Math Skills – Patterns

There are six foundation skills for math learning, including patterns.

Patterns are predictable repetitions. You can see, hear, or act out a pattern—it’s whenever sights, sounds, or movements repeat in predictable ways. To be a pattern, the set of objects, events, actions, or sounds must repeat fully at least once so we can see the pattern unit. Two pattern units make a pattern.

Here are some activities to play with creating patterns:

  • Crafts / Play: String beads onto pipe-cleaners, or colored macaroni onto string, or plant a skewer or dowel into playdough or floral foam so it stands upright, and then put on cut up straws. Try alternating colors: black then white then black then white. Or more sophisticated patterns: red white blue red white blue, or two greens one yellow two greens one yellow, and so on. Your child can create their own patterns or replicate your sample.
  • Learn about the order of colors in the rainbow: ROYGBIV. Play with those by making paintings or drawings, rainbow bracelets, putting plastic cups in rainbow order…
  • Make patterns with food, making kebabs with meat, veg, meat, veg, or fruit kebabs.
  • Use Duplos or Unifix cubes to make towers with color patterns.
  • With tangrams you can make shape patterns – circle, triangle, square, star…
  • Music has LOTS of opportunities for making patterns. (Check out our rhythm curriculum.) Like we teach stomp-stomp-clap, and then play a “we will rock you” song during geology week, and we teach clap-lap-clap-lap-clap-lapx3, then sing “a sailor went to sea, sea, sea.”
  • Large motor games: squat, jump, squat, jump and so on.

Developing an awareness of patterns also helps your child begin to make more sense of their world:

Patterns are things—numbers, shapes, images—that repeat in a logical way. Patterns help children learn to make predictions, to understand what comes next, to make logical connections, and to use reasoning skills

So, when we help a child notice nature’s cycles, we’re working on patterning skills: day and night, the calendar, the weather, seasons. When we notice that we eat breakfast before we eat lunch, and dinner comes after lunch, we’re helping them notice patterns that help them predict. Having consistent family routines helps them notice patterns and understand rules.

You can help your child notice all the patterns you stumble across in life: “your shirt is striped – there’s a red stripe, blue stripe, red stripe, blue stripe.” “See how I put the napkin on this side, and the fork on top of it? Can you do that for the other plates?” “On this aisle, all the shelves on this side have crackers and all the shelves on that side have chips.” “She has a turn, then it’s your turn, then it’s your brother’s turn. Then you can all go again in the same order.”

Patterning is closely tied to the science skill of classification (or sorting) and when you sort things into sets, it’s easier to do math with them.

If you’re trying to count a big pile of something, it can help to sort it into piles of ten and then see how many piles of ten you have. This sorting forms a foundation for multiplication – if you sort 12 bears into red, green and blue bears, and notice that you have 3 sets of 4, then you can say 3 sets of four equals 12.

Here are some ideas for how to notice patterns when sorting:

  • Laundry – sort into piles of underwear and socks and shirts. Then sort the socks into pairs.
  • Snack time: sort the blueberries from the strawberries, then count – do you have more blueberries or strawberries?
  • Clean-Up: Find all the nerf darts and stomp rockets. Do you still have 9 darts and 3 rockets? If not, we need to keep looking.
  • Setting the table: can you get four forks, four spoons and four knives?

For more math learning ideas, check out my full series on Math Skills.


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