Soft Patterning Fun

In this lesson, children will create and extend patterns using spoons and forks or counters from the math kit.

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:

  • Identifying, modeling and creating patterns
  • Recognizing, describing and extending patterns such as sequences of sounds and shapes or simple numeric patterns and translating from one representation to another

Soft Patterning Fun

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

For Pre-K Children:

  • Q-Tips
  • Cotton balls
  • Pattern cards (make your own to use in the lesson or to assist children during the activity)
  • The book, Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris (optional)

For Toddlers:

  • Shapes (circles, triangles, squares, rectangles) made out of different-colored construction paper
  • Pattern cards (make your own to use in the lesson or to assist children during the activity)
  • The book: Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris (optional)

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. Read Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris, which describes various ways to recognize simple and complex patterns (optional).
  2. Explain to the children that the book you read showed many different examples of patterns (only engage in this step if you have read the book).
  3. Ask: “Who knows what a pattern is?” Encourage the children to verbalize what they think a pattern is.
  4. Show the children an ABABAB pattern using blocks, beads or other materials.
  5. Ask the children to predict which beads to add to the necklace in order to follow the pattern. Say: “What comes next?”
  6. Show the children that you are going to make a pattern using Q-Tips and cotton balls (or, if working with toddlers, use the construction paper shapes and substitute the construction paper shapes for Q-Tips and cotton balls in the lesson).
  7. Explain that a pattern is something that occurs more than once. Ask the children what occurs more than once in your pattern.
  8. Show an example of an ABBABB pattern and ask the children what comes next.
  9. Arrange the materials so that they do NOT make a pattern. Ask the children what repeats in this arrangement. Emphasize that not everything makes a pattern. Some things just make nice pictures, but our focus is on making a pattern, so we have to make something repeat. Ask the children for suggestions on how to rearrange what you have to create a pattern.
  10. Show the children examples of other arrangements of materials (with most being patterns, but at least one not being a pattern) and have them identify which are patterns and which are not.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Say: “I am going to give you some Q-Tips and cotton balls and I want you to copy the pattern that I make.”
  2. Create a new pattern and discuss it. Ask the children: “What comes next?”
  3. Tell the children to make the same pattern that you did, using their own materials.
  4. Ask the children to place the item that they think will come next in their patterns.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 with different patterns until the children seem to be able to extend the pattern reliably.
  6. Ask the children to now create their own patterns.
  7. Encourage them to describe what their patterns are and have them show their patterns to the group.
  8. Provide glue and paper so that the children can transfer their patterns onto paper.
  9. Encourage the children to make longer extended patterns.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • 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:
  • Play with materials and not pattern 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:
  • Model pattern making
  • Compare their pattern with the child’s non-pattern, saying: “I have two Q-Tips and two cotton balls and two Q-Tips and two cotton balls. You have two Q-Tips and one cotton ball and one Q-Tip.”
  • Ask: “Can you make a new pattern starting with three cotton balls?”
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Copy an adult’s pattern
  • Extend a pattern
  • Make a pattern, but not be able to describe it
  • Describe their patterns
  • Recognize when something is not a pattern
Child care providers may:
  • Encourage the children to compare their patterns with their classmates’ patterns
  • Ask the children to make more complex patterns: “Can you use another item from the craft area in your pattern?”

Suggested Books

  • Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris (Minneapolis: Millbrook Press, 2000)
  • What’s Next Nina? by Sue Kassierer (New York: Kane Press, 2001)
  • Patterns by Ivan Bulloch (Chicago: World Book Inc., 1994)
  • The Mouse and the Apple by Stephen Butler (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 1994)
  • Dots, Spots, Speckles and Stripes by Tana Hoban (Trumpet Club, 1991)
  • Exactly the Opposite by Tana Hoban (Greenwillow Books, 1997)
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff (Harper Collins, 1985)
  • Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah Campbell (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 on a walk around the neighborhood. Ask: “What kinds of patterns are all around the neighborhood?” Look for patterns on the sidewalk, in windows and doors, etc.

Web Resources

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