Fun Ways to Teach Kids About Patterns

Encourage Kids to Find and Create Patterns

Boy with Down Syndrome uses abacus at school
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Children love to find patterns in the world around them. For them, it reinforces feelings of safety and predictability. You may even find that altering patterns of colors or actions will inspire protest in small children.

Beyond the well-being that patterns inspire, studies have shown that encouraging a child’s understanding of patterns contributes to the development of various kinds of mathematical thinking. These include 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. Even infants seem to respond to aural and somatic patterns as much as older children respond to visual patterns. 

Teaching Patterns to Children

Patterns can be found everywhere, but your child may need your help identifying them as patterns. When teaching your child to make patterns, keep in mind how we perceive patterns. 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. In contrast, “apple, apple, banana, apple, apple, banana” is a basic AAB pattern. The items are repeated in a certain order.

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

25 Objects for Patterns

There are a few games you can play to help reinforce the idea of patterns, including Categories: A Circle Game. Yet, when you’re teaching your child to make patterns, it’s always good to have a variety of items from which she can choose, so she can make visual patterns in both simple and complex ways.

Here are 25 items that can be used to make patterns:

  1. Beads
  2. Blocks
  3. People
  4. Sounds (clap, pat, slap, clap, pat, slap)
  5. Stickers
  6. Cereal
  7. Leaves
  8. Socks
  9. Shoes
  10. Construction paper shapes
  11. Sponge prints
  12. Coins
  13. Foam numbers or letters
  14. Magnetic letters or numbers
  15. Marbles
  16. Buttons
  17. Play-doh in various shapes and colors
  18. Scraps of cloth
  19. Decorative jewels
  20. Toy cars
  21. Crayons, markers, or colored pencils
  22. Colored popsicle sticks
  23. Deck of playing cards
  24. Squares (or any shape) of wrapping paper
  25. Candy

Many of these items can be sorted by color, which may be your child's natural inclination. However, keep in mind that you can also teach her to sort things by other types of patterns. For instance, buttons may have size patterns and beads may have different shape patterns.

A Simple Pattern Game

You can also have fun mixing different types of objects and ask your child to finish a pattern you establish. For instance, if you're playing outside, you might lay out a "flower, rock, pine cone, flower, rock" on the patio. Give her one of each of the objects and let her figure out what comes next in your pattern.

This game can be done with any set of objects no matter where you are. In the kitchen, you might use a fork, spoon, and knife pattern while setting the table for dinner. In the morning, you might take a few minutes to play with your family's shoes. It takes just a few minutes but can do wonders to reinforce your pattern lessons.

Patterns Are Everywhere

Patterns are easy to find in our daily lives and you can use those that you see as a teaching tool. Help her look for patterns in size, shape, texture, and length, as well as the function of the objects around you. It's a great foundation for what she will learn in the future.

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  • Copley JV. The Young Child and Mathematics. 2nd ed. Washington D.C.:  National Association for the Education of Young Children; 2010.