The Power of Patterns - Who Knew?
Children naturally recognize patterns within the context of their day, even though they may not identify or name them as patterns. For example, during their typical routine, a child knows what comes next and may protest when something is amiss in the daily sequence (“No, a nap comes AFTER lunch”).
But did you know that this growing awareness is a critical building block in their mathematical reasoning? In fact, studies have shown that encouraging a child’s understanding of patterns contributes to their counting strategy development, problem solving, generalizations about number combinations, and algebraic thinking (Copley, 2000).
Explore Patterns, Grow a Math Brain
There are many natural opportunities for pattern play with children every day. Here are a few ways to enjoy this important math skill-building activity together:
Finding Patterns. Pick up on patterns your child may have discovered, or point out ones they haven’t yet noticed. Children often identify repeating patterns naturally occurring in their environment such as stripes on a shirt (red, yellow, blue; red, yellow, blue). You can help by stating out loud a pattern you've noticed. Children may also tune into repeating patterns of sounds (loud, loud, soft; loud, loud, soft) – like the sound of windshield wipers or other sequential rhythms. Keep an ear out for patterns in songs, for example, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
Creating Patterns. Encourage your child to create patterns by arranging colored blocks, crayons, different sized objects, or stringing beads and more. You can also invite them to create patterns in their physical movements such as “jump, jump, clap; jump, jump, clap.” Ask them about the pattern they are creating. But remember, when children create their own patterns, they may follow the pattern for awhile and then change suddenly. For example, a child may create the pattern, yellow block, orange block, yellow block, orange block, and then follow this with 3 blue blocks. The child’s rationale for this might be “because blue is my favorite color!” Children don’t need to be corrected every time they don’t follow the pattern rules. Instead, you could say, “If I were doing this pattern, I’d probably keep going with “yellow block, orange block.” This will encourage discussion that reinforces pattern-making concepts.
Asking Questions. Posing open-ended, pattern-related questions also helps expand children’s thinking and makes concept connections. Here are some samples of questions to ask:
- Do you see a pattern? Tell me about it.
- What comes next? Could you make a pattern with these different materials?
- How could we make a picture that would help us remember this pattern?
- Can you show me a pattern with your body? What would you do first? Second?
- What happens over and over again with these blocks?
- How would you read this pattern?
- What would happen to the pattern if I changed ______?
There are many natural opportunities to explore patterns with your child on a daily basis. Enjoy this important mathematics skill together.
Resource: Copley, J. V. (2000). The Young Child and Mathematics. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.