repeating pattern 

There is a natural urge to create order and beauty. Just observe children encountering collections of stones, shells, sticks, and other small objects. There is a tendency to spend time and attention sorting, ordering, spacing, building, and arranging. Children enjoy learning about and experimenting with formal ways of creating patterns and other kinds of design formations.

Learning Objectives

When creating patterns children develop and practice:

  • hand orientation, placement and spatial skills
  • planning
  • working with a set of rules
  • using mathematical variables such as number, grouping, direction, alternation, position and length
  • analytical thinking skills
  • systematic approaches to building

Patterns are Everywhere

Look for patterns in both the natural and built environment.  Look at clothing, fabric, objects.  Where do you see  pattern?  Identify the elements that repeat.

guatamalan fabric

This cloth was woven on a back-strap loom by Margarita Lopez y Lopez from San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatamala.

Patterns are everywhere – especially in the exquisite textiles and ceramics of each culture. To explore pattern is to have a window into the world’s rich cultural heritage.

Print a Pattern

A pattern is formed when an element is repeated many times in the same way.  Line printing is an easy way to practice making patterns and to gain a concrete understanding of how to create and change a pattern.
vertical line sequence
1.  Repeat your line in the same direction with the same spacing.

group pairs of lines

2.  Change the number in a grouping.

staggered lines

3.  Change the position.

crossed lines

4.  Change the direction.

combinations of lines

5.  Alternate

dashed lines

6.  Use a horizontal line to divide patterns.

Watch a Teacher

Watch a teacher demonstrate a few of the important concepts and variables involved in pattern-making. “Repeat the same line in the same direction with the same spacing. Go all the way across your paper ...”
In this way, she helps students to get started. Once they experiment with the variables, they recognize other possibilities.


Adding a Found Object

Adding a small found object can extend pattern-making. The edition needs to follow the same variables of direction, spacing, number, grouping, and position.

household objects for printing


Switch Line Tools and Colors

When you sense that children are ready for another challenge, or when they have used most of their papers, switch trays of paint and line printing tools.

Emiko's finished pattern
Emiko (age 6) adds blue to her green pattern

Suggest that students step back to look at their patterns from a distance to see where they have space to add smaller lines or lines of another color. Suggest working slowly and carefully since papers are very full of paint and can smear easily.  If you make a mistake, use it as another variable to add interest to patterns.

Children’s Strategies

As children work on creating and embellishing patterns, their work will reflect their individual styles, approaches, and unique ideas. By observing, sharing explorations, and reflecting on discoveries, new ideas and strategies are generated and all children’s work becomes more complex. This  process becomes an authentic format for building a learning community.

A class of first graders explores pattern and print-making. Notice that each child’s work is different, but that they catch ideas from one another.

Taylor’s Strategy: Length

“You forgot one thing,” said Taylor as he began his pattern, “length.”

Taylor (age 8)

He was right! There are many variables besides number, direction, position and spacing that can be considered when printing a pattern. Line printing is a quick, easy and satisfying way to play around with these concepts.

Many children naturally experiment with elongating lines.

Sequoia (age 7)

Eric (age 7)

Emma and Bryce’s Strategy: Stars

Emma and Marisa printing

Emma, (age 7) realizes that she has created a pattern of stars. She and Marisa (age 7) share the delight of exploring and creating.

Bryce prints a star
Bryce’s (age 4) recipe for printing a star:
     1 horizontal line
     1 vertical line
     2 diagonal lines

Alternating: Jonah’s Strategy

Jonah, age 7, identifies and articulates the familiar forms that he sees in his alternating pattern.

“Stick, no stick…stick, no stick….”

When to Add Another Line Stamp or Object

Watch Drew (age 8) figure out a way to add circles to his linear pattern by drawing with the corner of his cardboard line stamp.

Observing Drew’s gestures tells me that it is time to introduce the found objects

Taking Time to Watch and Think

Daniel’s Strategy
Daniel, age 6, takes time to look at what the other children are doing as he thinks out his next move.

Daniel thinks about lines

Printing patterns requires children to make decisions and judgements.
Note Daniel’s precision and careful working style.

Obscure Patterns

Sometimes it is difficult to find patterns in children’s work.

Evan and Sequoia
Instead of continuing his pattern in a linear fashion, Evan created segments of many different patterns all over his paper, and at different angles.  I would not have recognized Evan’s unique approach on my own. It was important to ask him to tell me about his work so that his classmates and I could appreciate his achievements.

Next Steps:

You can always make other objects or paint colors available, but it is difficult to take them away once you have introduced them!  Expanding the number of colors works after students have practiced pattern-making and have become aware of and interested in more possibilities.

Kids color the lines
Each table in this first grade art class began with one color and then switched trays and stamps.
Laura printing

Color print
Before deciding on colors of paint and papers, try out the paint colors against the paper color to see if there is enough contrast.


Draw your Print

Several children had completed their pattern explorations. On a whim, I passed out small papers and challenged them to draw the pattern they had just printed. I was surprised by how quickly and how carefully they were able to make this transition.

Sadie's work
Sadie (age 6)

keeping paper and tools handy
This experiment taught me to keep small papers and drawing tools handy.

Related Projects: Designing Wrapping Paper

Behind each object that we use and each piece of clothing that we wear are the ideas and work of artists and designers. With simple lines and shapes, it is easy to create complex designs.

Alex and Mia
Alex (age 6) and Mia (age 6)

wrapping paper symbols
Getting Started:

  • Lay out a piece of paper that is big enough for the object that you want to wrap. Using markers, choose a line, or shape and repeat it all over your paper. Try to keep the spacing the same between shapes. Repeat it at least 10 times.
  • Choose a new line or shape and a new color and do the same thing again.
  • Repeat Step 2 as desired.

wrapping paper design adding to the wrapping paper design  final wrapping paper design


Printing, drawing, or painting a fancy frame is a way to put design principles to work.

frame design

wrapping symbols

embellishing a frame design
This kindergartner embellishes a frame for his drawing.
Section off a large piece of paper, leaving a wide border. Suggest matching the corners, the two sides, and the top and bottom of the frame using lines, shapes, and colors. Use the inside of the frame for a drawing, painting or print.

Book Covers

To create patterns for book covers, second graders varied horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines using small line stamps. After the paint dried, they used oil pastels to color in some of the shapes they had created.

book covers by Bob Hepner's students’
Book Covers by students in Bob Hepner’s art class