Eating Up Patterns

In this lesson, children will sort by color and then create and extend patterns using Fruit Loops cereal.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand patterns, relations and functions

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Sorting and classifying by color
  • Identifying, modeling and creating patterns

Eating Up Patterns

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Fruit Loops Cereal
  • Baggies (to hold cereal)
  • Small bowls or organizer trays (for cereal sorting)
  • Pipe cleaners

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Show the children the Fruit Loops cereal.
  2. Ask: “Is the cereal all the same? How is it different? How is it the same? Are they all the same size? The same color?”
  3. Tell the children that you are going to “sort” the cereal into groups based on color (put all of the pink cereal together, yellow together, etc.)
  4. Say: “Now that we have sorted the cereal, we are going to create patterns with the cereal.”
  5. Explain that a pattern is something that repeats more than once (pink, green, pink, green).
  6. Create a pattern using only two colors at first.
  7. Ask the children what they think will come next.
  8. Continue the pattern using more cereal.
  9. Ask the children if your extension is correct. If it is correct, eat the pattern!
  10.  Repeat steps six through eight, increasing the number of colors and the difficulty of the pattern as you go.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Tell the children that it is their turn to create a pattern using cereal.
  2. Give each child a small bag (or cup) of cereal.
  3. Ask the children to sort the cereal into different groups based on color.
  4. Create a pattern that each child will copy. Ask the children to copy your pattern and then extend the pattern. Once the children have checked their extension with you, they can eat their pattern.
  5. Ask the children to create their own patterns using the cereal.
  6. Encourage the children to describe what their patterns are and have them show the group the patterns before they eat them.
  7. Give each child a pipe cleaner and tell the child to create a pattern by placing the cereal on the pipe cleaner.
  8. Ask about each child’s pattern.
  9. Encourage the children to make longer extended patterns.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Sort: Separating the items according to a given attribute (e.g., “Let’s sort the motors by putting them into groups according to whether they float, fly or drive.”)
  • Classify: Putting items in the same group based on similar traits and providing a name to the grouping (e.g.,”We classified this group of motors as the floaters. All of these motors together make another group.”)
  • More than, less than, the sameWords used to compare quantity (e.g.,”There are more flying motors than floating motors. There are less red motors than blue motors.”)
  • CountTo identify the amount of something by number (e.g.,”Let’s count how many motors we have that drive.”)
  • Amount: The total number of an item (e.g.,”What is the total amount of motors you used?”)
  • Same: Equal in number (e.g.,”Does the fly group have the same amount as the drive group?”)
  • Different: Not the same in size, shape, amount, length, etc. (e.g., “How is this motor different than the other motor?”)
  • More than: A value that is higher or greater in number (e.g., “Which group of motors has more than the float group?”)
  • Less: A value that is smaller in number (e.g., “Does this group have less motors than the fly group? Can you sort your items into different groups?”)
  • Same: Identical in kind or quantity (e.g., “Are these things the same?”)
  • Different: Not similar in size, shape, color or other characteristic (e.g., “How are they different?”)
  • Classify: Naming the groups based on their same characteristics (e.g.,”We classify the cereal as orange, green, pink, etc.”)
  • Pattern: Something that repeats more than once (e.g.,”Can you find the pattern? What is your pattern?”)
  • Repeating: To do or make again and again (e.g.,”Does a pattern repeat?”)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Eat the pieces of cereal without patterning them
  • Not be able to recognize a pattern or extend a pattern
  • Call their creation a pattern, even if it is not
Child care providers may:
  • Use items to pattern other than cereal (something not edible)
  • Have children eat the cereal in a pattern (Eat two green, two pink, two green, two pink. Now what should you eat next?)
  • Make a pattern and encourage the children to describe it with support
  • Compare their pattern with the child’s non-pattern, saying: “I have two pink and two green and two pink and two green. You have two pink and one green and one orange.”
  • Ask: “Can you make a new pattern starting with three green?”
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Eat the cereal pieces without patterning them
  • Copy an adult’s pattern
  • Extend a pattern
  • Make a pattern but not be able to describe it
  • Describe their pattern
  • Recognize when something is not a pattern
Child care providers may:
  • Have the children eat the cereal in a pattern (“Eat two green, two pink, two green, two pink. Now what should you eat next?”)
  • Encourage the children to compare their patterns with their classmates’ patterns
  • Ask the children to make more complex patterns (“Can you use four different colors in your pattern?”)

Suggested Books

  • Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris (Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2000)
  • What’s Next Nina? by Sue Kassierer (New York: Kane Press, 2001)
  • Patterns by Ivan Bulloch (Chicago, IL: World Book Inc., 1994)
  • Mouse and the Apple by Stephen Butler (Topeka, KS: Sagebrush Education Resources, 1994)
  • Dots, Spots, Speckles, and Stripes by Tana Hoban (New York: Greenwillow Books, 1987)
  • Exactly the Opposite by Tana Hoban (New York: Greenwillow Books, 1990)
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff (New York: HarperCollins, 1985)
  • Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell (Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2010)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

  • Go on a leaf walk and collect leaves. Look for patterns in the leaf designs.
  • Go for a walk around the neighborhood. What kinds of patterns are all around the neighborhood? Look for patterns in the sidewalk, in windows and doors, etc.

Web Resources

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