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Patterns – An Introduction

by Debbie Lee

posted by Debbie Lee

From birth, the human brain is wired to recognize patterns. It is how infants are able to figure out the world around them. Because of this, young children can recognize patterns from an early age. We get excited when a child says “foots” even though, in English, that is incorrect. It tells us that the child has internalized the pattern concept that plurals have an “s” on the end. What they cannot do automatically is match the vocabulary of patterns to the concepts. Just the word pattern is something that must be shared by a more advanced peer or an adult. Children are not born knowing the words particular to their language (English, Cantonese, Urdu, etc.) The labeling of patterns as ABAB, ABB, AAB, ABC, etc. also need to help of a more advanced helper.

That is where the adults in a child’s life (and, yes, the more advanced peers also) can help a young child to identify, extend, and create patterns. There are all types of patterns in this world and it is important that children be helped to recognize them in all their different forms. This is so important because, besides being an important math concept, patterns are also a science concept. Scientists make discoveries when they notice patterns in what they are studying.

Probably the easiest and simplest way to start with patterns is to use real objects. Pattern blocks are great for this (see photo below) but they are not present in most homes so that means looking for something else. Here the possibilities are endless!! Look into the kitchen drawers. Use forks and spoons to make a pattern. Coins – pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters – can also be used. Have a piece of paper and some crayons? Cut or tear the paper into strips. Color each strip a different color. Then cut the strips into squares. Use the various colored squares to make patterns. Have books and DVD cases? Those can be used to make patterns. It is not necessary to spend a lot of money to make patterns. It just requires a little “thinking outside the box.” If you have ideas for everyday household items to use, share them in the comments section.






What are some of the different types of patterns? The simplest patterns are ABAB patterns. This would be fork, spoon, fork, spoon, etc. It could also be red, green, red, green, etc. An ABAB pattern has two elements that are placed alternately in a row. Because at all times we should be modeling important literacy skills, teach patterns that appear in a row as going from left to right, as the English language is written and read in that direction. You can progress to ABB or AAB or even ABC (three elements) as the child with whom you are working becomes comfortable with ABAB patterns.

I am challenging you this week to find various items in your house that can be used for making patterns. Then share your findings with the rest of this math learning community by telling us what you found in the comment section. I’m excited to read what

9 Replies to “Patterns – An Introduction”

  1. I really like the idea of using real world objects to create patterns. I would think that would be more meaningful for the kids.

  2. Yes, a child at a young age can recognize patterns. The child I take care of points her finger at everything to find out what it is. When she likes a color, she will point at it. I tell her the name of the color and sound it out to her and she copies what she hears. If she keeps pointing at different colors and objects and I name them and sound them out to her, and she says it after me in repitition everyday, she will know what the word is and the picture of the word and the color when she sees it. I love these ideas and teaching them to her. Thank you.

  3. i really love the idea of using the things around us to make patterns and not having to buy things to teach this. that shows a child that patterns are there in every thing around them and they just gave to see them. and mares them be more in-trusted in the patterns around them and will make them notice things better.

  4. Among my things, I really couldn’t think of other household items that I wouldn’t mind a young child playing with. Debbie, mentioned using books and DVD cases to make templates. You could just use the books to make a train! Big book, small book,and so on. Also, together you could use a child’s books and toys. All aboard!

  5. In the kitchen, using silverware to make patterns would be a cool way to introduce the concept to young learners. Also using plates, bowls, and cups.

    While folding laundry, my son and I can make patterns of the washcloths, hand towels, and bath towels

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