Patterns, math before it starts…


KT and the fish tank

KT (age 4) was drawing the fish tank in our classroom. An amazing rendition for her young age, but what I really noticed was the symmetrical pattern. THIS girl can count goldfish in a bowl! She just organizes them into a pattern first! Love it!


Patterns are a precursor to all early math. Some of us may think this is obvious, but some of us might not realize that most math is all about recognizing patterns, solving patterns that aren’t quite complete or that are missing a part. We create patterns for memorization of all basic math facts. While our English language seems to take delight in disrupting patterns and breaking rules, math is always the same, always predictable, always follows a pattern. I love math. I love teaching math to young children. I think it’s because of the patterns. I love patterns.

Most people, including kids, will recognize patterns intuitively at least to some degree. But we emphasize patterns here at TK because I feel that strong patterning skills really help children transition into mathematical reasoning more easily. We usually start teaching a combination of auditory/visual patterns, and often (interestingly enough) very young kids can hear a pattern before they can see a pattern. You can show a young child a series of blocks aligned in an “A,B” pattern (red, blue, red, blue, red…) and ask them which block comes next, and if they are new to the game, they quite possibly won’t understand what you are asking. But if you point to the blocks and SAY the pattern out loud, often they will hear the pattern as you repeat it verbally, and then they will be able to tell you the next color in the series.

So, combined with the fact that I am personally tremendously fascinated by the beauty of patterns, and the fact that recognition of patterns is a very good foundational math skill to teach our children, here at TK we start pointing out patterns, and playing with patterns, at a very young age; as early as 2 years old. When we see something with a pattern we show it to the kids, point out how it is a pattern, and we exclaim how pretty it is (that’s my opinion showing through!). If the kids are playing with blocks or Legos or any toy with colors, sizes or shapes, I will often play beside them and build a pattern out of the toys and point it out. Even if they don’t want to build a similar pattern (or any pattern, for that matter), they are seeing the pattern, and seeing that it has some importance. Soon they will start imitating pattern building, and we all recognize their attempts, and we commend them. Patterns are highly valued here at TK! Here are some examples:




SS, age 7, an amazing use of Zentangle styled patterns.



TS, age 4, patterning a lizard outline.



TS, age 4, creating an amazing pattern during our free-choice art time. The theme was “White”, but he went above and beyond expectations.


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SM, age 8, does a superb job Zentangling her tie-dyed shoes during our summer shoe design project.



“Mosaic Blue” is one of my favorite activity boxes, as it inspires some beautiful pattern creation. RH, age 7, has stepped up to the challenge!


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Sand, a triangular tray, and a fork. SS, age 7, experiments with these tools to create some cool patterns.



RW eyeing his snack! Another opportunity for a pattern. We actually set hexagonal pattern blocks down and placed the teddy grahams around the hexagon in a pattern. (Also teaches how many sides a hexagon has, in a delicious way!)



RH, age 6, creates a beautiful pattern by simply pouring sand carefully.



Spoon, napkin, plate, spoon, napkin, plate…CD (age 5) and TO (age 4) intuitively create patterns as they play with our toy dishes.


Patterns are everywhere in our world. I am fascinated by all patterns, and especially patterns in nature. I love to photograph patterns, and revel in their perplexity and yet simple repetition. Patterns soothe me. I don’t quite know how to put it into words, but God creates order in my world through the patterns that I see in nature. I seek them out and photograph them at every opportunity. I also love to try to imitate patterns in nature when I draw. Patterns are music for my eyes.

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Click here if you would like to see more of my artwork.


I share my love for patterns with the kids and share, every time I find an interesting one:


Concentric Circles vs. parallel lines



A Fibonnaci Sequence. How do I know that? Because my Great Math Expert (GME) friend just told me! See in the comments below.



Plane Symmetry



Rotational Symmetry


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If you would like to download a FREE seasonal pattern activity for your children, click this image and go to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

6 Thoughts on “Patterns, math before it starts…

  1. Territoons on November 21, 2015 at 10:10 am said:

    My friend, the Great Math Expert (GME), explained for me:

    You’ve heard of the Fibonnaci Sequence, right? You probably have, and just don’t remember it. The sequence starts out as 1, 1… And then each successive number is the sum of the previous two numbers.

    So you get:
    1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc

    This pattern shows up all over the place in nature. That sunflower seed pattern, for instance. The appearance of Fibonacci numbers in things like sunflower seed heads has to do with the spirals. You can generally consider the spirals as running either clockwise or counterclockwise. If you count the number of spirals in each direction, you tend to get consecutive Fibonacci numbers. Like 34 in one direction, and 55 in the other. Same thing happens with pine cones. Usually 8 in one direction, and 13 in the other. The number of petals on a flower also tends to be a Fibonacci number.

    Even daisies, with all those petals we love to pull off…

    And if you really want your mind blown, the Fibonacci sequence is related to the Golden Ratio. So math really IS art. Or art is math.

  2. Robert Waldrip on November 21, 2015 at 11:03 am said:

    I wish when I was in school that I had a teacher that wanted to teach, rather than a teacher who was just in it for the paycheck.

  3. Terri, this is an incredible blog post. It was beautiful, interesting, informative, inspiring and fun to read. I loved your examples by use of the photos, but even without the photos this was a very interesting read. My kids still are pointing out patterns to me. They are utilizing in their math as well now. Neat to see it in action.

    • Territoons on November 22, 2015 at 2:11 pm said:

      I’m really glad you like my thoughts on patterns and early childhood math. I hope I can share my love of patterns with the kids. Like the title? 😉

  4. Ashleigh A on November 23, 2015 at 10:02 am said:

    What GME said about fibonnaci sequence was pretty amazing. There’s patterns everywhere that we never notice. My kid loves patterns and she notices them where I don’t. It’s probably because she started learning about patterns at TK from a very young age. 🙂 really cool post, I love the pictures of the different examples!

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