Spotting patterns

Number patterns and relationships in mathematics form such a core part of this discipline. Identifying patterns is something that should become second nature to learners already in the early years. From that they learn to extend and later to generalise patterns. The best part of patterns in maths is discovering them and in that also lies the beauty of maths. When mathematical rules are taught without allowing learners themselves to play and discover patterns that emerge, these can deny learners one of the most satisfying and important parts of this subject.


Patterns are all around us, in house and street numbers, nature, art and clothing. You can start encouraging your kids from a young age to become more aware  of patterns by encouraging them to explain to you in their own words what they see. For example, this Red-crested Korhaan has what looks like white V’s or arrow-head patterns that repeat themselves on a black background in their feathers. Zebras have a pattern of black and white alternating stripes on their bodies. Butterflies have a variety of different patterns on their wings. And different species of giraffe have different patterns on their bodies.

Ndebele huts in rural Southern Africa are often painted with beautiful repetitions or patterns of shapes that we call tessellations. Patterns (and tessselations) are often found in floor and wall tiles and on fabric used to make clothing, curtains and furniture. Develop a natural feel for number patterns by playing games with your kids that encourage them to complete a pattern that you start. You give five numbers and they need to say what they thing the next five numbers are. The one who gets it right gets to make the new pattern. These are great games for long car trips. A game of hop scotch can also make patterns more active for outdoor play. Older kids can be encouraged to verbalise and describe number patterns in their own words and later to generalise the pattern. This creates a wonderful basis for learning about functions and relations in maths in high school.

Unfortunately our school system seems to focus much more on teaching kids mathematical rules and then giving them practice applying these rules. But maths is about emerging patterns, and conventions developed from those patterns. If we want our learners and kids to enjoy mathematics, let’s encourage a greater emphasis on number patterns and allowing them the space to investigate, spot, feel, describe and generalise patterns. This will create better thinkers and later researchers and problem solvers for our society.

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