Expert Articles

Learning Mathematics with Infants and Toddlers through Daily Life and Play – Patterns

Author: Ms Ruoyu Wen,
Lecturer at Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education

The Erickson Institute in the United States has proposed four foundational mathematical concepts for infants and toddlers aged 0–3: attributes, comparison, change, and pattern. In this article, let’s talk about “pattern.”

Foundational Mathematical Concept: "Pattern"

“Pattern” refers to the regularities that exist in mathematics, nature, artificial design, or abstract ideas, where elements repeat in predictable ways. For infants and toddlers aged 0-3, accurately predicting patterns in the mathematical world, such as the arrangement of numbers, does not align with their cognitive development stage. However, they do experience patterns in their daily lives. For example, they understand that they can go for a walk in the park after having lunch, that indoor corridors are used for walking on rainy days, and that Monday is followed by Tuesday, and so on. Therefore, infants and toddlers perceive the concept of “pattern,” which primarily includes the following three aspects:

  1. Patterns consist of specific “attributes.”
  2. The arrangement and rhythm of these specific “attributes” form a regularity.
  3. Regularities allow us to make predictions about subsequent structures.
Stages of Development for Infants' Foundational Mathematical Concept: "Pattern"

The developmental process of infants’ foundational mathematical understanding follows a certain progression, from initially broad, sensory-based, non-mathematical development to increasingly accurate, language-related mathematical comprehension. Infants’ understanding of “pattern” also follows the following developmental patterns:

  1. Emerging Stage (0–14 months)
    During this stage, infants’ perception of patterns mainly comes from sounds, object movements, and their own physiological needs. For example, the sound of a mother’s heartbeat, the trajectory of a hanging toy, or the process of feeding. The recognition of patterns in this stage is influenced by their physiological needs, which require adult responses. When adults respond to infants’ needs in a timely manner and help them establish a stable daily routine, their emotions become more stable, and they develop a deeper understanding of patterns.
  2. Developing Stage (12–24 months)
    In this stage, infants cannot accurately describe the arrangement or movement patterns of objects, but they can notice repetitive phenomena in themselves or their surrounding environment. They particularly enjoy engaging in repetitive behaviours, such as requesting adults to tell repetitive stories, building similar structures with blocks, or repeatedly playing the same game.
  3. Transition Stage (22–36 months)
    With the development of memory and cognitive functions, children in this stage can have some abstract understanding of patterns. This includes:
  • Being able to describe patterns in daily routines. For example, knowing that hands need to be washed before meals or that there is a designated time for free play each day and understanding that adjustments can occur in daily routines, such as a delayed nap time due to a delayed lunchtime,
  • Discovering and describing regularities in daily life. For instance, noticing patterns in interior decorations (blue, red, blue, red) or rhythmic games (standing up, sitting down, standing up, sitting down).
Reinforcing Infants' Understanding of "Pattern" in Daily Life and Play

Adults can enhance infants’ understanding of “pattern” through their daily lives and play, for example:

  • Establishing a sense of order in daily routines is important for infants under the age of one.
  • Using sequence words frequently in daily life conversations with infants, such as “first,” “next,” “before,” “after,” and “always,”
  • Asking infants what they will do next after completing a daily activity.
  • Singing rhythmic songs with patterns, such as “Baby Shark,” together with infants.
  • Reading picture books about patterns, including those with repetitive patterns and growing patterns, such as “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,”
  • Guiding infants to observe repetitive patterns or phenomena in life and describing the repeated elements together.
  • Intentionally arranging a set of objects or pictures in a certain pattern, such as squares, rectangles, or circles, and having infants guess what comes next.


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Learning Mathematics with Infants and Toddlers through Daily Life and Play – Patterns