Patterns serve as the foundation blocks of algebraic thinking. Through patterns and sequences children learn predictive reasoning and logic, which forms the cornerstones of Algebra.

Patterns exist naturally around us in everyday life and add a symmetry, beauty and comfort to the world around us. The simplest pattern that babies learn from an early age is day, night, day, night. When babies learn and understand that this pattern exists, they have a sense of security as they can predict what comes next.

We can start teaching our babies patterning from very early on and build on the complexity as the child gets older. With babies we can teach patterning through simple repetitive songs. Many nursery rhymes follow simple patterns in their wording and in the melody. When my nephew was about one year old we played patterning through dance. I made up a sequence, clap clap, tummy tummy, tap, tap (tap the head), wiggle, wiggle, clap, clap, tummy, tummy, tap, tap, wiggle, wiggle. He loved this dance. We had so much fun learning it and performing it all the time.  A few months later I had forgotten about it and his mum told me that he still does the clap, clap, tummy, tummy dance. I might be responsible for teaching my nephew some terrible dance moves, but I also helped him build the foundations of algebraic thinking. He is now two and a half years old and he still remembers that sequence. We now have a complicated best friend hand shake to go with it!

I plan on making pasta necklaces with my nephews and my son. Using coloured pasta I will start a pattern and ask them to continue it.

Another fun way of patterning is to buy small strips of fabric each of which have an interesting pattern on them. Encourage your child to create some beautiful patterned and geometric artwork by sticking these strips on paper in a way that creates and continues a pattern.

You can start a pattern with any old household objects, like clothes pegs or cereal. Start a pattern and ask your child to continue the pattern. Model the pattern for them, keeping it simple at first. As your child enjoys this activity they will begin to understand the pattern and be able to predict the answer to, ‘what comes next?’

Our brains are naturally hard wired to look for patterns. There is comfort and security in the predictability of a pattern and studies have proven that the brain has a strong response when one is following a pattern which is broken.

Developing the skill of patterning is essentially important for cognitive development.

Patterns exist all around us. Take a walk around the house, the garden and the park. Ask your child to look for patterns. Collect and photograph what you find and post it in the comments for us to see!  

Photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu / / CC BY-NC