Helping your child with patterns and algebra

Flower patterns.

At a glance

  • Algebra is one way to represent a pattern.
  • In maths, the term ‘pattern' is talking about a repeating pattern.
  • In the early years of primary school, kids learn to recognise, make, describe and continue repeating patterns.
  • As kids progress through primary school, they learn to find missing numbers in patterns.
  • Have your child make wrapping paper that has a repeating pattern stamped onto it.

If you want your kids to understand algebra, start early by guiding them to recognise and make patterns – on wallpaper, in jewellery or during a footy game.

Patterns are everywhere. In maths, the term ‘pattern' is talking about a repeating pattern. In the early years of primary school, kids learn to recognise, make, describe and continue repeating patterns. They will need to recognise how many parts (or elements) make up a pattern. Initially, these patterns may be created from shapes, objects or pictures before moving to number patterns.

As kids progress through primary school, they learn to find missing numbers in patterns and discover relationships between addition and subtraction, and multiplication and division. They will also describe patterns in words and be able to determine a rule to describe a pattern.

How kids learn to do algebra

When kids are in high school they learn to use letters to represent numbers and to appreciate that a letter can stand in place of the number of objects. For example, kids will initially learn relationships between numbers such as 3 + 4 = 4 + 3. To describe the general relationship, 3 and 4 could be replaced by the letters a and b so that we could say, a + b = b + a.

The letters a and b represent any two number of objects. The number of objects could change but the relationship would remain the same.

Helping younger kids with patterns

  • Discuss the numbers on houses in the street and ask your child to describe what is happening to the numbers as you walk along.
  • Look at samples of wallpaper and talk about the pattern. How many parts of elements make up the pattern? Where does the pattern start? How many times is it repeated across the paper?
  • Have your child make wrapping paper that has a repeating pattern stamped onto it.
  • Play games involving body actions such as clapping and stamping your feet. Ask your child to repeat the pattern and then to make up a pattern for you to repeat.
  • Have your child use beads, buttons or pegs to make a repeating pattern and tell you about the pattern. Patterns could be based on colour, size, shape or items (eg peg, peg, spoon, peg, peg, spoon). Ask your child to describe the pattern and to tell you how many objects make up each pattern.
  • Use the same materials placed randomly and ask your child to explain to you if it's a pattern.
  • Ask your child to make as many different patterns as they can from three blue, three white and three red pegs.

Helping older kids with patterns and algebra

  • Help your child create beaded jewellery.
  • Teach your child to knit. Decreasing or increasing the number of stitches usually follows a pattern.
  • Landscaping and house designs will often include elements of pattern. For example, many fences or paved areas include a patterned arrangement. Ask your child to describe the pattern.
  • Look for patterns in the numbers on a calendar. Why do these patterns occur?
  • When driving for long distances in the car, play number games to investigate patterns such as, ‘Guess my number (x)'. For example:
  • My number (x) is between 20 and five; it's an even number and a multiple of three.
  • When watching sporting games, calculate scores or investigate combinations of scoring possibilities. For example:
  • The Swans scored four goals and three behinds in the first quarter. How many points did they score?
  • The Bulldogs scored 12 points in the first half. What combinations of tries and goals will give this score?

Helping your child with patterns and algebra in your language


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