Monday, July 12, 2010

Pattern Bugs (Hands-on Math)

Let's explore patterns. With a favorite book!

Begin by reading Pattern Bugs by Trudy Harris. (The activities that follow work with the book, Pattern Fish, as well.) Incredible books.

Book Information:
Pattern Bugs by Trudy Harris. [Brookfield, Connecticut; Millbrook Press, 2001.]

Various insects illustrate simple patterns. Rhyming text demonstrates the same pattern. For example, the bee page shows an AAAB pattern through text, “Buzz-buzz-buzz-sip,” the colors of the striped bees--yellow, yellow, yellow, black--and the colored border--orange, orange, orange, yellow.

Read the book through, leaving time for children to guess how each pattern will end. My 4yo happily anticipates the pattern and shouts out what is to come next (revealed on subsequent page.) 

Have students search for the numerous patterns represented on each page.  Read the book through a second time, making body movements to follow the pattern on each page. For example, the first page, AB AB, could be snap clap, snap clap. Or crouch down, jump up, crouch down, jump up. [Other patterns are: ABC ABC, AAAB AAAB, AABC AABC, ABB ABB, AAB AAB, ABCC ABCC.]

Next, walk through your home or classroom and discuss the patterns you see: stripes in a piece of candy (red, white, red, white), piano keys (white, black, white, black, white, white, black, white, black, white, black, repeat), colors on a checkerboard, stripes on an airmail envelope (white, blue, white, blue) or on a flag (red, white, red, white), etc…

Go back through the book (or look at patterns around the house), discussing how to label a pattern with letters. [For example, a red and white striped candy cane would be an AB AB AB pattern.] My 7yo tells us the letter pattern in the book after the 4yo tells us what comes next in the text pattern.

During the next several days, encourage students to make their own patterns. Do one activity each day or set up stations and allow students to make choices.

Pattern Activity #1
Materials: stamp pens or rubber stamps, strips of paper (approx. 1.5” x 8”)
Activity: children use stamp pens to create patterns on strips of paper. They can challenge others to figure out what picture would come next in the pattern. Challenge older children to develop difficult patterns. The best ones can stump adults!

Pattern Activity #2
Materials: unifix cubes, pattern blocks, cuisenaire rods or other colored/patterned math manipulatives or colored paper squares, strips of paper (approx. 1.5” x 8”)
Activity: use colored unifix cubes (ideal because they hook together; could also use other math manipulatives) to create your own patterns. Use crayons or markers to record the pattern on paper strips.

Pattern Activity #3
Materials: musical instruments (homemade bean shakers or rubberband instruments are great), strips of paper (approx. 1.5” x 8”)
Activity: use instruments to create patterns in music. Record the pattern on paper strips by drawing pictures of the instruments used. Children who can read music may search for patterns in songs. They may also decide to create their own note patterns.

Pattern Activity #4
Ask the children to create movements to demonstrate a pattern. [Jump, squat, jump, squat.]

Writing Activity
Write an additional page of text for Pattern Bugs. Type up the new text and provide a copy to each student, allowing him to illustrate the new verse with patterns that follow the same pattern as the text.

Art Activity
The bug eyes on the last page of Pattern Bugs are wonderful. Give children an opportunity to practice drawing these eyes and challenge them to make their own, unique eyes. They may even choose to make a pattern of various bug eyes.

Additional Resource:
You can download a pdf of a pattern coloring page (bug and fish) at the author's website.

My 4-year-old says, "I have a good idea. Red shape, blue shape, red shape, blue shape!" I can hear him in the other room saying, "Yellow, green, yellow, green, yellow, green," and then going "shake, shake" with the bean shaker as I write this. ;)

Please comment with your experience with the lessons! We'd love to hear from you!


  1. This is so awesome! I love it! I'm going to reserve that book in the library. I don't know why I never thought of using stamps for patterning? Great stuff!

  2. Cynthia,
    Thanks for the great ideas for pattening. As an educator, I think they are right on the mark! Thanks also for the kind words about Pattern Fish and Pattern Bugs. As an author, those kinds of comments make my day! I love your site.
    Trudy Harris

  3. I like activitiy three - it's the second time I've read about this activity this morning - we're really going to have to try it!

  4. That is funny,that we posted similar things today. :) I just spread out my pattern activites into seperate posts.

  5. Wow! Trudy was here! How exciting! I love her books - thanks for some new ideas for Pattern Bugs.


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