We are naturally drawn to patterns from an early age–patterns, after all, surround us, in nature, in math and numbers, in reading and writing, in music and poetry, in handcrafts, in our clothing and home environment, in the way we move, and in particular, in our daily and seasonal rhythms and routines. There are many ways for young children to start developing their understanding of patterns through playful activities and explorations that foster a heightened awareness of the patterns in their everyday world while bringing math to life and building strong math foundations.
Our pre-K-3 curriculum encourages families to establish a daily rhythm cycle in the home environment. The daily rhythms and routines for learning provide the child with a sense of surety and reassurance in the repetition of certain activities. These essential daily rhythms offer ample opportunities for experiencing patterns in the day to day, and exploring the first building blocks of math concepts that are introduced at a developmentally appropriate age in a child’s life. We introduce the unspoken language of patterns by engaging children in household activities that have an inherent sequence to them: involving children in making a bed, brushing teeth, sweeping floor, cleaning up after a meal, setting a table, washing dishes, taking out the trash, feeding a pet etc. Oak Meadow K-4 teacher Amy explains: “Each of these activities can be led in such a way that this come first, then this, and this and then that (parents choose the logical order of activities). Not only does this give the child a bodily experience of sequence, but it also begins to teach them how to help with chores, which gives them a sense of confidence and importance in the family overall.”
At Oak Meadow, pattern exercises are strongly introduced in our kindergarten and first grade curriculum, but done so through explorations with tangible objects rather than worksheets. For preschoolers, it is especially important that any pattern work be done with tangibles and as a part of their play, and that making patterns be optional. It is not necessary to introduce the language of patterns at this age; rather, simply offering quantities of items on a rotating basis to the child as part of her environment is usually enough. Adding baskets or bowls of beads, leaves, sticks, jewels, or acorns to a play table can invite wonderful exploration and discovery. What’s important is that we observe and reflect on a child’s readiness to talk about patterns before introducing any language that redirects their play into a different mode of learning. Most children are not ready to be asked to create a pattern at this age, and will prefer to simply learn through hands-on, undirected play.
Young children often delight in collecting things during their outdoor explorations and nature walks–small rocks, feathers, shells. Using an empty egg carton and inviting them to sort their treasures–whether by color, size, shape, or some other criteria of their own design–is a great way to help them develop sorting skills and begin to take notice of the patterns around them. Providing art materials (such as glue, paper, markers, etc. for collage) alongside these natural found treasures encourages deeper exploration of patterns through self-directed creative play. Oak Meadow K-4 teacher Leslie offers her own ideas: “Other activities might include stringing wooden beads to make necklaces, or popcorn and cranberries for the birds. Children can create all sorts of color patterns that way. Using tangibles, whether found on a nature walk or in an art bin, to invite a preschooler to explore patterns is a much more organic approach than providing them with a formal introduction.”
Your Turn: What tangibles did you use as a child? What did you love to collect, sort, and make patterns with?