Pattern Awareness-An Important Early Math Skill

Pattern Awareness-An Important Early Math Skill

Math often involves complicated-looking numbers and equations. But if you learn to look at it with a practiced eye, you can see all sorts of patterns that underlie numbers, equations and geometry. This is why understanding and being able to recognize patterns is an important early math skill.

When children learn to recognize and make patterns, they are actually learning a lot of cool skills. For example, learning about patterns help children be able to recognize regularities (for example, that a chain has a circle-triangle-square sequence that repeats). This helps children be able to start to make predictions about what will happen next (for example, that the triangle will always follow a circle in that pattern).  Just learning that things can come in sequences helps when children are learning to count. And working with patterns also help children to be able to make comparisons between the different elements and understand what makes them similar or different.  Being able to recognize the smallest part of a repeating pattern (such as that the red then blue set is the smallest part of a repeating pattern of red and blue stripes) is also important to understanding the concept that the whole can be broken down into parts. With so much to learn from patterns, you could have a lot of fun!!!!

Here are three ways to think of patterns:

  1. BY SIMILARITY: This could mean grouping items based on similarity of features, such as grouping based on the same number of sides in shapes, or elements with stripes vs. without, or matching the number of dots on dominos.
  2. REPEATING: This means being able to recognize repeating patterns. The most simple are AB sequences. For example, using color, where A represents blue and B represents green, the repeating AB pattern would be stripes of blue, green, blue, green, etc. Other simple patterns: ABB (blue, green, green), ABC (blue, green, yellow), or ABCB (blue, green, yellow, green).
  3. GROWING: This means patterns that increase by the same amount at each step, such as stacks of blocks that increase by one block to create a staircase like pattern.

When you are helping your child to learn about patterns, the first step is to practice recognizing patterns. For that, it can be helpful to work with your child on recognizing similarities- when objects, sounds, or even smells are the same. There are a number of fun activities that can be used to do this that are listed below. You can also make patterns (like with blocks) and have your child try to copy them. You can talk about what makes their copy like yours such as “You see I have a blue block and then a yellow block. You have a blue block just like in my pattern. What color is the next one? Is it red? Hmmmm….can you find a block that makes it look like mine?

Once children can recognize patterns, they can try to create their own patterns. You can also ask them to predict how an unfinished pattern will continue next. For example, if you see a pattern drawn on a wall that ends, you could say something like “Hey, look at that painting on the wall. It goes, fish, shell, starfish, fish, shell and then it ends.  What would come after the shell if it kept going?” It can also be fun for children to fix a pattern with a “mistake” in it. You can set up a pattern with beads that might have red, yellow, green, and blue beads in a sequence that repeats a couple of times. Then you could make a “mistake” and have two blue beads in a row and then go back to the regular pattern by picking up at yellow. Ask your child to find the mistake (the second blue bead) and fix it (by replacing it with a red bead).

Here are some other activities that can help your children learn the steps of recognizing and understanding patterns:

Similarity activities

  • Memory
  • Go fish
  • Dominos
  • Sorting laundry, matching socks

Repeating patterns activities

  • Beading bracelets
  • Any art activity using colors or shapes
  • Listening for the beat in music or clapping games and patterns
  • Play with your food (e.g. pea, pea, carrot, pea, pea, carrot; make kebabs or food skewers with fruit or veggies stacking in a pattern, etc.)
  • Follow the leader with movement in patterns (e.g. 2 steps, hop, turn, 2 steps, hop, turn)

Growing patterns activities

  • Building blocks, Legos,
  • Lining up collections in order from smallest to largest (e.g. stuffed animals, toys, books)
  • Arranging items in increasing amounts (e.g. goldfish in piles starting with one and increasing by one in each pile)

As you start looking for patterns, I bet you will be surprised by how much you already use them in everyday life, and how easy it is to incorporate a little more teaching with your children as you go about your day.

Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2020

Image: © Zoia Lukianova |

Livia Carpenter
Livia Carpenter is the Clinical Supervisor for KITS. She has been with the organization since 2008. Livia has a passion for working with kids from high risk backgrounds, which began when working with foster children prior to coming to OSLC. When she is not inspiring those she works with, she reads, tries new recipes, makes art, and really enjoys a good, whole-hearted belly laugh.


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