How to Teach Preschoolers About Patterns

Colors, shapes, numbers -- patterns come in many forms at the preschool level, but preschoolers don't always notice the repeating elements. Pattern lessons help young learners focus on details. An understanding of patterns builds a math foundation that enables students to recognize number patterns and find repeating elements.

1 Pattern Search

A pattern search around the school or neighborhood encourages preschoolers to notice the repeating parts. In the classroom, students might have patterns on their clothes, either with repeating shapes or colors. Other potential patterns include tiles on the floor, spindles on a stair railing or game boards. Head outdoors for additional pattern spotting, such as colors on the playground equipment, fence posts, shrubs in the landscaping or ridges on tires. As the preschoolers look at the patterns, have them choose one of the patterns they see and draw it. A child might draw the stripes on a classmate's shirt, for example. Let each child share his picture and describe the pattern he found.

2 Pattern Building

Preschoolers get a hands-on lesson on patterning when they create their own. Cut out shapes from construction paper to create the parts of the patterns. Start with a simple A-B pattern. An example is alternating squares and circles or alternating two different colors of squares. The preschoolers arrange the paper cutouts to create the repeating pattern. Add complexity to the pattern, such as making an A-A-B-B or A-B-B pattern. When preschoolers gain competency, let them come up with their own patterns.

3 Sound and Movement Patterns

Patterns don't have to be visual. Sound patterns give preschoolers an alternative way to recognize repeating elements. Musical instruments give preschoolers a chance to create their own sound patterns. A group of kids might alternate between hitting a drum, shaking a tambourine and blowing a whistle. Or create a sound pattern and have the kids repeat. Kids' songs often have patterns in the form of repeated musical notes or lyrics. Play a song and have the preschoolers identify the parts of the song that repeat to create a sound pattern. The same idea works for movements. Repeat actions to create a pattern. You might have the kids hop, clap, hop, clap, hop and clap to create a movement pattern, or teach the kids a dance with a few dance moves that continue repeating throughout a song.

4 Classroom Patterns

When teaching patterns, intentionally incorporate them into the classroom. Your preschool calendar is an easy place to start. Write the numbers for the calendar on cutouts to make a pattern. You might alternate stars, hearts and circles, for example. As you add the number to the calendar each day, build the pattern with the shapes. You can also add patterning through decorations you hang on the wall, the way you arrange furniture and carpet squares on the floor.

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.