How We Teach Patterns and Relationships in an Early Childhood Classroom
Anna Goodkind, Tziporim Lead Teacher
We know that patterns are everywhere, but sometimes it takes an untrained eye and
sense of childhood wonder to notice the patterns in our everyday surroundings. As teachers,we work to encourage children to explore and identify these patterns and relationships on their own, setting up an environment full of provocations that inspire such observations. In our classroom, we use both visual and verbal patterning, and help the children recognize relationships in all we do, from making choices, to solving math problems, understanding letters, and even eating snack!
Visual Patterning and sorting happens in many ways throughout our days. The children practice sorting art materials—colored pencils, crayons, and markers—into jars by type and color. They sort beads and manipulatives by shape and color. And we’ve been practicing cleaning up our blocks by sorting and stacking them into shape “families”—four squares makes a stack which can then be put together on the shelf, and four triangles make a stack which live on a different shelf. Learning these ways of organizing our materials teaches children how to visually distinguish between shapes and make groupings of similar objects.
In our science area the children sort different natural materials, thinking about their senses—noticing how things look, smell, feel,taste, and sound—as they compare and contrast, noticing similarities and differences between pumpkins and gourds, pine cones and acorns. We also encourage the children to notice shapes in nature, and often impermanent collage with natural materials, paper, bottle caps, corks, and other shapes helps them to see and define these relationships.
We teach the children portraiture by encouraging them to notice the shapes in their own face and body. We also sometimes use curved and straight sticks to create figures, singing a song about Mat Man’s body parts to explain how figures are made up of a series of shapes and lines. The children similarly learn to recognize letters as combinations of lines and curves, and notice letters in shapes they see around them—a pretzel stick makes an “L” at the snack table; a curved block looks like a “C” or a “rainbow”; children figure out how to put together perpendicular lines of snap cubes to make a “T”. Soon, the child who never chooses to go to the writing center is writing his name out of blocks!
By playing verbal and visual games like “I Spy…” the children learn to compare colors and shapes in the environment around them. They then explore patterning with manipulatives like snap cubes and beading, identifying and repeating two and three color or shape patterns. We also use objects to represent different classroom areas when making choices for where to play during our “work-time.” We will often lay out the representational objects on the rug, encouraging the children to help us count them and then notice patterns
in how we line them up.
Verbal patterning is just as present in our classroom as visual patterning. We often use rhythm patterning with instruments in music classes, as well as with our voices and bodies during circle games and transition activities. We may ask the children to repeat a “tap, clap” pattern, using their bodies and/or their voices, and then learn to repeat other increasingly complex patterns. Soon they are pointing out patterns and relationships on their own, and challenging themselves independently!