In 2018/19, East Midlands West maths hub ran an early years Pattern Project to develop practitioner understanding of how to teach pattern in the early years.  The project involved learning about the importance of pattern in mathematics, how to use resources to support patterning and children’s engagement with pattern.  We worked with a number of schools on this project. This is a subject knowledge overview for pattern that was developed as part of the project.

Using these basic principles of pattern, we explored a range of practices that might support children’s noticing and creating of patterns:

  • Patterns are predictable sequences governed by some regularity that we perceive to make sense and find order (and make generalisations)
  • Patterns can be where only a single item repeats
  • Repeating patterns have a ‘unit of repeat’ (not an alternating element)
  • ‘Seeing’ a pattern requires attention to specific characteristics
  • The same pattern can be found in many different forms

Participants explored their knowledge of different types of pattern and found there was much more to pattern than we had previously thought.  Both the NCETM progression for pattern and the learning trajectory for patterning were useful in assessing children’s pattern understanding and in planning next steps in learning. Using these documents, we worked towards writing our own document about how children’s understanding of pattern develops.

It is important through observation and conversation that practitioners find out which characteristics children are attending to (and ignoring) when noticing a pattern. The pattern in the image, for example, is different depending upon whether you are paying attention to the size (large small), colour (blue blue green yellow), orientation (vertical vertical horizontal) or shape (rectangle) of the items in the repeating pattern. Watching children patterning and discussing patterns with them helps adults to understand how children are perceiving a pattern (what is and is not important for the pattern according to their thinking) as this could be different to the adult. The adult role in supporting children’s patterning is crucial.  Some of the project participants reflected upon their role in facilitating pattern learning and this is their advice.


There are many opportunities within continuous provision to develop children’s understanding of pattern. Guidance from the participants in the pattern project on incorporating pattern learning in continuous provision is available in this continuous provision guidance. Children’s picture books contain patterns in the images, language and events (in a story).  Stories and poems, in particular, tend to have patterned elements.  Using pictures, symbols or objects to represent characters or events to show the sequence can draw children’s attention to the pattern in the story. Many songs and rhymes follow a patterned structure.  Some are repeating patterns where a specific sequence is repeated several times.  There are also some growing patterns where the something increases in a uniform or regular way.  Some songs and rhymes contain more than one pattern, they might have a repeating pattern in the lines of the song and a growing pattern in the scenarios, for example (‘Five little ducks’ is an example of this).  There might be a pattern within the rhythm, melody, lyrics, actions, parts (person singing) or scenario.  As with all patterns, the pattern you see depends upon which attribute you are paying attention to (and therefore what you are also ignoring).

If you would like to develop your teaching of pattern, you could use this audit written by participants of the project. The participants in the pattern project also wrote case studies about how they developed pattern teaching in their settings.  These are available in the resources section below.



The Pattern Project case studies can be found below:

A list of example songs and rhymes is available here.


For early years CPD & events, like the Pattern Project, click here.