Picking Up Patterns

The ability to reproduce and create patterns is an early math skill that we adults can encourage in young children. Patterns occur throughout mathematics, but children’s first experiences with patterns are with objects rather than numbers.

Children between the 3 and 5 begin to be able to reproduce a pattern created by someone else. For example, if an adult uses blocks to create the pattern of rectangle, square, rectangle, square, and so on, the child will be able to look at that pattern and use his own blocks to make the same pattern.

Almost any set of objects around the house can create a simple alternating pattern (ABAB):

  • spoon, knife, spoon, knife
  • blue napkin, red napkin, blue napkin, red napkin
  • nut, bolt, nut, bolt; or
  • crayon, marker, crayon, marker

After children perceive and create this simple patterning, adults can offer more complicated patterns, such as nut, nut, bolt, nut, nut, bolt (AABAAB) or nut, nut, bolt, bolt, bolt, nut, nut, bolt, bolt, bolt

Encourage children to create their own patterns with objects. Ask them to predict which object would come next in one of your patterns. Invite them to sketch their patterns.

Finding patterns in the world around them and creating patterns themselves will help children see patterns in more complex mathematics later on.

Family Friendly Communication for Early Childhood Programs

National Education for the Education of Young Children
Deborah Diffily and Kathy Morrison, editors; 1996; pg. 61.