Patterns – An Introduction

posted by Debbie Lee

From birth, the human brain is wired to recognize patterns. It is how infants are able to figure out the world around them. Because of this, young children can recognize patterns from an early age. We get excited when a child says “foots” even though, in English, that is incorrect. It tells us that the child has internalized the pattern concept that plurals have an “s” on the end. What they cannot do automatically is match the vocabulary of patterns to the concepts. Just the word pattern is something that must be shared by a more advanced peer or an adult. Children are not born knowing the words particular to their language (English, Cantonese, Urdu, etc.) The labeling of patterns as ABAB, ABB, AAB, ABC, etc. also need to help of a more advanced helper.

That is where the adults in a child’s life (and, yes, the more advanced peers also) can help a young child to identify, extend, and create patterns. There are all types of patterns in this world and it is important that children be helped to recognize them in all their different forms. This is so important because, besides being an important math concept, patterns are also a science concept. Scientists make discoveries when they notice patterns in what they are studying.

Probably the easiest and simplest way to start with patterns is to use real objects. Pattern blocks are great for this (see photo below) but they are not present in most homes so that means looking for something else. Here the possibilities are endless!! Look into the kitchen drawers. Use forks and spoons to make a pattern. Coins – pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters – can also be used. Have a piece of paper and some crayons? Cut or tear the paper into strips. Color each strip a different color. Then cut the strips into squares. Use the various colored squares to make patterns. Have books and DVD cases? Those can be used to make patterns. It is not necessary to spend a lot of money to make patterns. It just requires a little “thinking outside the box.” If you have ideas for everyday household items to use, share them in the comments section.






What are some of the different types of patterns? The simplest patterns are ABAB patterns. This would be fork, spoon, fork, spoon, etc. It could also be red, green, red, green, etc. An ABAB pattern has two elements that are placed alternately in a row. Because at all times we should be modeling important literacy skills, teach patterns that appear in a row as going from left to right, as the English language is written and read in that direction. You can progress to ABB or AAB or even ABC (three elements) as the child with whom you are working becomes comfortable with ABAB patterns.

I am challenging you this week to find various items in your house that can be used for making patterns. Then share your findings with the rest of this math learning community by telling us what you found in the comment section. I’m excited to read what

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.

One Reply to “Patterns – An Introduction”

  1. I really like the idea of using real world objects to create patterns. I would think that would be more meaningful for the kids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: