Pattern Importance

In this article we’re going to show you a cool way to play, talk and learn with your child. Then we’ll show you a cool way to play, talk and learn with your child. Next we’ll show you a cool way to play, talk, and learn with your child. And after that, we’ll show you a cool way to play, talk, and learn with your child.

Notice a pattern here?

You ought to, because this article is all about patterns – and how they can help your preschool or early elementary school student start building some serious math skills!

The idea that patterns help prepare children for math might not sound surprising. After all, educators have long known that the predictable relationships found in patterns are similar to the predictable relationships found between numbers. And there’s a well documented connection between academic achievement and skill with patterns – it’s been shown that children with a better understanding of patterns tend to perform better in math classes, and that kids who aren’t doing so hot in math can substantially increase their scores by training with patterns.

This is why so many children’s book and TV show characters not-so-subtly stop whatever it is they’re doing just to say things like, “Oh look! The stripes on this swarm of angry bumblebees go yellow, black, yellow, black!” People know patterns help kids in school. (Although they probably won’t help them in a swarm of angry bumblebees.)

But here’s something you may not know about patterns. According to recent research from Vanderbilt University, children are capable of working with patterns in much more complicated ways than we usually ask of them. And these more sophisticated uses of patterns are what can really get your child primed for learning!

So give your kid’s pattern prowess a boost by trying out some of these fun ways to play, talk and learn with patterns. They start out simple, and then get increasingly complex. But don’t worry – your kids can totally handle it!

LEVEL 1: Copy or Extend a Pattern
This is the simplest and most common way we present patterns to kids. Just create a pattern – like a row of cards that alternates red, blue, red, blue – and then ask your child to copy it (“I made a pattern. Can you make the same pattern?”) or extend it (“I made a pattern. Can you continue my pattern?”). It’s important to realize that kids could complete these activities by merely duplicating what’s in front of them without actually understanding how the pattern works. So be sure to ask questions and discuss your little one’s performance, so that you’ll know exactly what your child knows at this stage.

LEVEL 2: Transfer a Pattern
Ready to tweak your pattern play up a notch? Make a pattern using one set of objects – like fork, fork, spoon, fork, fork, spoon – and then have your child duplicate your pattern using totally different objects – like sock, sock, underpants, sock, sock, underpants. Kids who can do this are showing you some sophisticated pattern skills, since they’ve had to determine the sequence that defines the pattern (A, A, B or Same, Same, Different), and then apply it in a new way.

LEVEL 3: Practice Pattern Unit Recognition
For kids to become true pattern pros, they need to be able to identify the smallest units of a pattern. To help your child accomplish this, try building a tall tower of blocks stacked in a pattern – like orange, orange, yellow, orange, orange, yellow, and so on. Then ask your child, “What’s the smallest tower you could make that still has this pattern in it?” (An orange, orange, yellow stack of three blocks is the correct answer, of course!) Asking your child to “point to where the pattern starts over again” has the same basic effect. For children to answer these questions correctly, they must first understand that what makes a pattern is a repeating unit, and then they must accurately isolate that unit. Pretty complex stuff, kiddos.

LEVEL 4: Engage in High-Level Pattern Practice
Has your child mastered all the pattern basics above? Don’t stop now! Add a few wrinkles to how you interact with patterns, and they can start promoting more than just math skills.

  • Develop critical thinking. Help your child learn to talk about the patterns you see in more sophisticated ways, moving from shallow statements (“it’s red, red, blue”) to deeper explanations (“it’s two same and one different”).
  • Build memory. Have your child study a pattern, and then try to reproduce it from memory after you take the pattern away.
  • Stimulate creativity. Encourage your child to make patterns out of stuff you have lying around the house – like LEGOs, crackers, books, things they draw themselves or your household pets.

What are some ways that you like to play with patterns with your kids? Share your ideas in the comments!


Practice patterns with these activities:

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