Teaching Patterns and Sorting to Your Child

Building blocks
Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

Teaching patterns to your child goes hand in hand with teaching them how to sort. Both activities rely on seeing the characteristics and attributes a set of items has in common.

When kids think about sorting, they think about putting things into piles based on the most visible characteristic they have in common, but if you help your child to look a little closer, they’ll be able to see subtler common attributes, too.

Ways to Sort Items

Toddlers and preschoolers start sorting early on when they put their various toys in color-oriented piles. Color is just one of many attributes to look at. Others include:

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Texture
  • Length
  • Type of objects

Depending on the objects you have to use for patterns and sorting, it can get even more complicated. For example, if your child is sorting buttons, he can sort them by size, sort them by color, and/or by the number of holes in each button. Shoes can be sorted into left and right, laces and no laces, stinky or not stinky and so on.

Connecting Sorting and Patterns

Once your child recognizes that a group of objects can be put into groups by their similar characteristics, they can start making patterns by using those characteristics. Those buttons? Well, let’s consider the ones with two holes “Group A” and the ones with four holes “Group B.” If there were any buttons with one hole, those can be “Group C.”

Having these different groups opens up a number of different ways to construct patterns. The most common pattern groupings are:

  • ABA
  • ABBA
  • AAB
  • ABC

It’s important to point out to your child that what makes a pattern a pattern is that the sequence repeats in the same order. So, putting down a two-holed button, a four-holed button and a two-holed button isn’t yet a pattern. Your child would need to put down another four-holed button to complete two sequences of the pattern to begin a pattern.

Look for Patterns In Books

Though the concept of patterning is mathematical, patterns can be found everywhere. Music has patterns, language has patterns, and nature is a world full of patterns. One of the easiest ways to help your child discover patterns in the world is to read books that are either specifically about patterns or contain language patterns.

Many children’s books, like Are You My Mother?, rely on patterns to tell a story. In that particular book, the baby bird asks each character the title question when he meets them, and they each reply "No." In the story of The Little Red Hen, (or the more modern version, The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza), the hen is looking for someone to help grind the wheat and repeats the phrase over and over again. There a number of stories like this.

Look For Patterns in Music

Music is a little more difficult for some children because not all of them are able to distinguish the difference between a sound going up and a sound going down. There are basic patterns to listen for, though, such as the repetition of a chorus after a verse and the repeating melody of a verse and a chorus.

You can also point out the patterns of short notes and long notes or play games that teach your child the patterns of rhythm. Often, learning simple "clap, tap, slap" patterns can help kids listen for the patterns in music.

If your child is more visual, they can benefit from looking at the patterns found on instruments. A piano keyboard, for example, has a number of patterns on it, the simplest of which is found on the black keys. From end to end, the black keys are in groups of 3 keys, 2 keys, 3 keys, 2 keys.

Once your child has grasped the concept of patterns, they'll not only see them everywhere, but they’ll be off to a great start when it comes to learning math!

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Morin, Amanda. "Teaching Patterns and Sorting to Your Child." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/teaching-patterns-and-sorting-to-children-2086666. Morin, Amanda. (2020, August 26). Teaching Patterns and Sorting to Your Child. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/teaching-patterns-and-sorting-to-children-2086666 Morin, Amanda. "Teaching Patterns and Sorting to Your Child." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/teaching-patterns-and-sorting-to-children-2086666 (accessed June 9, 2023).