Patterns in Math

Patterns in Math (Definition, Types and Examples)

How to give your child a strong foundation in spotting patterns in numbers

Pattern spotting is a built-in human skill. Our brains notice visual patterns easily, which is why we often see faces in objects and why computer game designers work hard to disguise where they reuse graphics.

Numbers take a bit more work because we have to understand the concepts.

1,3,5,7 is easy to spot as a pattern of odd numbers, but only if we know what odd numbers are and associate the appropriate numeral with them. Young kids are still learning these concepts.

Fortunately, we can use the human ability to see visual patterns to help kids learn about patterns even as their number skills develop.

AB Patterns

These are a perfect starting point as they use only two different items repeating alternately:


Then, there are more complex patterns for kids to consider:

ABB Patterns


ABC patterns


ABBC patterns


Things to watch out for:

Working with small on-screen graphics or objects like beads and string can turn pattern-making into a hand-coordination activity, which can be demotivating for kids who are concentrating on patterns but don't have good coordination.

Be aware of colour. Good teaching resources don't use colour as a single piece of information. A pattern of circles that only change in colour could be difficult or impossible for some kids to detect. If you notice your kids struggling with some patterns, consider whether colour-vision could be an issue and seek a professional assessment.

Which skills should kids develop?

The key skill in working with patterns is finding the basic unit (AB, ABB, etc.). This information is crucial to spot, extend or create patterns.

Continuing Patterns

Start with a short sequence and encourage kids to continue it

Making Patterns

Ask kids to make a pattern

Spotting Errors

Ask kids to find where a pattern is broken

Correcting Errors

Kids often find it easy to spot errors in patterns, but correcting them is more difficult. This challenge can be because the error can cascade across the rest of the pattern, so changing the first wrong item might not solve it for the whole thing.


Circle, square, circle, square, square, circle, square,

Elephant, lion, elephant, lion, elephant, lion,

These are the same patterns using alternating different items. We can describe them as an AB pattern and say to create an AB pattern of triangles and hexagons.

The skills kids learn from forming patterns with shapes will form the basis of other shape-based work and number patterns. 

Which apps can help kids develop pattern skills?

Continuing patterns is a common activity basis for many early math apps. These ask kids to carry on a pattern shown on the screen by dragging and dropping other shapes.

Spotting errors, correcting errors, and abstracting are less commonly covered in early math apps, but they reward parent/child learning sessions. Simple drawing apps are great for pattern work.

We want kids to recognise that patterns need to be precise, which can be difficult if asked to hand draw an array of shapes. These will naturally vary in size and accuracy.

A good solution is to get a kids' drawing app with a range of draggable stickers. Kids can use these to drag stickers and rearrange them on-screen to form the sequences. Additionally, manipulative-style apps, where you can interact with on-screen elements in a sandbox mode, can be used in the same way.

Early Math Learning Concepts - The Building Blocks - Part 1

Early Math Learning Concepts - How many? - Part 2

Early Math Learning Concepts - Comparing Numbers - Part 3

Early Math Learning Concepts - Shapes - Part 5

Early Math Learning Concepts - Measuring - Part 6

Get your kids to learn with best educational apps
Try for free