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Family Math Activity: Relax with Pattern Rocks

little girl is doing pattern rocks family math activity at home
This calming art activity provides an opportunity to be creative while practicing math.
Calm down with your child while you practice making colorful, decorative patterns on rocks.
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Esta actividad está disponible en español.

A pattern is a sequence of things — like numbers, colors or shapes — that repeat over and over and follow a rule. Patterns are everywhere and help bring order, organization and predictability to the world. Discover and talk with your child about patterns with this fun rock painting activity. Rock painting is not only an opportunity to be creative. It is also a meditative, calming art activity for people of all ages.

A nature walk is a great way to get outdoors and search for rocks to paint with your child. Go to a park, beach, garden, or other safe outdoor location. Search for rocks that are at least three inches long and somewhat flat on one side. Wash and dry the rocks before painting for best results. Collect three or more rocks to experiment with multiple patterns.

Learning Goal

In this fun rock painting activity, your child will:

  • Use a repeating sequence of colors and shapes to create a pattern
  • Explore the connection between math and art by painting patterns on different mediums such as paper and rock
  • Recognize and copy a simple repeating pattern
  • Create their own simple repeating pattern


  • Pattern. A pattern is a sequence of things — like numbers, colors or shapes — that repeat over and over and follow a rule. For example, the pattern one, two, one, two is a pattern that follows the rule of repeating the sequence “one, two.”
  • Sequence. A sequence is a connected series of things arranged in an order. For example, your name is a sequence of letters. The order of the letters in your name is important. If those letters are not in the correct order, it breaks the connection between that series, and it is no longer your name.


  • Rocks
  • Acrylic paints
  • Small or medium paint brushes
  • Paper (construction paper, newspaper)
  • Paper plate or plastic paint palette

Step-by-Step Instructions

Start by practicing patterns with paper. Make simple repeating patterns for your child to identify and copy before creating their own. This is also a great way for young children to practice using a paint brush. For these practice patterns, you can start with paint and paper.

1. Make a simple sequence using different colors of paint on a piece of paper for your child to repeat. Start with a simple pattern like “blue dot, red dot.” You can use one brush that you wash for each use or use one paint brush for each color. Repeat this sequence on your paper two or more times.
Tip: If you have large containers of paint, pour smaller drops of paint onto a paper plate or use a plastic pallet.

2. Encourage your child to talk about the pattern by asking what they notice. You can ask your child questions like, “Repeating is when something happens over and over again. Is there anything in my pattern that you think is repeating?” and “If my pattern kept going, what do you think would come next?” Help them to recognize that a pattern is a sequence that repeats over and over.

3. Practice creating different patterns for your child to copy on their own piece of paper. If your child is ready for more complex patterns, try a pattern with a longer sequence. This is also a great way to challenge older siblings who want to join in the fun! For example, “wavy red line, three white dots, wavy blue line.” This is also an opportunity to practice the fine motor skills needed to use a paint brush before painting the final pattern rocks.

Now, it’s time to make rock pattern art!

4. Encourage your child to choose a pattern before painting their rock. What colors will they paint with? What shapes will they make? Here are some ideas for fun rock art shapes: concentric circles, swirls, dots, waves and stripes. You can play with both colors and shapes in your patterns.

5. Place the rock on top of paper or newspaper. Have fun creating beautiful practice patterns together! Make as many painted rocks together as you like.

6. Let rocks dry by placing them on a paper plate or a piece of paper and setting aside in a warm, dry place like a windowsill. Once they dry, place them around your house or set them outside for other people to enjoy!

Keep the Conversation Going

Here are some everyday ways to practice making patterns together:

  • At the beach, collect shells and stones together. Then lay out a pattern of a shell followed by two stones and ask your child to continue the pattern.
  • When folding laundry, try laying out different patterns of clothing for your child to copy. You can make patterns by color, clothing type or size.
  • During clean up time, make putting away toys a game by asking your child to pick up toys in a pattern. For example, pick up a toy car, stuffed animal and a plastic doll before repeating the pattern again.

Looking for more ways to encourage math skills using pebbles and rocks? Try these other ideas with your family:

  • Paint 10 small rocks with the numbers one-10 and another 10 rocks with dot sets ranging from one-10 dots. Help your child develop their number sense by playing a matching game where they connect the number rock to the dot rock with the same quantity.
  • Use rocks to make your own set of dominoes with dot quantities ranging from one to six with a dot quantity on both sides of the stone. Playing dominoes is a fun way to repeatedly practice perceiving a number’s quantity without counting each dot in the set.
  • Draw horizontal lines across flat stones, then arrange the stones to make different 2D shapes! You can draw squares, triangles, stars, hexagons and more shapes for your child to copy using the stones. Inspired by Your Clever Monkey's How To Teach 2D Shape to Preschoolers.

Book Suggestions

"Patterns/Patrones" (Ages 3-8, English and Spanish)
Written by Kristen Reed and Jessica Young
The mini-book is available to for download for free in English and Spanish.

"Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails: Patterns & Shapes … Naturally" (Ages 3-8)
Written by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Steve Jenkins

"Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails: Patterns & Shapes … Naturally" written by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Corresponding Standards

California Preschool Learning Foundations

Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework

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