Using Children’s Literature to Reinforce Patterns

Guest blogger: Jeanne White, Ed.D.

posted by Dr. Jeanne White

Young children naturally begin to create patterns with objects such as Unifix cubes or colored tiles, even if they do not realize what they’ve created is called a pattern. A child’s early knowledge of color or shape patterns can lead to later recognition of more complex patterns in large numbers and within the four operations.

A book that can be used to introduce young children to patterns in the environment is the book Math Counts: Pattern (Pluckrose, 1995).  The book contains photographs of patterns found in nature such as on leaves, flowers and insects.  The book also shows patterns found in familiar objects such as on a car tire, the sole of a shoe and wallpaper.  Encourage children to draw or photograph their own pattern discoveries such as on clothing, jewelry or furniture


jewelry boxAnother book that can be used to introduce patterns is Rooster’s Off to See the World (Carle, 1972).  In the story, one rooster decides to travel and meets two cats, three frogs, four turtles and lastly, five fish.  As he meets each set of animals, pictures of the animals are displayed in the upper corner of the right page.  Children can see the growing pattern of animals from one rooster up through five fish.  Eventually, all of the animals disappear, starting with the five fish.  The pictures of the animals appear in the upper corner of the left page and gradually disappear until only a picture of one rooster is there.  Children can see another pattern as the number of animals decreases from five down to one again.

Set up activities following this book such as displaying familiar object to create an AB pattern (using only two different elements in the pattern) for a child to continue.  Start with color patterns and say the colors aloud as you display each one, “Red, blue, red, blue.…”  After several examples of color patterns, use toys and say the name of the objects as you display each one, “plate, spoon, plate, spoon….”

patternspoonsOnce children have practiced recognizing and repeating patterns with cubes, blocks, toys and familiar objects, they can begin to listen for patterns in songs, stories and nursery rhymes.  A book that can be used as an example of a pattern set within a story structure is The Napping House (Wood, 1984).  It’s a rainy day and everyone is napping in the house, including a snoring granny.  But then the granny is joined by a dreaming child, followed by a dozing dog, then a snoozing cat, a slumbering mouse, and a wakeful flea.  Each of these nappers pile on the bed with granny one by one, and are introduced on each page, one by one, adding to the words from the previous page:  “And on that granny there is a child…and on that child there is a dog…and on that dog there is a cat….”

Encourage young children to listen for patterns when you read stories or to look for patterns in photographs and illustrations in books, on posters and other media.  Recognizing patterns sets the foundation for algebraic thinking—analyzing patterns, relationships and change throughout the study of mathematics.

Jeanne White, Ed.D.

Jeanne White, Ed.D. began her distinguished career as an educator in 1992. She taught elementary school in Chicago’s south suburbs for 12 years, served as an adjunct professor in early childhood education at Governor’s State University and joined Elmhurst College as a full-time faculty member in 2005. At Elmhurst College, she teaches math methods courses for teacher candidates in the early childhood and elementary education programs, works with in-service teachers in the Master of Education in Teacher Leadership graduate program and serves as the chairperson of the Department of Education. Dr. White has presented locally, nationally and internationally on topics related to elementary mathematics education, teacher leadership, service learning abroad and teaching English language learners. She has conducted workshops for teachers in Australia and South Africa on the use of everyday objects to facilitate early mathematics instruction, written numerous articles on education and consulted with school districts on the implementation of Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. She holds a B.S. in education and an M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction from Loyola University Chicago. Her doctoral dissertation investigated the ways in which children’s literature can be used to improve student performance and attitude in mathematical problem solving. She recently published the second edition of her book, Using Children’s Literature to Teach Problem Solving in Math, which guides teachers in the use of children’s literature to build a positive math environment, engage students in mathematical problem solving and help them understand the role of math in their everyday lives.

Read more posts by Jeanne White, Ed.D.

9 Replies to “Using Children’s Literature to Reinforce Patterns”

  1. I love using books with patterns! It allows the children to get involved as many of them know what will be coming next.

  2. I love using books with patterns as well. The children are usually engaged and love predicting what is coming next. It is also a fun way of introducing patterns to young children.

  3. Anything can be used to see patterns practically! so many books. Poems and songs. The pattern of the sun and moon. Looking forward to using this in classs!

  4. Books are an awesome way to include pattern exercises! I hadn’t really thought about it much before this post. Thank you!

  5. We do a ton of patterning in our classroom. The children love anything that is a pattern, and with practice, have begun to search them out all around them! Love the Napping House!!!!

  6. Lori Fleetwood
    I had not really thought of that type of reading as a lesson in patterns. I have several books already that have this type of patterning and I will be reading them a little differently from now on

  7. My class of young 2’s loves the book Chika Chika Boom Boom because they can get involved with the reading. I was not aware it was because of a pattern. I guess I didn’t put that much thought into it because we just like having fun together and reading great books. Does any one have other suggestions of pattern books for a young two year old class.

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