Family Math Activity: Play with Patterns

In this hands-on activity, young children will practice recognizing, copying and extending patterns with simple items you have around the house.

Family Math is a PBS SoCal initiative offering insights, tools, and support so parents and caregivers can confidently, joyfully and authentically explore math with children ages 2 to 5.

Esta actividad también está disponible en español.

Patterns are everywhere. We can find patterns in nature, songs, books, numbers and even in our daily routines (breakfast, lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch, dinner). In this hands-on activity, young children will practice recognizing, copying and extending patterns with simple items you have around the house.

Three pieces of paper with small pipe cleaners arranged in patterns of wiggly and straight pipe cleaners. The third sheet has small cube and sphere shapes arranged in patterns.
You can make patterns based on many different attributes such as shape and color. | Yesenia Prieto

Learning Goal

This activity will help your child:

  • Recognize simple repeating patterns
  • Copy and extend patterns (AB, ABB, ABC, etc.)


A wooden table with a piece of paper, a marker and small items arranged on top of it.
For this activity, you need a piece of paper, a marker and small items to make patterns with. | Yesenia Prieto
  • Construction paper
  • Marker or another writing utensil
  • Small items (e.g. building blocks, beads, paper clips, pipe cleaners, etc.)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. First, gather all your materials and lay the small items on a flat surface.
  2. On the construction paper, create several AB patterns using different visual attributes such as color, size or shape. Other attributes for patterns can be sound and motion. Some examples of patters AB patterns you can create are:
    • Red, blue, red, blue, red, blue
    • Square, rectangle, square, rectangle, square, rectangle
  3. Then, ask your child questions about the patterns such as:
    • “Do you see a pattern?”
    • “Do you notice anything that repeats?”
    • “How can we name this pattern?”
    • “What is its rule?”
  4. Next, ask your child to copy the AB patterns you created. Copying patterns is an easy way to help children understand what patterns are. Some examples of questions you can ask are:
    • “Can you copy this pattern?”
    • “Does your pattern follow the same rule?”
    • “How are these patterns the same or different?”
  5. You can also create more complex patterns such as ABB or AABB patterns for your child to copy. Tip: Make sure to show at least three iterations of the repeating unit (e.g. AB, ABB, AABB). This helps children identify and understand the pattern structure and rule.
  6. Once your child is comfortable copying patterns, ask your child to extend the pattern. On the construction paper, create several patterns such as AB, ABB, ABC, AABB and ask your child to continue the pattern. Ask questions such as:
    • “How does this pattern continue?”
    • “What comes next?”
    • “How did you know what the pattern is?”

Keep the Conversation Going

Go on a pattern walk around the neighborhood. Ask your child to point out any repeating patterns along the way, such as patterns in nature, sidewalks, fences, buildings and so on.

Book Suggestions

  • “A-B-A-B-A—a Book of Pattern Play” by Brian P. Cleary
  • “Pattern Bugs” by Trudy Harris
  • “The Napping House” by Audrey Wood

Head Start Framing or CCSS-M: K

Goal P-MATH 7. Child understands simple patterns.

More Family Math Fun

  • Family Math Activity: Practice Place Value at Playtime! (in English and Spanish)
  • Family Math Activity: Make a Robot Piñata (in English and Spanish)
  • Cupcake Math: It’s a Piece of Cake! (in English and Spanish)