Patterns are all around us, from the clothing we wear to the repeating patterns found in nature and everyday routine. Patterning is also a basic math skill upon which many mathematical concepts are based. Times tables, addition and skip counting all require an understanding of and proficiency in patterning. In preschool, identifying and creating patterns is just the beginning of the mastery of life-long mathematical skills.

How can you introduce your preschooler to patterning? "Children find patterns from looking around and noticing," says Grace Davila Coates, Program Director of Family Math (Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California at Berkeley) and co-author of Family Math for Young Children. She says that a parent's job is to recognize patterns and point them out, in clothes, on the sidewalk, and everywhere patterns are to be found. In short, using the world around you and objects from around the house will introduce your child to patterning and give him a head start in mathematical thinking.

Pattern Basics:

  • A pattern is only a pattern if it is repeated twice.
  • The easiest patterns are those involving two colors or variables (for example, red, blue, red, blue), referred to as an AB,AB pattern. More complex patterns include ABC, ABC; AABB,AABB; AAB,AAB; ABB, ABB; and ABCD,ABCD.
  • Be sure to give your child the opportunity to “read” his pattern when it is complete. This will allow him the opportunity to fix any misplaced objects in his pattern.

Identifying Patterns in Your World:

By taking the time to notice and identify patterns with your child, he will begin to see and identify them as well. Be on the lookout for some of these patterns as you go through your day:

  • Many patterns can be found in the fabric used to create clothing. Stripes, prints, and plaids often repeat themselves providing many opportunities for identifying patterns as you go through the day.  
  • Many shoes have a pattern on the bottom of the sole. Notice shoe tracks when you walk through dirt or make prints with wet soles.
  • Nature provides patterns in flower petals, colorful gardens, and even in the coats of animals such as tigers and zebras.
  • Once children are aware of patterns they will begin to see them in everything. They might notice that breakfast is served in a pattern:  yogurt, eggs, pancakes; yogurt, eggs, pancakes or that they have school one day, and stay home the next. Do you have patterns in your weekly schedule or daily routine? Help your child become aware of your everyday patterns.
  • When you go to the grocery store, notice patterns in the food displays, display cases, and even the floor tiles. Even grocery shopping can be a learning time if you take note of what is around you.

Create and Extend Patterns:

  • Provide opportunities for your child to extend a pattern you have started or to create her own pattern using items found around your house such as the following:
  • When serving small crackers or cereal that comes in multiple colors, ask your child to create a pattern with her food before eating it.
  • String beads or colored cereal into a beautiful patterned necklace for hands-on pattern work.
  • Use blocks, Legos or other small toys to create patterns across the room. The longer you make it, the more fun it is (and the more practice for your little one)
  • Use stickers or rubber stamps to make patterns on paper. Your child will be delighted in the opportunity to use these fun tools for learning.
  • Create movement patterns as you move across the back yard, down the street or through the  park. For example walk, walk, jump; walk, walk, jump. Try any of these movements to add to the fun: skip, run, jog, hop, turn, and sit.

Patterns are all around us, as are opportunities to teach your child more about them. The key to teaching this basic math skill is to make your child aware of patterns and give her opportunities to create and extend patterns in daily life. After just a bit of practice, you will be amazed at how often he'll find patterns that you don’t even see!

 More preschool patterning activities:

More fun resources are available on our preschool math games and math resources pages.