Math Background

Patterns: Overview

Children see patterns everywhere, but they may not be aware of what they are seeing until a pattern is pointed out to them. Simple repetitive patterns should be explored by children as early as kindergarten. Children love to discover and then extend patterns.

When you introduce patterns, provide children with physical materials to use, such as cubes, large beads, different size bread tags, bottle caps, or other materials. Be certain the materials are large enough so they cannot be swallowed. Using hands-on materials to make patterns gives children the opportunity to try the extension of a pattern and make changes as they experiment with the pattern repeat. It also allows them to make mistakes and correct their mistakes without feeling that they have done something wrong. Materials relieve children from the pressure to do it right and help them to feel good about how they solved a problem. Using materials encourages self-correction and an understanding of the task at hand.

Using hands-on materials benefits children in another way — it allows them to extend the pattern beyond the limits set by a worksheet. Most children enjoy using materials such as cubes to continue many repeats of a pattern.

How a pattern is extended can be introduced to the whole class in several ways. You may want to try a simple ABAB pattern such as boy, girl, boy, girl, or sit, stand, sit, stand.

Once the children have grasped the concept, you can begin to have them work in groups or even individually to identify and extend patterns using manipulatives or materials you have gathered.

Here are two suggestions to prepare materials for children to use. First, prepare a pattern from a variety of materials such as cubes or beads: red cube, blue cube, red cube, blue cube, or square bead, round bead, square bead, round bead, and so on. Children then study and extend the pattern, using the same material. Second, prepare pattern strips by drawing two or three complete repetitions of a pattern showing the identical materials that the children will be using. The children, using those, copy and extend the pattern as far as they would like.

As with any other new concept, allow plenty of time for discussion of how children went about the task, and any problems they may have encountered. As children progress, encourage them to make and extend their own patterns. Also, encourage children to be aware of patterns all around them — patterns in the floor, in clothing, in nature, and so on. Children are naturally inquisitive and are good observers, if encouraged and given the opportunity.


Houghton Mifflin Math Grade K