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How Learning Patterns Leads to Brighter Children

by : Matt Powers
posted on : 8/8/2013

Can your child see the forest from the trees? Do they have the ability to recognize patterns and spot opportunities and potential threats? Chances are they don’t. In fact, American students are frequently unable to spot even the most obvious patterns. Believe it or not, many 4th graders are stumped when asked to count simple multiples likes 100s, 1000s, and even 11s.

Pattern recognition is the most important intelligence skill

Out of all mental skills, pattern recognition is said to have the highest correlation with general intelligence. Pattern recognition is the ability to recognize order in a chaos. Patterns can be found in ideas, words, symbols, numbers, and images. They can also be found in behavior, routines, and in nature.

The ability to recognize, identify, and create patterns not only supports mathematical learning, it also contributes to broader social development. By understanding patterns, children are able to make predictions about what should come next. This predictive ability begins shortly after birth and continues throughout our lives. Based on past behavior, babies can predict that cleaning up will follow eating a meal and that putting on clean clothes will follow taking a bath. Likewise, pets can predict that taking a walk may follow eating dinner. No doubt, understanding patterns helps all of us maneuver more confidently in our environment.

Nearly every desirable occupation requires pattern recognition skills. Doctors often read patient histories and charts to make diagnosis and prescribe treatments, attorneys study case histories before they present their case, analysts study data to predict future price movements, and salespeople use patterns to sell products.

Knowing how important it is to spot existing and emerging patterns, one would think educators would begin training students in pattern recognition at very early ages and would continue developing these skills into adulthood. Sadly, most do not. In fact, recent studies show that most schools are failing to adequately teach important patterning and critical thinking skills.

American employers don’t like what they are seeing

A recent study* suggests that American schools and universities are failing to teach basic patterning and critical thinking skills. In fact, 45% of all college students failed to make any significant improvement in their critical thinking, reading, or writing skills during their first 2 years of college. Richard Arum, a New York University sociologist and lead author of the study, reported that many American students graduate without even knowing how to separate facts from opinions, how to make a clear written argument, or how to objectively review conflicting data. All of these skills require the ability to recognize and analyze patterns.

American business leaders are worried. Many employers feel unable to hire employees with the critical thinking skills required to perform their jobs. A recent national survey of business leaders revealed 74% said they would recommend a liberal arts education which focuses on critical thinking, communication, and complex problem solving.*

What you can do to improve your child’s patterning skills

Many child prodigies appear to be born with a highly accentuated ability to discern intricate patterns. For the rest of us, patterning skills are taught by interaction with our parents, family members, friends, and the natural environment around us.

There are many teaching techniques available which can help children identify patterns by making them more noticeable. Many web sites offer instructional materials you can download and print which make target patterns stand out visually from surrounding words, letters, and numbers.

Number patterns and letter patters can be simple or complex.  It can range from simple ABC's to skip counting multiples like the 3's.

Patterns can be found throughout nature and are used by animals to blend into their environment.  Pictured above are the striped patterns of a zebra and a tiger.

Color patterns can be Simple or complex.  You can play color pattern games with your child using jellybeans or skittles.

Dance classes teach children important movement patterns along with musical patterns.

Learning musical instruments teach children important patterns which have been proven to strengthen mathematical ability from an early age.

Team sports encourage patterned movements & teamwork.  It shows that coordinated effort will lead to a pattern of success.

The Fibonacci pattern "0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34" can be found throughout nature. Just a few pictured are: Pine cones, Nautilus Shells, and Sunflowers.

Many popular games teach valuable pattern recognition skills through the use of grids, colors, and letters.  Pictured here are two popular favorites: Checkers and Tic-Tac-Toe.

Can you guess what familiar pattern this image of a school of fish and wave ripples is making?

You can call attention to written patterns by pointing at them, writing them on a whiteboard or sheet of paper, or by underlining or circling them.

Some students may have trouble with written patterns, but may learn more rapidly from hearing verbal patterns emphasized in speech. Remember, all language is based on patterns.

Other students may not be able to clearly differentiate between colors or shapes. They may actually see them incorrectly. If this problem persists, you should have their vision tested. Many leading optometrists, like Dr. Aleta Gong in Phoenix, Arizona, to improve eye coordination, eye movement, and eye teamwork.

Another excellent way to teach pattern recognition is by teaching skip counting patterns to your child. MathRise Learning Centers in Litchfield Park, Arizona has taken the lead in training children in skip counting patterns using a unique, highly effective pattern-based curriculum.  Students as young as 3 years old can benefit from this type of pattern training.  MathRise parent Jon Bohm exclaims “after attending MathRise for 9 months, my 5 year old who couldn’t even recognize numbers, can now multiply, divide, add, and subtract numbers.”

Other ways to strengthen pattern recognition skills include exposing your child to art, dance, music, martial arts, and team sports. In one study, researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the University of California concluded that when 3 to 4 year old children were given simple piano lessons over a six month period, they performed 34% better than their peers in intelligence tests, including some who had taken computer lessons instead.

Practice makes perfect

Mastering pattern recognition requires persistence and practice – the younger, the better. Experts believe the younger a student starts learning to see patterns in their environment, the stronger their future critical thinking skills will be.  So, what are you waiting for? Start focusing on building all important patterning skills today, so your child will be able to see the forest from the trees later in life.

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