Algebra? Isn’t that high school maths? Before you think the tiger mum within me has leapt out with gusto, let me explain that true algebraic thinking is not about simplifying expressions like 7x + 10x to get 17x  or re-arranging formulas and solving quadratic equations. Genuine algebraic thinking starts in the exploration of patterns and number patterns in preschool and the early years of primary school.


Macro concepts & core enduring understandings:

Children begin exploring number and pre-algebraic concepts by pattern making. Genuine algebraic thinking begins with the development of a child’s ability to:

  • Recognise, describe, create and continue repeating patterns;
  • Describe repeating patterns in terms of the number of elements that repeat;
  • Understand that the equals sign means ‘is the same as’.


Set the stage for learning:

To begin, make patterns using only colours or shapes. If using colours, place a variety of small dishes with different coloured paint on the table and the same block shape (e.g. squares) in each dish. If using shapes to make the patterns, use the same paint colour in each of the small dishes and place different shaped blocks in each paint dish. To extend the activity, you may provide different paints and shapes simultaneously.

Provide each child with a large piece of paper with lines drawn either vertically or horizontally, well spaced from each other for the child to print their patterns.


Support learning:

Encourage a child to:

  • Create a wide variety of patterns.
  • Describe the patterns verbally. Eg. ‘This pattern is made from triangles. The colours repeat. They go yellow, purple, yellow, purple…”
  • Label the patterns using numbers that indicate the number of elements that repeat. Eg yellow, purple, yellow, purple is a ‘two’ pattern.
  • Determine if two groups have the same number of objects and describe the equality. Eg ‘The number of shapes in this pattern here is the same as the number of shapes in that pattern there’.


N & M: 4 years
June 2012
Lessons Learnt Journal
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About the author

Pauline Pauline & Lessons Learnt Journal is all about life with kids. Pauline is an Aussie mum and teacher who shares her love for play, math games, writing and reading activities. She believes that #playmatters, values curiosity & wonder, wisdom, obedience and respect. She also needs naps. When not blogging, she may be found virtually hoarding on Pinterest, trying to decide which Instagram filter to apply, or compulsively refreshing her Facebook feed.