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Everyday Ways to Explore Patterns, Sequences, and Sorting

When many parents consider teaching math concepts to their children, they often think about counting, writing numbers, and learning to add and subtract. While these skills are important, there are others, such as learning about patterns and relationships that help children learn to be strong mathematical thinkers.

Learning about patterns–things or events that repeat–helps children predict what will happen next, an important mathematical and life skill. Counting, for example, is a sequence. Whether you count forward or backward, by twos, fives, or tens, you have to know what comes next. Whenever we say something is the same as or different from something else, we are trying to understand relationships by making comparisons using a single feature (color, shape, or size) or more than one characteristic (color and shape and size).

Most of the world, both natural and human made, is constructed of units that repeat themselves in patterns. If children look closely at the world around them, they will begin to see many examples of repeating patterns.

Ideas to Begin Your Exploration:

  • Repeat a simple pattern as you build a tower of blocks that is red, green, yellow, and so on.
  • Recognize and talk about patterns in your surroundings.
  • Find and say repeated words and phrases in books.
  • Copy each others' clapping or movement patterns.
  • Notice and talk about how objects have similar or different characteristics.
  • Listen to a song or poem and try to define the rhythm or pattern.
  • Sort collections of toys, laundry, and household objects in different ways by using different attributes.
  • Sort game pieces by color before playing a game.
  • Look at pictures of animals and make comparisons among them.

Any picture book that has repeating themes, ideas, or language is a great way to discuss patterns with your child. Ask, What happens next? to prompt a discussion. When you introduce your child to a book for the first time, look at the cover together and wonder aloud, What do you think this book will be about?

Books to Read and Discover:

Looking for more books to add to your reading list? Would you like to pair these books with tailor-made activity ideas? For more ways to explore and investigate the world of mathematics alongside your child, check out How Many Ways Can You Make Five? by Sally Anderson with the Vermont Center for the Book.

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