Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Guest blogger: Debbie Lee, Ed.D.

posted by Debbie Lee

So far I have written about patterns that involved objects you can pick up and manipulate. Those are usually what we think of first when we think of patterns. Patterns, however, are so much more than that!

The old children’s song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” is a pattern. You and the children can make up patterns using various forms of movement. Hop, twist, hands on shoulders; hop, twist, hands on shoulders is an ABC pattern of movements. If you want to keep the children seated on the floor or chairs, you can use less grand movements. Touch ears, pound on chest, flap arms is also an ABC pattern. The various movements are limited only by the various body parts that can be used and your and the children’s imaginations of what can be done with them.


HEAD PHOTO                                SHOULDER PHOTO







Remember with all forms of patterns it is best to start with the simpler forms. Do ABAB patterns first; then progress to ABB, AAB, and ABC. If your children are starting to catch on, think about longer patterns such as ABBC or ABCD.

It helps when you are doing the patterns to describe them aloud and not just do the movement itself. This helps those who learn best through what they hear. You are reaching those who are more auditory learners and with this form of pattern you are also engaging young children who are kinesthetic learners and find it difficult to sit quietly.

Patterns do not always have to be a special time set aside just for math skills. If the children in your care are having troubles sitting still to listen to a book or do another sedimentary activity, take a quick break to do a movement pattern. Stand up, jump, clap, twist, jump, clap, twist for a minute or two and the children will find it easier to sit and you will have provided a quick “lesson” on patterns.

As with the other forms of patterns, don’t forget to have the children first copy your pattern. Once confident, have them extend the pattern. Do tap head, touch chin, hug self, tap head, touch chin…..what comes next? What comes after that? Have the children extend the pattern through at least two repeats so that they can show that they are truly understanding what the pattern is.


CHIN PHOTO                                        HUG PHOTO





Lastly, don’t forget to have the children create their own patterns. Have a child suggest a pattern, name it first by its movements and then by its type (ABAB, etc.). Then have the other children (and you!) copy it. Give each child a chance to create a pattern of movements to share with the others. You can also use this as an educational “filler” – for lack of a better word. When you have a few minutes to fill, have the children take turns creating patterns that the others can do. This makes these short periods of time between activities more than just ways to bridge activities but also gives these moments educational value.

As in past weeks, I encourage you to share in the comments section how you have been using movements to make patterns with the children you serve. Everyone has great ideas – share them!

Debbie Lee, Ed.D.

Debbie Lee, Ed.D., has spent 44 years teaching in the field of early childhood education. She came from a family that valued education. Her grandmother, born in 1896, had a master’s degree and taught at the college level. Lee initially planned to teach geometry but, after working with young children in a day care center, she discovered her true passion: early childhood education. After earning her bachelor’s degree in early education from Marycrest College in 1979, she spent the next 20 years teaching preschoolers and kindergarteners, operating her own home day care program and serving in a variety of positions for the Moline School District in western Illinois. She received her master of science degree in early childhood education from Western Illinois University in 1986 and her doctoral degree in early childhood education and teaching from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2003. Dr. Lee recently retired from her position as an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Western Illinois University, where she taught methods, family engagement, play, assessment and inclusion courses. She has also served at the local and state level for the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Dr. Lee believes that the developmental foundation built during the early years has a major impact on a child’s future, so she is thrilled to be writing for Math at Home’s guest blog!

Read more posts by Debbie Lee, Ed.D.

4 Replies to “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”

  1. The hokey pokey serves as a “filler” to most children who are kinesthetic learners and cannot sit still for long. They can create there own pattern as well.

  2. I appreciate putting this in “wolf language” as I am able to apply for parents about a common classroom song and how it teaches so many Math skills!

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