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The Attributes of Patterns

by Debbie Lee

posted by Debbie Lee

Last week I wrote about patterns and using everyday household items to make them. Did you think of some items around your house you could use? I also wrote about simple ABAB patterns in a row formed by having two different elements (fork/spoon or red/green) that alternate. There are other ways to make patterns with everyday items though!

Elements of patterns are distinguished by an attribute. That can be WHAT an item is such as a spoon or a fork. It can also be by color, such as red or green. Those are easy visual ways to distinguish one element of a pattern from another. Don’t stop there! Again, start to think “outside the box.” Think positions!

You can use all of one type of item and make it into two elements just by altering the position. A soup can that is sitting upright, and then one sitting upside down, and then again one upright, and one upside (and so on) is also an ABAB pattern. What about a row of knives, one straight up-and-down and one diagonal, one straight up-and-down, one diagonal? That’s an ABAB pattern too. You can even have one knife straight up-and-down and two knives “crossed”, one knife up-and-down, two knives “crossed.” The possibilities are endless!










Don’t stop there! A row of cups sitting upside down with a small pebble sitting on top of every other one – that’s another ABAB pattern.   In other words, two items can be combined to make one of the elements and the second element can be just one of those items by itself.




Once you start to think of positional patterns, the sky is the limit! Almost anything you can use to make a “regular” type of pattern can also be used in a pattern that includes positioning.

Now that you know lots of ways to make patterns – ABAB, AAB, ABB, ABC, etc. – where do you go? Besides the different types of patterns we’ve talked about, there are different pattern skills. The easiest is copying a pattern. To do this, a child is shown a pattern and copies it, laying the same items under the presented items.



Once confident doing that, a child can move onto extending patterns. In this scenario, a child is presented a pattern and is asked what comes next, then places that item in the row, then is asked what comes next, etc. until at least two repeats of the pattern are completed.

PATTERN EXTENDING PHOTOThe last skill comes after much practice with patterns in their various forms. For this skill, a child is asked to create from scratch a pattern following one of the pattern types.



Once the children you work with begin to become confident with patterns, continue to challenge them with new and different types. Then let them create patterns that you or other children in the group have to try to extend. As they use their imagination to create new patterns, their understanding of the concept of patterning grows and grows!

Let us know what you have done with patterns this week by sharing in the comments section.


8 Replies to “The Attributes of Patterns”

  1. The way I learned to teach patterns came from the Building Blocks Math ( developed by Doug Clements, who was featured in the Intro course for the Gateways to Opportunity-Early Math Counts courses. The process is to introduce the children to the unit of the pattern and have them develop at least three separate sections of the unit. For example, if the unit is red-orange, the students build three separate red-orange units. Once it is established that the units are all the same, the children put the units together to create the pattern sequence. I encourage teachers to try having their students use manipulatives to build units and then construct patterns. You will see firsthand how quickly children comprehend the concept of patterns, once they have concretely experienced it.

  2. I use different colored building blocks to teach about patterns. The children make towers or houses with a pattern of colored blocks..

  3. We love to work on patterns during meals. Lots of items to move around on our plates (especially at snack). But we also look at the patterns of the plates around the table or empty/full cups, etc. Makes for great social interactions!

  4. These are all great ideas! Yes, possibilities are endless! I’m a caregiver of an 11 month old and she points at everything in the house and I tell her what it is. Im helping her to sound the letters out. She also loves clapping and copying sounds and movements. Whenever she points to a picture of an animal, I tell her what it is, sound it out, then I tell her what kind of sound that animal makes by making the sound for her. She loves colors and patterns, and soon she will be able to distinguish between colors and the repeating patterns. Thank you for these examples.

  5. We use patterns with legos, blocks, crayons, markers…anything! It’s fun to watch kids discover a pattern and tell abouti t.

  6. This is a good idea to do patterns with everyday objects. I feel like that will make the children more interested in doing them!

  7. I have used books to show patterns. First the book is closed then the book is open, and it continues open, closed, open closed etc.

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