How to Make Color Pattern Play Fun!

little boy building color patterns on a train block toy
Cheri Moore

Written by Cheri Moore

June 9, 2021

Teaching color pattern play is simple and fun or complex and challenging. When you teach using a simple color pattern, you introduce math vocabulary and concepts like one-on-one counting, grouping, equal, odd, even, one more, zero, none, and skip counting. Best of all, playing with a color pattern is a great way to teach math foundations to all ages, even adults.

When you teach a complex color pattern, you introduce concepts like multiples, fractions, and algebra. As students participate in their learning, they look for similarities and differences. For example, you can show them that 3 + 7 = 10 and 7 +3 = 10. Surprisingly, researchers found that even teenagers learn best through hands-on exploration. When you figure out a solution, it tends to stick in your memory.

Color Pattern Supplies

With color pattern play, the preschooler, child, or teen can use any type of color pattern supplies. You don’t need anything special to introduce a color pattern. Legos work great with any age. You can use different colored large beads, clothespins, magna tiles, or stickers. When your child picks the manipulative, they think you are playing with them. You can put different manipulatives in containers that sit on a play shelf to invite learning through play. Join your child in play using manipulatives like

Play With Them!

You can make this activity as structured or as unstructured as you’d like. The main goal as you introduce the concept of creating color patterns is to keep it fun. Foster the curiosity of learning.

If your little one loves Legos, build a tower with them using a color pattern. Say the colors out loud as you build it together. Accept help from your child. Then, help them create their own pattern with whatever structure they choose to build: a tower, a wall, a house, etc. I encourage you to watch without correcting.

Once done, praise. Even if only part of the color pattern is correct, they have taken the first step towards learning color patterns. One way to help them realize an error is to point at the start of their color pattern and ask them to join you saying the colors. Another way is to build your own replica of their work without an error. Then, lay them next to each other. Next, tell them you are going to point to each color and say the color. They are to play detective and let you know when the colors fail to match. A very fun way to encourage learning and exploration.

If your child likes crafts, create a pattern using beads to make a bracelet. For safety, use large wooden beads with preschoolers and young children. If your little one loves to draw or play with stickers, play with them as you each create a color pattern on your paper. Once done, tell them a story using math vocabulary like ordinal number words like first, second, first, last, more, fewer, and least. The sillier, the better. Remember, we learn through trial and error. We are suppose to make mistakes while learning.

Unstructured Play

When playing Legos with my three-year-old nephew, I made one color pattern saying the name of the color while building: green, blue, green, and blue. He liked the way it looked and built a very tall tower. I asked if he could make his own color pattern.

With verbal help, my nephew made a yellow (A), blue (B), yellow (A), blue (B), yellow (A), blue (B) color pattern. With little ones, the pattern is typically repeated three or four times. The next day, he initiated color patterns in his play! He proudly showed me how he stacked each shape into the same color pattern saying red, blue, and yellow.

Keep the Learning Going

Once your child knows how to make a color pattern, there are fun ways to advance the concept. Have your child create a color pattern with manipulatives. Help them explore different color patterns like (A, B, C, A, B, C, A, B, C), (A, B, B, C ; A, B, B, C), and (AA, BB, CC; AA, BB, CC).

Action Color Patterns

Adding an action to each color is a great way to develop and improve visual perceptual skills. It tests their memory. Additionally, adding action turns a fine motor activity into a large motor activity. Again, keep it fun! Stand up and say, “Let’s act out our color pattern.” Use exaggerated motions while clapping, jumping, running in place, eating a bowl of cereal, or whatever else your little one’s imagination comes up with.

For example, repeat a pattern using color words (orange, green, orange, green, orange, green, orange, green, orange, green). After the child or teen chooses two colors, they build the pattern of their choice. Next, together say the color pattern while the child or teen points or touches the color. Lastly, choose an action for each color like clap, stomp, clap, stomp, clap, stomp. Even harder, everyone says the action words together while clapping and stomping.

Structured Color Pattern Play

Use color patterns to teach math skills like all the different combinations of numbers that will equal ten. 0 + 10 = 10; 1+ 9 =10; 2 + 8 = 10; 3 + 7 = 10; 4 + 6 = 10; 5 + 5 =10 Once done, you will see stairs. Of course, the reverse of those numbers still equal ten. Those are called math families. Your child will see that 1 + 9 = 10 and 9 + 1 = 10; 10 – 1 = 9 and 10 – 9 = 1. When asking questions, make sure you also use math vocabulary like one more, one less, difference, and equal.

Skip counting provides a great visual for young learners. In the beginning, they may rely heavily on the visual. However, the foundation developed through color pattern play will translate into written work down the road. I will share more about teaching math with manipulatives in future posts using videos. If your child is ready for more advanced concepts, consider using some of the methods below:

Multiplication Tables or Skip Counting Pattern Building

While using color pattern play with my own children, I began to understand math on a whole new level. For example, I saw that numbers in the one’s place (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) simply repeated themselves when counting by multiples of two ( 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, …). Now, I could identify any number, like 92 and 192, as a multiple of two. The foundation of simplifying a fraction. Open the attachment to see how to use a hundred’s chart with manipulatives to teach skip counting. Additionally, learn how to help your child master a skill.

hundreds chart for skip counting by 2's

Help your child use color patterns to create each of their multiplication tables (2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, 6’s, 7’s, 8’s, 9’s, and 10’s). It is less distracting to use only one color whenever you use a hundred’s chart. However, when counting by two’s without a hundred’s chart, I suggest choosing two contrasting colors to make it easier to see similarities and differences. I provide illustration in the downloadable free Hundred’s Chart and Lesson at the end of this page.

When introducing the concept of multiplication with manipulatives, try using a manipulative you can write on with a dry erase marker. Unifix cubes and legos are easy to write on and wipe off. This allows the child to see the pattern and associate it with the appropriate numbers. Also, it allows you to know if your child has mastered a skip counting sequence.

Multiplication Tables/Skip Counting Fill in the Blank

An example I share on the free Hundred’s Chart and Lesson is to use a blue, blue (2) , red, red (4) pattern to count by two’s. That makes it easier to see and touch every other color while counting.

You can even use a wipe-off marker and write on each alternating block of blue: 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. See attachment to receive wonderful teaching templates.

While adding, show the child how to use skip counting. For example, 8 + 2 is skip counting by 2s (2, 4, 6, 8,10). After a child knows how to skip count by fours, show them that 8 + 4 is skip counting by 4s (4, 8, 12). The illustration below shows how using a manipulative helps teenagers learn.


You can also introduce algebra. First, write down the problem. Then, lay out the color pattern with missing pieces. Lastly, watch to see if they can solve the problem. Did your child or student figure out the appropriate number of colored pieces?

For example, lay 8 yellow cubes beside 10 red cubes. How many more yellow cubes do you need to equal the 10 red cubes? (8 + _______ = 10) What is the difference between ten and eight?

Algebra example of color pattern play

When you teach using manipulatives, you can observe and learn how your child or student thinks. What do they really know and comprehend? Even better, manipulatives give your child or student an opportunity to create a problem. When you observe someone use manipulatives, you learn what they understand versus rote memorization.

Downloadable Hundreds Chart and Lessons

Using color pattern play and a hundred’s chart, I have compiled 4 free lessons that focus on the foundations of math. You can download it for free using the link below. Please leave me a blog review. Let me know if you would like charts like the ones in the lesson below by sharing your thoughts on my Facebook professional page.

Free Hundred’s Chart and Lessons

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