Patterns in Colors and Shapes

by Laurie Laurendeau on March 15, 2011

Children are exposed to patterns from an early age. You need only take a walk through a baby store to realize the truth of that statement. Indeed, children notice patterns that are around them—on the wallpaper, in clothing, in the décor (think Pottery Barn!) and as part of games and storybooks, just to name a few things. Children love repetition (that’s why the age-old custom of chanting math facts is still effective), and that’s why they love patterns.

What is Patterning, and Why Is It Important?

Patterning is systematically repeating something.  For example, a color, shape or design can be repeated to form a pattern. Patterning is a kindergarten math skill, and it’s often times even introduced in the preschool years. At this young age, children will be expected to learn two major things:  extending a pattern and creating a pattern of their own.  Extending a pattern is adding to an existing pattern.  For example, the child might have a Blue/Yellow/Blue/Yellow pattern of crayons in front of him.  She would need to add another Blue and Yellow crayon to the end of the pattern to extend it.  Creating a pattern is more challenging for the child.  This requires some experience with Patterning.  The child would create her own pattern from scratch.

Patterning is an essential skill in math because children are required to use and understand many patterns with numbers when they are developing their general Number Sense (such as knowing which numbers come before/after other numbers).  Children also rely on Patterning when they are Skip Counting by 2s, 5s and 10s, learning their Math Facts, counting money, learning about multiples and working out probability questions.


  • Patterns can be named using the letters of the alphabet.  For instance, a Red/Green/Red/Green pattern could be named AB, with the Red represented by the A and the Green represented by the B.  It is not important for your child to name the patterns with the letters at the beginning, but later she may be asked to name the pattern.
  • Begin by giving your child a simple AB pattern.  For a color pattern, you could use two different colors of bingo chips, buttons or small toys. For a shape pattern, you could give your child a handful of two different objects, such as erasers and pencils.  Lay down a pencil, then an eraser, then a pencil, then an eraser and ask your child to extend the pattern.
  • You could also draw two different shapes on a paper (ex: square, circle, square, circle) and ask your child to continue drawing the pattern.
  • The next step in AB pattern extending would be to give your child a pattern such as Red/Blue/Red/Blue/Red and ask him to extend it.  This is slightly more difficult because the pattern ended on the Red color instead of the anticipated Blue color.
  • Once your child has many experiences extending AB patterns, she may be ready to create some AB patterns of her own.  Encourage her to use a variety of pictures and materials as she does so.
  • Your child will now be ready to move on to more complicated patterns, such as ABC, ABB, AABB, AAB, ABBC, AABC, ABCC and so on. Ask your child to extend any of these patterns for a while before asking her to create some of her own.  Your child will likely get creative and invent some patterns that you didn’t even think of!
  • Encourage your child to look for patterns in the world around her.

What to Watch For:

  • Be sure your child can tell you where the pattern stops and begins again.  For example, in a simple AB pattern, your child should be able to identify that after the B, the pattern starts over again.  A simple way to do this is to ask your child to place a pencil down vertically between the items to show where the pattern ends.
  • If you give your child an ABBC pattern such as Red/Yellow/Yellow/Blue, and you end it on a color other than the Blue, this could be confusing to her.  This is a good activity to do once she is more comfortable with Patterning.
  • As your child begins to invent patterns of his own, she will likely try to make a pattern that is really long and complicated, but that isn’t actually a pattern at all, because it does not repeat.  Be sure to explain to your child that it must repeat enough times for someone else to be able to identify their pattern.

Want More?

  • Have questions or ideas about this story?
  • Need help or advice about your child’s learning?
  • Have ideas for future Parent Homework Help stories?

Go to “Leave a Reply” at the bottom of this page.  I’d love to help!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: