A collection of ideas for teaching patterns in Pre-K and Preschool.
Find more math ideas on the Math Resource Page
Large Group Activities
At large group, we begin each new pattern by making people patterns. Children line up boy/girl, or sit/stand, or happy/sad faces. I also sometimes have them hold something, such as colored construction paper for a color pattern, or pictures of animals.
Children do clap, snap, pat, stomp, jump rhythms. For example, AB patterns would be “clap, stomp, clap, stomp…” or “clap, pat, clap, pat…” ABC patterns would be “clap, pat, jump, clap, pat, jump…”
Children make sound patterns with musical instruments. Half of the class might have bells and half of the class might have shakers (or some other instrument), and the children play: bells, shakers, bells, shakers… For ABC patterns, the class is divided into three groups with each group playing an instrument in turn.
Available on Jack Hartmann’s “Math All Around Me” CD.
Small Group or Center Activities
At small group, we begin each new pattern by working with a partner to make a train. To make an AB pattern, two children work together, and each choose a color of Unifix cubes they want to use. The children take turns adding a color to make a pattern train with the cubes. We do the same when we start AABB patterns. In the math center, I place a tray of Unifix cubes (each color sorted into a different cup), with pattern cards. Children duplicate the patterns on the pattern cards, or make their own patterns. The Unifix pattern cards can be printed at the Math Their Way website.
We use lots of different manipulatives to make patterns. For color patterns, we use Unifix cubes, dinosaur counters, bear counters, and other animal counters. For shape patterns, we use pattern blocks and shaped buttons. For size patterns, we use bear family counters, plastic jewels (from craft store), pompoms (from craft store). I have gridded pattern cards (see photos) that the children can place the manipulatives on to help with spacing and keeping the objects in a row.
Read about and print this activity here: Paper Punch Patterns
Bingo Dot Markers
Children can use bingo dot markers to print color patterns on a strip of paper.
Children use rubber stamps to print patterns on a strip of paper.
I bought plastic stencils at craft stores that have the same picture in a row (like the pink one in the photo). For example, a row of hearts or a row of stars. I also made some of my own stencils with strips of construction paper by punching out shapes with the paper craft punchers (like the black one in the photo). They work just as well and last awhile. Children clip the stencils onto a strip of paper with clothespins and color a pattern with the stencil. The kids enjoy doing this at small group and the math center.
Children string colored pony beads onto a pipe cleaner to make a color pattern. I use a wire tool to curl the sharp ends of the pipe cleaner under so that they won’t scratch the children, but will still be small enough to string the beads on. Occasionally, I allow the children to keep these for bracelets, but sometimes I have them take the beads off when they are finished and sort them back into the containers by color. We also use colored pasta or colored straws (cut into 1-inch pieces) to string onto yarn. I clip the end with a clothespin while the children are stringing the pieces so the pieces won’t fall off.
Pattern Block Snakes
Children make a patterned snake using the pattern blocks.
Color Pattern Cards
This is a set of printable pattern cards that can be used for any manipulative (bear counters, dinos, bugs, etc.) Read more about this activity and print the cards here: Color Pattern Cards
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