Pattern recognition and the ability to complete patterns is a key math skill for preschool and elementary students. Come to think of it, it’s a key skill for adults too.  Much of the problem-solving we do at work and home requires us to identify patterns in the data we observe so we understand how something works, or the source of a problem, and how to predict outcomes. Back when I was paid for my services, I used pattern recognition all the time. I used it to debug programs, or to figure out why a product failed.  Oh and don’t forget about spreadsheets. I always have to look for patterns to determine why Excel doesn’t seem to do what I want it to.

There are lots of every-day examples too. How about this:  you hear a funny noise while driving. It seems random at first, but as you pay close attention you realize it only happens when you are going over 24 miles per hour and you turn left and the temperature is below 30 degrees. You identify the pattern, so you can then try to solve the problem. Another example: video games. I find it amazing how kids learn to master video games that make almost no sense to me! Much of the technique for winning the game comes down to recognizing patterns.  

Pattern recognition is not only a valuable and practical skill, it’s also fun to practice especially at the preschool/elementary level. All you need is paper and some markers or crayons:
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In this example each row of shapes will be a different pattern. I started the first one then handed the green and orange markers to my 3-year-old and asked her to finish coloring in the circles:
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Not too difficult... So we repeated the exercise with different patterns:
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She could manage a 3-color pattern pretty well, but beyond that it got tricky. Not that she minded, she just colored in the shapes with pretty colors of her choosing when she didn’t know the pattern. It’s nice to let kids make up their own designs too. Sometimes they’ll make a repeating pattern, and sometimes they’ll make random designs. It’s important to allow for creativity in all these activities!

This specific example is mainly preschool level, but you could easily adapt it for older kids by making more complex patterns. Mix up the shapes along with the colors.  Make a really long pattern that appears random at first, and see if your (older) child can crack the code. You can really have fun with this, and I guarantee your kids won’t even realize they are practicing math! π



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