is hot)
  • Categories (animals that live in the sea vs. on land)
  • Uses (things you use in the bathtub vs. in the kitchen)
  • Flavor (peanuts are salty, candy is sweet)
  • Smells (garbage is yucky, flowers are pleasant)

Objects for Patterns

While there are spoken word games you can play to help reinforce the idea of patterns, when you’re teaching the concept, it’s always beneficial to have a variety of things available for them to make their own visual patterns in both simple and complex ways.

People may be used in a large group setting: Boy, girl, boy, girl; short, tall, short, tall; etc. But objects are probably more practical for the majority of people. Try these options:

  • Beads
  • Blocks
  • Stickers
  • Cereal
  • Leaves
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Construction paper shapes
  • Sponge prints
  • Coins
  • Foam or magnetic numbers or letters
  • Marbles
  • Buttons
  • Clay in various shapes and colors
  • Scraps of cloth
  • Toy cars
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils
  • Colored popsicle sticks
  • Playing cards
  • Squares of wrapping paper
  • Candy

Many of these items can be sorted by color, which may be your child's natural inclination. Prompt them, though, to recall the other types of patterns that exist. For instance, buttons may have size patterns and beads may have different shape patterns.

You can even teach a child about patterns with nothing at all. For example, try using sounds or motions, such as clap, pat, slap, clap, pat, slap.

Everyday Practice

Patterns are easy to find in our daily lives and you can use those that you come across as a teaching tool at any time. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • At the park, lay out a rock, a pine cone, and a twig, and ask your child to continue the pattern.
  • While waiting for food at a restaurant, ask your child to create a pink-pink-blue pattern using sugar substitute packets.
  • In the kitchen, teach your child how to set the table by playing utensils in the correct order or alternating the napkin each seat gets (white, printed, white, printed).
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Article Sources
  • Copley JV. The Young Child and Mathematics. 2nd ed. Washington D.C.:  National Association for the Education of Young Children; 2010.