Teaching patterns to infants and toddlers

Pattern activities can easily be implemented into the day in natural ways with children.

Repeating colors in a pattern

Children love to find patterns in the world around them. Patterns help children understand change and that things happen over time. Patterns are things that repeat in a logical way, like vertical stripes on a sweater. They can be numbers, images or shapes. For example, a pattern can be made out of plastic animals alternating between two and four legged animals or animals that swim versus animals that fly.

Patterns help children make predictions because they begin to understand what comes next. They also help children learn how to make logical connections and use reasoning skills. Patterns can be found everywhere in our daily lives and should be pointed out to small children. “The sun came up and went down and then the moon came up and went down.”

Do not underestimate what a child is capable of learning in all academic areas including math. Toddlers can act out patterns such as jumping to the left, then right, then left and then right. They can observe repeating patterns like a block standing, block lying flat, block standing, block lying flat, etc. They become able to copy simple repeating patterns, such as green, white, green, white and so on. Eventually, they will be able to make their own simple patterns.

Michigan State University Extension provides the following ideas to extend exposure to patterns with young children:

  • Use math talk: “Let’s clap to the beat of this song.” “Your sweater has stripes. Red, blue, red, blue, red, blue…”
  • Read books and sing songs and lullabies with words and phrases that repeat.
  • Have a consistent routine.
  • Describe what you see the child doing. “I put the blocks in the pail; you dumped them out; I put blocks in; you dumped them out.”

Books that teach patterns:

  • “Ten Little Rabbits” by Virginai Grossman
  • “Max Found Two Sticks” by Brian Pinkney
  • “Close, Closer, Closest” by Shelly Rotner
  • “Nature’s Paintbrush: The Patterns and Colors Around You” by Susan Stockdale

Other resources from the National Association for the Education of Young Children:

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