Tantalising Tiles: Pattern-Making with Shapes
My son is excited to have learned a new word: tessellation, or teslition as he says. We were out and about on a shape hunt, looking for circles, squares and triangles, when he noticed that there are lots of shapes on the ground in the built environment. Sidewalk stones are often squares, rectangles, or hexagons and they fit together perfectly. If you can tile these shapes together, edge to edge, so that there are no gaps and none of them overlap, you have what is known as a tessellation. Tessellations are patterns of plane shapes that fit together like tiles.
Although the term tessellation might seem complex for a four-year-old, the concept is within a young child’s grasp. Back at home, my son decided to be a builder and make his own tessellating tiles out of play dough: squares were perfect. The circles were no good he said, because they left gaps and someone might trip! Still, he had fun using all his circular playdough lids to make a pattern, and then the 3D Play Dough pots.
Patterning is an important skill because it forms the basis of many mathematical concepts such as addition, multiplication and algebra. Take the fictionalised story of young mathematician Carl Gauss in the 1700s. When his teacher asked him to find the sum of all the numbers from 1 to 500, he found the answer, “5050” after making a calculation in his head. He didn’t add the numbers: he saw the pattern. When children know how to look for patterns, they can make connections, predict what will happen and solve problems.
In order to see patterns, you need to be trained to look for them. Help children spot patterns everywhere, from their clothing to bathroom tiles to the petals of a flower. At home, use pre-cut two dimensional shapes to create patterns and get your child to extend the patterns. Start with a simple AB, AB patterns such as square, circle, square, circle or red square, blue square, red square, blue square. Point to the square and ask, “What comes next?” If your child needs prompting, point to each shape and say the name in turn, “Square, circle, square, circle.” Using the vocabulary will help to reinforce the pattern.
Two dimensional shapes lend themselves to pattern making and ordering. Once your child is confident extending patterns, invite him to make his own. My son decided to move on to an AA, BB, CC pattern (circle, circle, square, square, triangle, triangle). He then started making patterns in the shapes of flowers, like the ones we’d seen in the park.
There are many fun activities you can do at home to encourage your preschooler to use 2D and 3D shapes for patterning. Here are a few ideas:
● Use food.
Line up different shaped crackers (round, square, round, square). Make the pattern more complex by adding different shaped toppings.
Line up fruit (red apple, green apple, red apple, green apple).
Cut up cubes of cheese and pineapple and add pickled onion and cherry tomato spheres. Make patterns with the food and use the opportunity to discuss healthy eating habits.
● Use lego bricks and building blocks to form patterns.
● Line up colored balls.
● String beads in a patterned sequence.
● Get the paints out and print patterns using pom poms, paper tubes or potato shapes.
● Make Play Dough shape patterns.
● Make cookies in different shapes and create patterns with them.
● Cut up shapes in card, shiny paper and foamie. Make collage patterns with the shapes.
● Use pots, lids or buttons to make patterns.