Teaching positions and patterns in preschool may seem like an easy task. However, there are a lot of new vocabulary terms to piece together for young children. This is your ultimate guide to teaching preschoolers to master patterning, identifying and using positional words, and building their visual discrimination skills.
A robust preschool math curriculum will include instruction in all five disciplines of math. This includes teaching simple algebra; aka: patterning for preschoolers.
Pattern Activities for Preschoolers
Did you know that preschoolers are capable of learning algebra? In fact, some might argue that preschoolers learn algebraic skills before some number sense skills. In preschool, algebraic skills are related to recognizing spatial relationships and patterns. For many preschoolers, these skills come fairly naturally.
While I am not suggesting we start introducing x and y variables to preschoolers, early childhood teachers lay the foundation for young children to work their way up to these advanced levels of mathematics. It starts simply and intentionally and with LOTS of practice and play. Detailed lesson plans can help!
What are Positions and Patterns in Preschool?
According to Zero to Three, a national nonprofit focused on early childhood development and learning, “Patterns help children learn to make predictions, to understand what comes next, to make logical connections, and to use reasoning skills.”
Patterns are all around us… from the beat of a drum to colorful animal stripes, patterns are everywhere! Thankfully, patterns are fun and easy to teach!
Preschoolers begin pattern work with simple color or object activities, sounds and rhythm, and even movement. Positional words such as beside, next to, in front of, are extremely helpful when referencing patterns so that young children can identify where the object is within the pattern. Ordinal words such as first, second, and third are also useful when identifying an object’s location.
Positions and patterns go hand in hand and increase language and vocabulary and build everyday life skills. Some positional words include above, below, beside, in front of, behind, next to, between, on, over, under, and inside. There are many more positional words in our language and learning these terms helps children communicate math knowledge and locations as well as build upon their oral language skills.
Why is Position and Patterning Important in Math Development?
Patterns are the roots of mathematics. When young children see that math is composed of patterns and repetition, they are beginning to understand how our number system works. Plus, learning patterns and positions develops visual discriminiation skills.
Visual discrimination is being able to identify the differences and similiarities between items and locations. This developing skill is critical as preschoolers learn numbers, letters, and shapes. Honing this preschool math skill is critical for early reading and numeracy skills.
Being able to determine the difference between numbers (6 versus 9, for example) is critical when it comes to early mathematics. In fact, a child who frequently mixes up certain sets of letters or numbers lacks visual discrimination skills, so it’s important to offer varied practice opportunities.
What’s more, understanding patterns helps your preschooler’s social development because it instills in them an understanding of the sequence of everyday routines, such as taking turns while playing or following school rules.
You may have noticed that many of these these skills have valuable day to day use, such as describing the location of everyday objects, recognizing and reproducing repetition, and observing the world around us.
When preschoolers become more comfortable with patterns, they will begin to recognize pattern relationships in numbers (for example, numbers increase or decrease in quantity) and begin recognizing and producing repeating patterns independently. Additionally, they will understand positions and locations and be able to discriminate similarities and differences.
It’s amazing to see how these simple math skills evolve into powerful math connections for future math learning!
What Should my Preschooler Know about Positions and Patterns?
Most preschoolers begin learning about patterns by first learning color patterns. They seem to be the easiest. Usually, they then move onto shape patterns, followed by patterns such as, animals or trucks. Preschool pattern activities can include favorite characters, image, or even food!
No matter what the subject of the pattern is, most preschoolers first learn to recognize AB patterns, such as the one pictured above.
This means that the pattern has two parts that repeat. Red, blue, red, blue. Car, truck, car, truck. And ABC pattern has three parts.
Using these farm pattern cards, your preschooler can essentially explore many different math activities!
Children in preschool will go through various stages on their patterning journey.
Here are the stages of learning patterns in early childhood:
- identifying a pattern (or mistakes in a pattern) AB, ABC,
- reading, copying, or continuing a pattern
- creating new patterns
- developing growing patterns
- recognizing number patterns
How to Teach Patterns in Preschool
There are so many fun ways to teach positions and patterns. Try some of these easy pattern activities for preschoolers. You’re probably already doing lots of them!
Here are a few tips for teaching patterning skills to your preschoolers:
- Begin with simple pattern activities (like AB patterns) before moving on to more difficult ABC patterns.
- Model the patterning activity before having your preschooler complete the pattern on their own.
- Have your preschooler “read” the pattern before trying to continue it.
- Younger preschoolers might not see or hear the pattern. Try reading it aloud to them, pointing to each item, and using a sing-songy voice.
- Incorporate position and ordinal words when describing the pattern.
- Start small if your preschooler is feeling overwhelmed.
- Preschoolers learn to recognize patterns by first copying them, so you can also have your preschooler copy the pattern created before beginning to extend.
- Patterning cards, like our free farm animal pattern cards, are a wonderful way to introduce patterns to young children.
Questions to ask children to ensure they understand patterning and positions:
- What is a pattern?
- What can you use to make a pattern? Can you make a pattern for me?
- Do you see any patterns around you?
- Are the patterns in nature? Can you think of any?
- How can we hear patterns?
- How can you tell if something is a pattern?
Activities that Teach Patterns and Positions
Practice, play, and more play! These pattern activities for preschoolers are great for teaching patterning concepts and encouraging children to begin patterning independently.
- Play games! This preschool pattern game is sure to be a hit and is a breeze to set up!
- Create color pattern cards with colored dot stickers. Use playdough to invite children to copy the pattern themselves. Once children get the hang of simple patterning, allow them to use the colored stickers to create their own pattern.
- Get creative – use music to clap, stomp, clap to the beat. Or use sensory materials to layer colored rice or sand in a pattern. Think sand bottle crafts with the layers upon layers of colorful sand.
- Move into using images to pattern and inviting children to recognize the repetition. These winter pattern cards are perfect for cold days stuck inside or to use on hot days when dreaming of the snow!
Use Picture Books!
Don’t underestimate the teaching power in picture books!! They can be used for every theme and concept, including patterns and positions! Here are some of our favorite books about patterns for preschoolers.
How to Improve Patterning for Children Who are Struggling
For some children, even with patterning activities and cards, creating their own patterns still remains a struggle. Here are some tips for helping children develop patterning skills.
- Teach children to tag each item in the pattern by touching it and saying it out loud.
- Start with just two colors and go slowly.
- Sing or tap to a beat to help children catch on. Using movement can also be a great way to help children recognize repitition. Stomp, clap, stomp, clap, continue until the child can tell you what comes next.
- Focus first on children repeating the pattern by copying it themselves, then work up to creating a pattern independently with just two items.
Patterning Doesn’t Have to be Limited to Printables
Some preschoolers benefit from an even greater tactile approach to learning patterns. If you have a preschooler like that, just add some manipulatives for him or her to use in conjunction with pattern activities for preschoolers. Here are some more ideas:
- Use pom poms and tweezers to add a hand strengthening element.
- Incorporate legos to copy the pattern, and then have your preschooler build the same pattern by stacking the legos into a tower.
- Grab some mini erasers in rainbow colors to add another fine motor element. Without tweezers, mini erasers help children develop their pincer grasp.
- If you don’t need to reuse the patterning cards, you can also have your preschoolers draw or color to show their understanding.
Related Pattern Activities for Preschool
The Secrets of Teaching Math to Preschoolers
Teaching math is an enormous task, and with the new changes in adopted state standards, the bar for teachers has risen even higher.
That’s because there is a lot that goes into teaching math.
It’s comprehensive and systematic. And graphing is only one piece of the puzzle.
Mathematicians indicate there are five disciplines of math (like mentioned above) that should be taught, which are as follows:
- number sense – the development of a deep understanding of numbers and the number system, to compose and decompose numbers and understand their various relationships
- algebra – the understanding of patterns and relationships, including sorting and categorizing
- geometry – the understanding of spatial relationships, prepositional terms, and the properties of two and three-dimensional shapes
- measurement – the ability to make comparisons and order, understanding measurable attributes
- data analysis and probability – (you are here) understanding data as a means of sharing organized information and understanding that certain variables affect data
Get Daily Lessons in Preschool Mathematics
Remember how I said that teaching math to preschoolers is systematic? That means you can’t put the cart before the horse. When it comes to teaching math, the skills need to be taught at the right time and in the right order.
Make teaching preschool math easy with done-for-you Daily Lessons in the Preschool Mathematics Curriculum.
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I am an educator, book enthusiast, and a stay at home momma to two precious and long-awaited littles. My degree is in Early Childhood Education and Curriculum and Instruction and I have spent the last 15 years working with young children. I feel very fortunate to have this time to watch my babies grow and I can’t wait to share my passion for learning and reading with you!