The importance of patterns
Young children are naturally drawn to patterns, but as a parent, you may wonder why exploring patterns is such a useful activity.
“Learning to look for, describe and extend patterns are important processes in thinking algebraically.” Van de Walle
Patterning is the process of discovering repetitions or regularities and can be explored used songs, movements, manipulatives, nature or behaviours. Patterns and relations are important for understanding the world around us. Much of our life revolves around a pattern: seasons, days of the week, set the table – clear the table, wash your hands – eat your snack, or my Personal favourite: the 3 P’s: Potty, Pull-ups, P.J.’s!
The stages of pattern development:
In pre-K: Children discover patterns (shapes, colours, routines, nature)
Grade K-1: Children learn about number patterns (odd vs. even, 2’s, 5’s, 0’s, the 100 chart)
Grade 2: Children extend patterns into operations (skip counting, adding 10 each time)
Grade 3: Children use patterns as a strategy for multiplication and division
Grade 4-5: Children use patterns to prepare for expressions, equations and functions
Grade 6: Children see algebra as the study of patterns and relations!
Repeating vs Growing Patterns
Now obviously your 3 year old isn’t about to study functions and relations, but the more exposure he or she has to interpreting patterns the better. Marilyn Burns suggests that even in the kindergarten years, we should be exposing our students to repeating and growth patterns to help students develop flexibility in their thinking. By mixing up the type of pattern you present, you are introducing them to problem-solving experiences that will aid in their development of numerical reasoning.
Having taught growing patterns to Grade 6 for years, I couldn’t imagine a 4 year old identifying a growing pattern. (A growing pattern happens when something is added each time).
I decided to present Rory with a growing pattern that could be represented by x+1. I was quite curious to see whether Rory would see the pattern, and was really impressed at his innate ability to solve it after only a few hints! Notice how I use the key questions listed below to engage him. I also use my voice in a rhythmic way to help him identify the growth pattern (“one fish, one bunny, two fishes, one bunny, etc.). Watch how he does!
How to start
Ideally you want to expose your child to as many different types of patterns as possible. This means use song, movements, nature, the world and of course manipulatives. For teachers, Van de Walle stresses the use of manipulatives instead of work sheets or drawings. Manipulatives allow for trial and error and reduce the fear of being wrong. If you are using worksheets to keep a record, you could always have the students record their work after.
When introducing your child to patterns, there are a few key questions to ask:
- Did you see a pattern?
- Tell me about this pattern (describe it)
- What is the pattern? How do you know?
- Can you predict what comes next?
- Can you extend the pattern for me?
Here’s a video of Rory being introduced to patterns. I started with an easy one using colours, then I tried a different modality (sound) and showed how it could be related to manipulatives. After some discovery time with repeating and growing patterns, I had him create his own. With each exploration, I kept those 5 questions in mind.
Feeling peppy about patterning? Click here for some activities!