learning patterns

New Year’s Resolution: PATTERNS Grow Thinking

Whether you do this resolution for just a few days or longer, patterns grow thinking. When we either look for patterns or make them, brains get a workout. Sometimes, bodies too.

patterning skills

Patterns can be pictures, sounds, words or other information that repeat in the same order. Songs each have a unique pattern. Every language will have particular ones too. Patterns can also be found in nature. This is a simple one: black/white, black/white.

patterns grow thinking

Do you remember how exciting it was as a child to discover a shortcut? Actually, as adults it’s still a great feeling to find one. Well, that happens when the brain finds a pattern. A pattern is like a short-cut to figuring out information. Suddenly, instead of having to loop around, up, down, in and out, the brain hops onto the pattern-shortcut and can skip to the end.

Following, is part of some play time with train blocks. Little Sister and I have fun with patterns. The pattern makes the job easier. Being able to notice, figure out and make patterns is a powerful thinking strategy for kindergarten readiness and beyond.

making patterns with transportation toysWhen a 3-year old was playing trains, I lined up a few cars in a simple pattern: red-blue, red-blue. I said each color and pointed to the cars. I spoke to the train cars and told them they were making a pattern, first red then blue, then red and blue again. Then  I asked the child what color would come next and together we figured out a red one. The child was able to say blue would come after that but then playing changed to putting blocks on the cars.

Noticing and making patterns are skills that grow from experience and practice. One of children’s earliest experiences with patterns is learning how to crawl. First one hand and knee move, and then the others, over and over. Faces have a pattern, with two eyes on top and a nose in the middle. Parents and caregivers find life a lot easier when babies settle into a pattern of day and night.

Kids are able to accurately say what comes next in a pattern string before they create their own patterns. Some ways to include patterns in a day could be walking along in a pattern, such as walk, walk, walk, walk, jump. Discover patterns on clothes when helping kids get dressed; a shirt may have stripes in the same order. Find patterns inside on walls and floors. Look for some in nature too. Make a pattern at snack time on a plate and eat it up; slice of banana/slice of strawberry, slice of banana/slice of strawberry. Read a book with parts of the story repeated, like The Gingerbread Man. Talk a pattern outloud. For instance, when setting the table say plate/bowl/spoon, plate/bowl/spoon. You can get mixed up and say fork. Kids love to correct grownup mistakes.

math patterns

Patterns grow thinking in other ways too. Sing lots of songs. The Wheels on the Bus has a different character or part of the bus each time but the same pattern. Make patterns when playing with toys. Color some with art tools. Together, you’ll be able to notice and make other patterns.

math and art for kids

Patterns grow thinking strategies and skills. Just in case you think they are not important, stock traders invest time and money into predicting trends and businesses investigate patterns constantly. Patterns are powerful; can you and your child play with some today?



Dragon Play and Math Activities: Dragon Patterns

For some fun today, how about making dragon patterns? Usually, dragons are covered in scales and these scales have a pattern. Treasure has patterns too. There are lots of ideas for pattern fun.


Little Sister wanted to make patterns with treasure. We rounded up some bottle caps, buttons, and flat glass marbles to be the treasure. Her first pattern is two colors, hard to see in the photos but they are green/blue, green/blue. Then, surprisingly, she made a pattern of 3 things. She wanted to use 3 colors of marbles but the pattern could be  different items too such as: bottle cap/button/marble, bottle cap/button/marble.

This is the first time she made a pattern with 3. We have done several different patterning activities recently and noticed patterns in different places. There are patterns in clothes, floors, tiles, and more and it’s been amazing to find so many. It takes time for brains to get the connections needed for patterns and lots of hands-on experiences.


Patterning is such a valuable skill. In a way, it’s built in. The simplest and most basic patterns are breathing, in/out, in/out, and the action of our hearts, open /close, open/close. All over our planet we have the repetition of day/night, day/night. Nature has incredible patterns.

The brain uses patterns to deal with vast amounts of information. Instead of being overwhelming, a pattern sequence condenses information into a much, much smaller chunk. A simple AB pattern, like blue/green, blue/green, can go to an infinite length but instead of having to store all that, the brain only has to remember A and B. A comes first and it’s always followed by B. Suddenly, something huge is very small. What an amazing strategy.dragon patterns

Your child may play with patterns for several minutes or only a couple, but the brain is still recording the experience. Like treasure, the exposure will pile up and create a powerful strategy. Weather forecasters rely on patterns, and so do businesses of all kinds. How will your child play with dragon patterns?

Go for a Springtime Math Nature Walk

Did you happen to notice the Google Doodle of Emmy Noether, a mathematician? Some of her work is based on nature’s patterns, so let’s take a math nature walk.

spring nature walkSpring is an ideal time to look for patterns in nature. Trees do not yet have their leaves so it’s easier to see how the trunk of a tree is much bigger than the branches. Near the bottom of the tree branches are thick, but as the branches divide they get smaller and smaller. That’s a pattern.

Are there any pine cones on the ground? The sections start big and get smaller closer to the top too. You might be able to see the spiral pattern in the cone. Animals and bugs wear patterns. Waves and ripples make them.

spring nature math walkThere are many shapes in nature. Flowers are often like circles. Trees look like an upside down triangle. Beaks are a very pointy triangle. Corners are hard to find in nature.

Some plants will have new leaves and we can show kids how one side of the leaf looks like the other side. The two halves of the shape are symmetrical. What shapes are the clouds?

spring nature math walkOn a nature math walk, we can also count. There might be a few flowers in a patch. Together, we can count them. If the flowers are different colors, we can see if there are more of one color than the others. Bigger/smaller and more/fewer are math concepts that kids can explore on a nature walk. Are there more flowers or more rocks? What rock is the biggest?

Kids need lots of experiences of all different kinds as they learn. Sometimes, adults and children in higher grades ask why they have to learn so much math. Even worse, math anxiety and math phobia can affect one out of every 4 people, that’s 25%. Going for a nature walk in the spring and finding ways to discover and use math helps kids develop the idea that math is a natural part of the world. That’s an intentional play on words and kids need to play with math too. What other math can kids find on a spring nature walk?