There are patterns all around us. An understanding of patterns (visual patterns and patterns of behaviour for example) helps children to better understand their world. Identifying patterns using multiple senses whilst exploring both indoors and outdoors helps to create a visual framework for foundation mathematics such as numbers and counting,
The activities in this article use the practical everyday setting of the child's home or local environment which helps to emphasise the role of mathematics in their lives. The activities draw on natural resources and seek to connect the child with nature and the real world.
These activities are suitable for children aged 4 to 8 years old.
What is a pattern?
A pattern is a regularity in the world, the elements of a pattern repeat in a predictable manner. Any of the senses may directly observe patterns. Visual patterns in nature are often chaotic, never exactly repeating. Patterns in nature include a) symmetry, b) spirals, c) chaos, turbulence, meanders and complexity, d) waves, dunes e) bubbles, foam, f) cracks, g) spots and stripes.
As an introduction to this topic and before you go exploring the patterns and making your own, you could show a short video to your child to help interest them in the idea of patterns as something which repeats. Here are a few options for you:
Activity 1: Nature Pattern Scavenger Hunt
Start indoors, your home is full of patterns, are any of them natural patterns or geometric patterns inspired by nature? Go around your house and see what you can find, collect them together, or take photos and print out a collage. Remind your child you are looking for patterns which remind them of nature which happen over and over again, like these we found around our home on our scavenger hunt::
Next, take your pattern scavenger hunt outdoors on your daily walk or trip to the park. Keep an eye out for naturally occuring patterns. They may be the symmetry of butterfly wings, cracks in dry earth, the concentric circles on a tree stump. When you see one, point it out to your child and ask them to describe it to you, help your child to describe the shapes and forms. How are these patterns in nature the same, or different from the patterns found at home?
Natural patterns are non-uniform, however, there is obvious similarity as the form of the patterns unfold which our senses tell us is not random. There is complex science behind the way nature presents itself which is a result of the patterns followed in the way that all living things develop from seeds or cells or the way that the forces of nature act on the matter all around us.
Activity 2: Make your own pattern using leaves
You will need:
A selection of leaves, or you could make natural stamps from potatoes
Plain fabric - an old sheet for example - or you could use paper
Natural inks or acrylic paints.
PLates for your paint
Wet cloth, paint brushes
How to do it
Lay out your creative space with table or floor covering. paints, brushes, wet cloth, your fabric or paper.
This was pretty messy for us so I recommend tying hair up and wearing old clothes or an art shirt.
Working as a team with your child or children, each take a leaf and paint it any colour.
Decide who goes first - the rule is, whatever you do, you must then repeat it!
Make a repeating pattern: a,b,c,a,b,c,a,b,c, etc like the one in the photo.
Admire your result, and if you have the appetite for it, see how creative you can be! Spirals, concentric circles, waves, symmetry....
Activity 3: Make patterns using the outlines of your leaves
Here is a quick and fun activity to make the most of your leaves. You will need:
Crayons (or pens)
How to do it:
Place the leaf on the paper
Select a crayon and using regular marks make the outline on the paper
Move the leaf, select a new colour, repeat
Explore the technique and see what patterns you can come up with!
Have fun exploring patterns. If you have a go at any of these activities please email pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org, we'd love to share them with our community for inspiration.
Claire is an environmental scientist by training and an environmental sustainability consultant and educator by trade (aside from being a busy mum to two young (and sometimes wild) children). Claire enjoyed a very outdoorsy childhood collecting acorns, making daisy chains and sifting dirt to get the perfect pile. Once upon a time Claire was an enthusiastic ultimate frisbee player and recently taught pre-school sports classes. Claire is on a mission to help City kids experience a wilder childhood through the Forest School approach to learning and founded Wildlings offering Forest School and environmental education in Singapore to do this.