Help your preschooler learn about math with pattern play.

How to Teach Preschoolers About Patterns

by Erica Loop

Red circle, blue square, red circle, blue square, red circle, blue square--most moms know what this sequence means: it's a pattern. While you might quickly pick up on the obvious pattern play, preschoolers are just beginning to understand this basic concept. Although it is seemingly simple to learn, the basic mathematical idea of patterns is often a foreign concept to kids from three to five. Fortunately, preschoolers have the cognitive (mental reasoning) ability to take on the task of understanding what a pattern is and how to use it.

Talk about patterns using the same kind of language as you would when talking to a friend. Preschoolers have the ability to understand more complex sentences than their younger counterparts. Ask your child if she can tell you what a pattern is. If she can do this fully and accurately, move on to the next step. If she can't, tell her that patterns occur when things repeat in a specific order. Provide a concrete example such as green apple, red apple, green apple, red apple.

Make a pattern chart to illustrate a few different patterns. The more examples that you give, the greater your child's understanding (remember, practice makes perfect). Turn an 11-by-14-inch piece of white poster board vertically, then use the ruler and markers to draw between three and five dividing lines.

Give your child shape stencils and markers, and ask her to choose two shapes and two colors. Assign one color to each shape (for example, red circles and green triangles). Have her create a color and shape pattern on the first line of your chart.

Create more patterns for each line using different shapes and colors.

Make a star sticker pattern on the last line of the chart. Give your preschooler at least two different colors of star stickers, then help her to stick them on the poster board in a color pattern.

Review the pattern chart. Ask your child to explain how each line is its own pattern.

Items you will need

  • 11-by-14-inch white poster board
  • Markers
  • Ruler
  • Shape stencils
  • Star stickers


  • Older preschoolers can try out more advanced patterns. instead of only using two colors and shapes, use three or more.
  • Look for patterns all around you. Ask your child to tell you if and when she sees a pattern at home, in the park or anywhere else.
  • Make more patterns with other items, using rocks, toy cars or even foods.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

  • Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images