A pattern in math consists of an arrangement of numbers, shapes, colors, pictures (and so on) that are repeated in a certain order. It can be as simple as a triangle and a square repeating themselves, for example, or it can incorporate many more shapes.
Patterns help us to make predictions that enable us to extend and complete patterns.
For example, “2, 4, 6, 8” is a basic pattern that uses only even numbers. By looking at these four numbers and recognizing that they are all even, you could then predict that the next number in the pattern would be 10.
Sometimes patterns in math can follow a rule. It is where all the numbers in the pattern are related to each other by a specific rule.
For example, “4, 9, 14, 19, 24, 29” is a pattern created using the five times table and taking away one each time.
5 x 1 = 5
5 – 1 = 4 (this is the first number in the pattern)
5 x 2 = 10
10 – 1 = 9 (this is the second number in the pattern)
You can carry this pattern on for as long as you like, as long as you follow the rule. Why not challenge your students to create their own rules for some patterns? Or get them to complete some of our pattern activity sheets in class. We have loads of great resources available, and they are all prep-free!
Examples of patterns
Three examples of Patterns in Math
- Simple sequencing patterns in math
A simple sequence pattern can be any sequence number following the pattern’s rule. Two examples can be seen below.
Simple even number pattern, where the rule is that only even numbers can be included in the pattern: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, and so on.
Simple multiples of ten patterns: 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, and so on.
- Symmetrical patterns in math
Symmetrical patterns can be found in shapes that have two identical halves. The two halves are similar when a mirror line is drawn through the shape’s center and folded. Squares, circles, regular triangles, and rectangles are all examples of shapes that have symmetrical patterns.
- Geometric patterns in math
Geometric patterns, unlike sequencing patterns, are made up of a series of different shapes instead of numbers. Students learning about shapes and patterns will benefit from completing geometric patterns, enabling them to practice their shape recognition and pattern skills.
Squares, stars, circles, pentagons, rectangles, and triangles are popular shapes that appear in geometric patterns in math.
Three examples of patterns in nature
- The weather
Every year we experience different types of weather in a constant pattern. Spring, summer, fall, and winter continuously repeat in a loop, enabling humans to make predictions about the weather (and know whether to wear a coat or not!). Teaching students about these seasonal patterns will allow them to understand better what a pattern in nature is.
Even animals can help your students to learn about patterns. For example, some animals hibernate throughout winter and wake up in spring. They do this every year in a constant pattern, as it is an essential part of their survival.
- The tide
Have you ever spent the day on the beach and noticed how the sea gets closer or farther away? That’s because the tide goes in and out in a constant pattern. Every twenty-four hours, every coastal area experiences two high tides and two low tides.
Three examples of patterns in everyday life
Everyone who listens to music will know that most songs have an introduction, a couple of main verses, and a chorus repeated a few times throughout the song. Get your students to listen to a song and see if they can identify its pattern by pointing out repeated bits.
Classical music also follows a pattern, where several parts of the music will be repeated. Television adverts often contain short, repetitive, and catchy music to help people remember them. Patterns in music are everywhere!
Clothes often display patterns such as polka dots, stripes, stars, checks, etc. Trousers and tops are usually matched to match patterns. Still, you also put your clothes on in a pattern; for example, every day when you get dressed, your socks will go on before your shoes, your top before your coat, your underwear before your other clothes, and so on. This is also a pattern!
Believe it or not, even eating is a pattern. Most people will have breakfast which they eat in the morning; lunch, which they eat in the afternoon; and dinner, which they eat in the evening. It is a pattern in itself that is followed every day by millions of people around the world.
Why is Pattern in Math important for preschoolers?
Learning about patterns can help students to learn how to make predictions, and the knowledge students learn about patterns in math can also be applied to the real world. For example, students will start to understand and recognize the pattern of the year’s seasons and the weather patterns found within these seasons.
Patterns are found everywhere in your students’ daily lives, and they help your students to make logical connections and improve their reasoning skills. As students progress throughout their early education, they will gain a more in-depth understanding of patterns and be able to recognize patterns in many different aspects of math. You never know; there may even be a future math genius sitting in your very classroom!
Five skills students develop while learning about patterns
- Pattern recognition skills
- Comparison skills
- Prediction skills
- Logic and reasoning skills
- Counting and sequencing skills
How do you teach preschoolers patterns?
You can teach your students about pattern in math in many ways, but typically, hands-on activities are the most effective. It is because students are using more parts of their brain, actively making patterns with items themselves and associating patterns with things in the real world, so they are gaining a more in-depth understanding of what a pattern is and how they work.
When teaching patterns to your students, it’s important to break them down into different stages. For example, if you’re teaching students who already know a pattern and can correctly identify one and extend one, it might be a good idea to move on to teaching them about creating their patterns.
If a student has never been introduced to patterns before, you must start with the basics and teach them what a pattern is and how to identify one. Once your student has mastered this, you can go on to the following stages. Below is a breakdown of how to teach your students about patterns at each stage.
Introducing and identifying math patterns
If your students are learning about patterns for the first time, start by introducing them to basic patterns that exist in everyday life around them. For example, take them for a walk around your class garden and discuss natural patterns, such as the weather during seasons or hibernating animals. Once students understand the concept of a pattern, you can start to teach them about patterns in math.
Introduce your students to simple math patterns, to begin with. For example, if you’re asking them to identify a colored pattern, only use two or three colors first so it isn’t too confusing. If it’s a shape pattern, stick to a square and a triangle or something equally simple at the beginning. Then, teach your students how these two shapes or colors are repeated several times, and the pattern is based on these two shapes or colors.
Once your students have gained confidence in recognizing these patterns and understanding how patterns work, it’s time to move on to completing and extending them.
Completing and extending a pattern
While completing and extending patterns may sound the same, they’re slightly different. Completing a pattern consists of filling in the empty spaces provided, whether at the end of the pattern, in the middle, or at the beginning. Extending a pattern involves continuing it on and on after you’ve been provided with the first part of it.
To complete a pattern, students will have to identify the pattern first and then use this knowledge to fill in the empty spaces correctly. For example, if a pattern consists of shapes or pictures, students should be able to use the symbols on either side to figure out what the missing shape is. If a pattern consists of numbers, students will first need to figure out the rule for the pattern and then use this rule to figure out the missing parts of the pattern.
If a pattern consists of shapes and you want your students to extend it, you will need to get them to identify the main part of the pattern that is repeated first. Once they know this order, they add these shapes to the end of their pattern in the correct order to extend it. If students are developing a numerical pattern, they must first establish the rule that the pattern follows, then apply it to find out what numbers are needed to extend the pattern.
For example, if the rule of a pattern is that it contains only even numbers and begins from 0, the pattern would go as follows: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and so on. To extend this pattern, students would look at the last number in the pattern (which is 10 in this example) and then use their knowledge of the pattern’s rule to find out the next number, which they know will be the next even number after 10, which is 12. Students can extend patterns for as long as they want to once they have established the order or rule of the pattern.
Creating a pattern
Believe it or not, teaching your students to create their patterns is the easy part of a pattern in math. Once your students have gained confidence in recognizing and extending patterns, they will have developed the skills and knowledge they need to understand how patterns work. Then, to create their patterns, they need to apply this knowledge.
Start by getting your students to create simple patterns that only use two shapes or follow a simple rule. It could be something like numbers in the ten times table, odd numbers, or anything else that’s basic. If students choose to make a pattern out of shapes, they must create their pattern by putting shapes in a certain order and then repeating it several times.
If your students want to have a go at making their numerical pattern, get them to choose their own rule and get them to write down the numbers in their pattern. Make sure you check students’ work to see if they have created their numerical pattern to ensure they have used their pattern’s rule correctly.
Five pattern activities to do with your students
- Make beaded jewelry
What you’ll need:
- Colorful beads (several colors)
- String or thread
What to do:
- Organize your beads into colors and put them in separate piles.
- Give each of your students a piece of string or thread with a knot tied in the end so that their beads will not fall off.
- Get students to thread different colored beads onto their strings to make a pattern.
- Once students have finished threading their beads, tie a knot in the other end of the string, and secure the two knotted ends to make a bracelet or necklace.
- Build towers with linking cubes
What you’ll need:
- Linking cubes (several colors)
What to do:
- Get students to use different colored linking cubes to make the tallest towers they can, remembering to create a pattern as they do so.
- The student who builds the tallest patterned tower is the winner!
- Earth Day Pattern Activity
What you’ll need:
- Earth Day Pattern Activity Sheet
What to do:
- Print out enough Earth Day pattern activity sheets, so your students have one each.
- Get students to cut out the symbols at the bottom of the sheet and glue them into the correct order in the spaces provided to complete the pattern.
- Musical instruments
What you’ll need:
- Musical instruments (recorder, keyboard, two small drums, maracas, or anything else you’d like to use)
What to do:
- Hand out your musical instruments (or use one or two at a time, it’s up to you), and get students used to playing a single note on them.
- Now introduce a pattern, and get students to play two notes on their instrument (two shakes if you are using maracas, two beats if you’re using drums, and so on). Finally, get them to repeat these two notes to show them a pattern.
- If you want to challenge your students, add more notes or incorporate more instruments into your activity.
- Playdough patterns
What you’ll need:
- Playdough (several different colors)
- Playdough mats
What to do:
- Hand out different colored playdough to your students so they can access at least two colors each.
- Get them to make shapes out of the different colored playdough and then