Often without even realizing it, children of all ages interact with patterns on a regular basis. Patterns are all around us — in our homes, in nature, and in everyday experiences. To help kids build foundational mathematics and computer science skills and explore literacy concepts, you can talk about the patterns you see.
In this blog post, I have seven tips for talking about patterns with kids. These seven tips ask you to explore the world around you, point out patterns you come across naturally, and support your child as they create patterns of their own. So let’s dive into the list together!
When discussing patterns with your children, you don’t have to rely on the same vocabulary or prompts they might interact with within a math classroom. Instead, start simply by calling out patterns when you notice them in everyday interactions. For example, if you are waiting in traffic, point out how there is one blue car, then one red car, then another blue car, and a fourth red car. You can say this out loud to your child and mention how the cards are in a pattern of red, blue, red, and blue.
Or, as you take a train from one part of town to another, you can point out how the train conductor introduces the next station in the same way each time. Starting simple can set a foundation for a deeper dive into patterns. Pointing out patterns you already interact with can set children up for success as they create their own patterns or explore more complicated topics in their math classroom.
To reinforce the idea that patterns are a part of our everyday lives, you can make connections to a pattern you have identified in the past. For example, you and your child might see a pattern in the way building blocks fall from a tower and line up the different colored blocks in a particular order. Then you can point out how you had a similar conversation when folding laundry together and realizing that the t-shirts you folded ended up being in a pattern of colors, too.
One quick way to create a pattern is by using emojis in a text message. Using emojis in a text message, you can make a pattern like ABABAB or ABBABB. To create a pattern with emojis, ask your child what you should text a family member or friend. Ask them for an emoji suggestion and have them create a pattern that you can review before they hit send.
Another way to have your child create patterns is by using food items that come in different shapes or colors, such as cereal. Encourage your child to “play” with their food by creating a pattern. Then, they can tell you what type of pattern they created before clearing their plate. You might also ask them to take a picture of the pattern they create to reference in future conversations about making patterns.
As you notice patterns in your everyday interactions with your child, wonder aloud as you observe. For example, you might read a book aloud to your child and notice a pattern in the story. Then, you can pause and say, “I noticed that each word at the end of the sentence rhymes with the word bread. I wonder if the author decided to make a pattern with their words.”
Wondering aloud is different from asking questions to your child. Instead, it provides an opportunity for you to model how an adult still thinks deeply about the things they encounter in the world. With this strategy, you can show off how your lifelong curiosity connects to observations about the patterns you see.
After spending time pointing out patterns and talking about patterns with your child, you might ask them to locate patterns and point them out to you. For example, you could set up a pattern for them to find, like organizing produce on your counter as one vegetable, followed by two pieces of fruit, and another vegetable followed by two more pieces of fruit. Alternatively, you might notice a pattern as you wait together for a doctor’s appointment and prompt your child to help them find it in the room, too.
Many games ask children to interact with patterns or create patterns of their own. Familiar card games like Solitaire ask players to create patterns with cards of the same suit. Some games in digital format ask players to put items in order or locate a pattern in a given set of items. If your child is playing a game on their own, you might carve out time to talk together about the patterns they observed.
If you’re looking to introduce more offline experiences to your child, you might introduce a card game or board game you can play together. Then, you can talk about the patterns you both notice. These patterns could include the order in which cards are dealt or how cards must be organized to win that particular game. You can pause as you play to point out patterns or think aloud as a certain sequence of cards or moves impacts your success in the game.
Patterns in Nature
Patterns are a part of the natural world. Your observations in nature can spark conversations around patterns as a family. For example, on a walk home from a friend’s house, you might point out how leaves have fallen off of a tree in a particular pattern. In addition to the way items are organized, you might talk about the order of the seasons or other parts of nature that your child can recognize changes that frequently occur over time.
Understanding patterns is an essential skill that children develop and use as they interact with words, explore mathematical concepts and interact with the natural world. Patterns also serve a crucial role as a foundational computer science concept. These quick tips can help you talk about patterns as a family during common everyday experiences. You can turn these interactions into learning opportunities to help your children see patterns all around them!
About Dr. Monica Burns
Dr. Monica Burns, Ed.D. is a curriculum and educational technology consultant, and founder of ClassTechTips.com. She hosts the Easy EdTech Podcast and is author of EdTech Essentials: The Top Ten Technology Strategies for All Learning Environments.
Photo description: Various types of berries are arranged on a flat surface