Patterns with Unifix Cubes: Build simple AND complex patterns with cubes

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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, but for today’s experiment, we use simple Unifix cubes to have fun with patterns.

How to make the Patterns with Unifix Cubes math experiment

Supplies you will need

For this experiment, you will need the following:

Before you start

Since Unifix cubes are a choking hazard for young children, keep track of where the cubes are and that no one puts them in their mouth.

Instructions

Here is how to do the Patterns with Unifix Cubes experiment with your toddler:

Step 1: Begin by building simple patterns

If patterns are a new concept, start with this basic pattern to build a foundation

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).

Once your child builds their confidence with simple patterns, we can start adding more pieces to the pattern.

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 cubes to the pattern

Adding more colors into the pattern to increase the complexity

Once a simple pattern is understood, add more colors to the pattern. Start with 3 total colors, then move on to 4.

I would not recommend increasing the pattern more than 4 for this introductory experiment.

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 connecting cubes and counting

You can use no repeating colors to first introduce this more complex pattern

This step adds another level of complexity to the pattern, and depending on where your child is with patterns, may be too complex, to begin with.

Start with one cube in the pattern, then stack two cubes of a different color for the next in the sequence, then back to the single cube of the same color as the first.

For example, one green cube, two blue cubes stacked on top of each other, one green cube, two blue cubes stacked on top of each other.

Add repeating colors if they catch on quickly!

Get your preschooler involved: Have your child count how many cubes each piece of the pattern is made of. Do they see a pattern?

The math behind the Patterns with Unifix Cubes experiment

This experiment teaches:

  • Identifying and continuing patterns
  • Integrating different sizes into the pattern
  • Counting

How it works

Research shows that teaching your child 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! Unifix cubes make it easier by integrating different colors, shapes, and numbers.

Identifying and continuing a pattern

Showing your child 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.

By beginning with a very simple pattern, like one red cube, one green cube, one red cube, one green cube, we are building their confidence in identifying patterns and building upon them.

Once that confidence is established, you can move on to more complex patterns with more colors or even combine cubes to add a counting aspect to the pattern (i.e., one red cube, two green cubes combined, one red cube, two green cubes combined).

This is where the true lesson comes in! Once you have established a pattern, spend some time having them identify which color and/or amount of cubes comes next in the pattern.

That may look like your child only identifying the next cube in the pattern and having to repeat the pattern to them in order to find the next in the sequence. Or, if they are confident enough, they may be able to identify several of the next cubes in the pattern.

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.

Integrating different sizes into the pattern

After establishing the pattern and figuring out the next step in the pattern, you can show your child that patterns can look different. Some patterns have 2 in the sequence, some have 3, and so on.

In addition, showing that it’s not always different colors in the pattern, but some patterns could have a repeat color as a part of the sequence. For example, one green, two blue, one green, two blue.

It’s important that your child knows there is not just one type of pattern out there, but patterns can look very different than each other!

Counting

There’s a hidden lesson inside this experiment!

When you begin working on a more complex pattern by combining cubes, it’s a great time to start having your child count out how many cubes to add to each piece of the pattern.

This is great for one-to-one correspondence as well as building their confidence in continuing patterns.

More pattern math experiments to try out with your child

FAQ about the Patterns with Unifix Cubes 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.

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