Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something at no extra cost to you. Please check out our policies page for more details.
Creating patterns with your child is an essential building block to learning other mathematical topics.
Patterns help to learn sequences and understand what comes next in that sequence. In mathematics, patterns can help make a prediction based on our observations.
Patterns can be incorporated into lots of activities:
- At the dinner table with food: vegetable, meat, vegetable, meat
- In the backyard with nature: leaf, grass, stick, leaf, grass, stick
- At the store with items on the shelf: big box, little box, big box, little box
The possibilities are endless with patterns! In today’s experiment, we will be working with a toddler favorite: stickers.
How to make the Patterns with Stickers math experiment
Supplies you will need
For this experiment, you will need the following:
- A sheet of stickers with several of each color
- Sheet of paper, a box, or another flat surface that your child can apply stickers to
- Optional: a marker to lay the pattern across
Before you start
We chose to use simple circular stickers so we did not throw in a variety of prints or shapes when starting out with patterns. Once your child is more comfortable with a simple pattern, then it’s time to add in colors with shapes.
Here is how to do the Patterns with Stickers experiment with your toddler:
Step 1: Begin by building simple patterns
This step is especially important if your child does not have much practice with patterns. Our goal with this step is to create a simple pattern that your child can continue. Choose two colors to start with, or have your child choose themselves.
We want to build their confidence in how a pattern works and how they continue the pattern with this first step. By making the pattern as simple as possible, we are showing them the basics of a pattern and building their confidence in continuing it.
Get your preschooler involved: Have your child choose the colors we incorporate into the pattern. Then, have them continue the pattern on their own.
Step 2: Add more colors to the pattern
If your child is feeling confident with 2 colors, you can start building a more complex pattern for them to continue. Start with 3 total colors, then move on to 4.
It’s important to stay in tune with your child’s ability as you make the patterns more complex. If you see them getting frustrated with a more complex pattern, you may have hit your limit for the day.
But don’t worry if your child can only continue a pattern with two colors! You’re laying the foundation for them to build more complex patterns in the future; they may just not be ready yet.
Get your preschooler involved: Again, have your child pick out the colors and the order. See if they can continue the pattern themselves.
Step 3: Make it more complex by repeating colors
This step adds another level of complexity to the pattern. Depending on where your child is with patterns, this may be a bit too complex for them. Again, just meet them where they’re at.
Why is this step more complex?
By continuing the pattern with repeating colors, there is no longer a major difference between each color in the sequence.
The math behind the Patterns with Stickers experiment
This experiment teaches:
- Identifying and continuing patterns
- Changing the complexity with repeating colors
How it works
Research shows that teaching your preschooler how to identify patterns can significantly impact how they learn mathematics.
Further, repeating patterning skills predicted later math knowledge even after controlling for prior math knowledge. Thus, although repeating patterning and spatial skills are related, repeating patterning skills are a unique predictor of math knowledge and growth.Rittle-Johnson et al., 2018
Finding patterns in activities is an easy project to do with your child! It doesn’t just stop with stickers: you can use Unifix cubes, playing cards, Uno cards, and much more to work through patterns with your little one.
Identifying and continuing a pattern
Showing your preschooler different examples of patterns will help them understand what a pattern is and how to identify patterns in everyday objects.
In this experiment, we are taking them through different variations of patterns, starting with a basic pattern and working our way up to a more complex pattern.
It’s important to start with a very basic pattern because we want to build their confidence to ensure we can move onto more complex patterns. If you start with something complex right out the gate, it could be too overwhelming and they will want to give up.
Once a basic pattern is understood and you really talk through what it means to create and continue a pattern, they should feel confident enough to work on more complex patterns.
Meeting them where they’re at is essential here because it can get overwhelming quickly.
If your child gets frustrated, don’t fret! Just talk them through what the pattern looks like and do a few examples together.
Changing complexity with repeating colors
Adding in repeating colors to the pattern adds another level of complexity because, instead of green always following red for example, you could have green following red AND red following red!
It’s similar to a more complex pattern with one color used several times, but when they repeat, it breaks them out of the mindset that a pattern has to have a new color/shape/item next in the sequence.
More pattern math experiments to try out with your child
- Pumpkin Pattern Necklace: Learning about patterns while building a fun necklace!
- Pattern with Unifix Cubes: Build simple AND complex patterns with cubes
FAQ about the Patterns with Stickers math experiment
How might the knowledge of patterns be helpful to a child learning math or science?
Patterns help set up young learners to make predictions based on what they see, develop reasoning skills, aids in learning the times table and skip counting, create a hypothesis based on observation, and much more.
How do you teach patterns to preschoolers?
Using simple rounded, colored stickers is an easy way to introduce patterns to a preschooler. These stickers allow you to build a simple pattern to begin with (color 1, color 2, color 1, etc.), and once your child is more confident, you can build more complex patterns.
Did you know that you can make your own working thermometer using a few supplies and some cool (pun intended) science? The Temperature Tracker experiment helps children understand how temperature...
We've heard that all snowflakes are different, but in today's experiment, we are growing a very unique snowflake. The Snowflake Magic experiment explores crystal growth by watching sugar crystals...