Children's patterning: a window into their mathematical thinking.

Children's patterning: a window into their mathematical thinking.

A pattern is a thing of beauty; a creation, born from imagination... far more, of course, than a mere mathematical assessment devise!  As a child I loved to make patterns, probably because I wasn't a naturally good artist and pattern gave me an artistic outlet I could be reasonably successful in.  I loved pattern making at the beach with pebbles and shells, at the painting easel, in clay, with coloured pens on squared paper, stitching, gymnastics and music. As an adult, I love pattern in nature, fabrics, ceramics and when painting or doodling.

Maths is predicated on pattern.  There is sequence, order, repetition, heightened spacial awareness, in fact many people describe maths as, 'the science of pattern.'

How does this help us to assess young children?  Observe them closely.  When they create a pattern, in any media, they use one to one correspondence, counting, estimating, calculating, colour, shape, spacial considerations, ordering, sequencing, graduating, maybe even fractions, tessellation or symmetry.  

It's as if patterning offers a medium in which everything a child knows, or is comfortable or grapples with mathematically, comes together all at once.  It is the visual working out of the tentative abstract thoughts new learning in maths is made up of and is therefore a crucial learning opportunity for children - especially those with a dominance in visual learning.

Could we spend more time working with children to make patterns? I think we overlook this incredible source of mathematical consolidation and problem solving.  For me, the classroom should be full of opportunities to develop it.

By talking with children about their thinking, planning and problem-solving while patterning, we truly gain a window into their knowledge and understanding of maths...and a plethora of other important things too!