Pattern recognition

The small boy is getting increasingly keen on things to do with numbers and mathematical concepts, so I'm branching out a little from blogging about science-based activities to including a bit more of our maths play.  This week's #mathmondayfun topic on Instagram is patterns, and thus we did a pattern-based activity.  I'll write about some of our other activities if/when I have time, but this one was really easy to set up.

Patterns are relationships with some kind of regularity between their constituent parts.  One type of pattern is those with repeated units, and it's these that I decided we could play with to explore the small boy's understanding of patterns a little.  I decided to use a toy we play with pretty much daily - Lego Duplo - and build some towers.  You could do this with many children's toys e.g. coloured wooden blocks, magnetic tiles etc.

Duplo towers and spare blocks ready to play

The first set of towers had different repeat units, and I made them into patterns, but with one block inserted which didn't fit the pattern.  The most simple pattern was a tower of a single colour (yellow), with one different colour.  Others had a two-block or three-block repeating pattern, but with either a block of the wrong colour, wrong size or mis-aligned block inserted.  I challenged him to find the blocks that didn't fit the pattern, without really explaining what a pattern was.

I was intrigued to see how he'd tackle this, and he started by going up from the bottom of the tower, saying what colour each block was in turn.  He did it all the way up to the top, then pointed at the block that was wrong.  It was interesting to see that he's already got a firm grasp of the idea of a pattern or sequence without specifically learning about it.  He stuck with this method all the way round the towers I'd built, and we swapped correct blocks in to form the patterns.  He found it easier when the repeat unit was smaller to work out what was wrong. He then built the towers into a (funny-looking) train station and went off to play with his Duplo people (but bizarrely no trains... the mind of the three year old is a funny thing)!

Finding the misplaced blocks

The second set of towers contained different repeat units, but the challenge was different - this time he had to add the next block in the pattern/sequence to the top.  He went about recognising the pattern the same way as before, and then announced what needed to go on the top.  I'd suggested that he just add one block, but he mostly wanted to add more to complete the repeat unit.  There were a few screams of frustration when he knocked some of the towers flying as he tried to build one of them ridiculously tall (44 blocks, we counted...) but otherwise he seemed to enjoy himself.

Extending the pattern

It will be easy to build a bit more pattern recognition into some of our other activities, particularly as we tend to build quite a few things with brightly coloured construction toys, as it did make him think and he seemed to enjoy the challenge.  There's also some research to suggest that pattern recognition when taught at preschool age helps with other mathematical skills later.