Math at Home Math Access for Teachers
and Home Child Care Providers

CME Group Community Foundation



Soft Patterning Fun
Children will create and extend patterns using spoons and forks or counters from the math kit.
Content Area Standard Target
  • Algebra
  • Understand patterns, relations, and functions
  • Identify, model, and create patterns
  • Recognize, describe, and extend patterns such as sequences of sounds and shapes or simple neumeric patterns and translate from one representation to another
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Obtain materials Obtain the Materials

For PreK Children:

  • Q tips
  • Cotton balls
  • Pattern Cards (make your own to use in the lesson or to assist children during the activity)
  • Book: Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris (This book is 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)
  • Book: Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris (This book is optional)


Note: Small parts create a choking hazard for children. Make sure that all materials you choose to use for an activity or lesson with children meet safety requirements. Small parts are not appropriate for children who are 5 years of age or younger.

Introduce the activity Introduce the Activity
  1. Read Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris, which describes various ways to recognize simple and complex patterns. (This step is 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 children an ABABAB pattern using blocks, beads or other materials.
  5. Ask children to predict which beads to add to the necklace in order to follow the pattern. Say: "What comes next?"
  6. Show children that you are going to make a pattern using Qtips and cotton balls (or if working with toddlers, use the construction paper shapes and substitute the construction paper shapes for all instances of Qtips and cotton balls in the lesson).
  7. Explain that a pattern is something that occurs more than once. Ask children what occurs more than once in your pattern.
  8. Show another example of a pattern ABBABB and ask the children what comes next.
  9. Arrange the materials so that they do NOT make a pattern. Ask 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 children for suggestions on how to rearrange what you have to create a pattern.
  10. Show 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.
Engage the children Engage the Children
  1. Say: “I am going to give you some qtips and cottonballs and I want you to copy the pattern 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 you did using their own materials.
  4. Ask the children to place the item they think will come next in their pattern.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 with different patterns until children seem to reliably be able to extend the pattern. 
  6. Ask children to now create their own pattern. 
  7. Encourage them to describe what their pattern is and have them show the group.
  8. Provide glue and paper for children to transfer their pattern onto paper.
  9. Encourage children to make longer extended patterns. 
Encourage vocabulary Encourage 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?")

Glossary of MATH vocabulary

Make adaptations Make Adaptations

Supporting Children at Different Levels

Toddlers   Pre-K

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.
Vertical line

Preschoolers may:

  • Copy an adult’s pattern.
  • Extend a pattern.
  • Make a pattern but not be able to describe it.
  • Describe their pattern.
  • Recognize when something is not a pattern.

Home child care providers may:

  • Model pattern making.
  • Compare their pattern with the child’s non pattern saying “I have 2 Qtips and 2 cotton balls and 2 Qtips and 2 cotton balls, you have 2 Qtips and 1 cotton ball and a 1 Qtip.”
  • Ask, “Can you make a new pattern starting with 3 cotton balls?”

Home child care providers may:

  • Encourage the children to compare their patterns with their classmates.
  • Ask children to make more complex patterns “Can you use another item from the craft area in your pattern?”
Books 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 (HobanTrumpet 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 Music and Movement
Outdoor connections Outdoor Connections
  • Go on a leaf walk and collect leafs.  Look for patterns in the leaf designs.
  • Go on a walk around the neighborhood, what kinds of patterns are all around the neighborhood?  Look for patterns in the sidewalk, with windows and doors etc.


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