Perfectly Playful Patterns

Perfectly playful patterns

Have you noticed patterns in nature? On your next outing, look closely at the bark of a tree or a fallen seed—you may start to see patterns everywhere! A pattern is an arrangement of things that repeat. Patterns can be created with letters; ABAB is a basic pattern. Patterns can also be made with lines, shapes, colors or objects. For children, identifying and making patterns helps them develop math and science skills of comparing, sorting and predicting.

Take a walk outside with your children and see what kinds of patterns you can find in nature.

Tree Bark

Maybe you will find a pattern of repeating lines on the bark of a tree. Below are pictures of two different kinds of trees with very different patterns on the bark. Ask your children if they can find two different kinds of trees in your neighborhood. They can use their eyes to see the patterns on the trees and hands to feel the texture of the bark. How do the trees feel: smooth or bumpy?


Maybe you’ll find different kinds of leaves with patterns. Here is an example of leaves you might find outside. Can your children find two different kinds of leaves outside? What shapes do they see on the leaves? Are they shaped like ovals, or rectangles or another shape?

Other Natural Objects

What other patterns can your children find outside in nature? Look at the pictures below. Can they find these two objects? What are they? (top, acorn caps; bottom, pinecone). What shapes and lines do you see repeating over and over again?

Here’s how to get started creating patterns outdoors with an artistic twist.

Ask your children to choose two items to collect and arrange in an alternating pattern (see examples below).

While your children work on placing the items help them think about the pattern by asking “What comes next?” Challenge your children to add decorative items (such as leaves and seeds) or to work on more complex patterns with more than two items.

For additional fun, create self-portraits using some of the collected materials. Be creative! Use a wide variety of materials and patterns to make the facial features.

Recommended Reading
One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root.

This book is available online from the Ossining Public Library through TumbleBooks

For more fun with patterns, visit these websites:

About the Authors

Mary Haley
Environmental Educator

Mary has her master’s in early childhood education. She is passionate about introducing young children to the joys and wonders of nature through playful outdoor exploration.

Kate Daley
Preschool Environmental Educator

Kate leads the Nurtured by Nature program for Pre-K students in area schools. Kate holds a B.A. from Binghamton University and an M.S.Ed. from Bank Street College. In addition to teaching, she loves to create art using natural and repurposed materials. She is the proud mother of a seven year-old human and a nine year-old cat.