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.