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Patterns In Nature: A Mathematical Lesson

Our natural world is the perfect classroom on so many levels.  The world is full of color, vibrancy, life, science, history.  It is an inspiration for art, writing, music and dance.  And, our world is so mathematical. 

Not exactly what you were expecting?

But, it is.  The natural world is FULL of symmetry, geometry, functionality, balance, and patterns.  And, because children love the outdoors, what better place to feed their sometimes insatiable desire to learn than outside?

Teaching young children about patterns is a natural part of our world.  Begin by looking at simple, man-made structures, such as fences, bridges, architecture, even sidewalks.  Find patterns in brickwork, woodwork, painting and even in everyday things such as the parking lot of a store or the windows on a building.

Once a child understands the basic concept of a pattern (a sequence that repeats itself over and over), look for examples in nature.  Many plants actually grow in a patterned state.  The Vitex (also known as a Texas Lavender) puts off flowers in plumes grouped in threes on each branch.  Look at the petals of flowers – do all the flowers have the same number of petals?  What about trees?  Do the leaves grow in some sort of organized pattern? 

Look for small bugs and other critters that exhibit patterns, such as ladybugs and butterflies.  These animals also lend themselves well to teaching SYMMETRY (mirror imaging).  Larger animals, such as horses, can be observed for patterns in the way they walk or run.  The “sound” of galloping is a great auditory pattern.  Listen for patterns with crickets and birds as well.

Take advantage of the warmer, sunnier days and enjoy the scenery with a child.  You never know what they might learn in the process!

Mirror, Mirror…

One of my most fascinating toys in my pre-k classroom has to be a set of colorful blocks and a mirror.  The children in my class will sit for their entire center time, putting together designs and creating structures with the blocks, only to find it magnificently changed when the mirror is stood up behind their creation.  It is a simple enough set that teaches some pretty amazing concepts to children.

First off, the visualization of symmetry in objects is completely engaging.  Children can use one or two blocks, place them up against the mirror, and easily find the “line of symmetry” for the newly created image (the mirror is the line of symmetry).  Even children who are not ready to fully grasp the concept of symmetry will find excitement and fun in creating symmetrical designs.

Patterns are also fun to explore with a mirror.  Set up a pattern in either color or shape (or both!), then hold the mirror to extend the pattern.  Children can get a true feel for the repetitive nature of patterns.

And, what about using more than one mirror?  By bouncing images off of one mirror and onto another, a simple structure can become a masterpiece of intricate design, using patterns and symmetry to create an amazing sight.  Playing with the angles of mirrors, children can explore how images are seen, the role mirrors play and feven ind all sorts of fascinating ways look at themselves!

The Mirror Images Game is the perfect set for such play.  It contains 108 colorful blocks that are shapes such as rhombuses, trapezoids, and triangles.  Also included are two acrylic mirrors, perfect for exploration by a couple of children or just one.  The kids in my class don’t even realize that what they are doing is exploring mathematical concepts – they are too busy having fun!

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