Follow the Pattern

by Erin Bartsch


It is easy to get caught up in labels. It can make it easy for us to navigate our life when things have labels. But often times, labels end up limiting us rather than making life easier. For example, how many of us were labeled in school as smart, popular or athletic as if you can’t be more than one of those. I have heard a lot of people say, “I’m not a math person.” There it is again, another label that limits us. Did you know that as a culture we use to say boys were good at math and girls weren’t? And you know what happened, we believed it and proved them right. Girls scored lower than boys on math tests. But then something happened, we stopped saying that, we started to say girls could do math. And we believe it and proved them right. Now it’s not uncommon to see girls outscore boys on math tests.

When we labels ourselves or others as “a math person” or “not a math person” we actually limit ourselves. If we see failure as a sign of not being good at something, then we just stop trying. If we believe that you will always success and it will be easy if you are truly a math person, then we rob ourselves of the learning that takes place in failure. We need to stop seeing struggle and failure as negative, they are the learning. Further, it will help you in other areas too because you are learning more than math, you are learning to be persistent, that the process is more than the product and flexibility. When you find the opportunity in the struggle, you allow yourself to become the math person.

As this month of math ends, do yourself and the children you work with a favor, teach them the power of yet. Maybe you can’t extend a pattern or calculate the area under a line but add the word YET and now you have empowered them to keep trying and learn from the process. Remember, math is about problem solving, if it wasn’t hard then it wouldn’t be a problem. 🙂

WATCH THIS TODAY!!! A talk by Carol Dwek who studied growth mind set with children using math.

SHARE THIS WITH YOUR KIDS!!! Also, here is a really fun song on Sesame Street about the Power of Yet:


When the wrong answer is the right answer

Often times our experiences with math have been about finding the right answer. The focus was on the end product and if you were right or wrong. That’s not math.

Math is about solving a problem. It’s the process of getting to an answer. Even if the answer is not the right one, the process of getting to it can teach us a lot. Just think of when you put groceries in a bag, sometimes you start and then realize you need to switch two items around. The “realizing” that your first attempt needed to be adjusted is learning. If you just kept on track and didn’t adjust you might end up with smashed tomatoes, crumbled chips and the assumption that you aren’t good at bagging. If you would have only been focused on the end, you wouldn’t have learned what did work. By focusing on the process we are able to think about each step, evaluate and adjust. Evaluating and adjusting is essential for solving a problem, which is math. So math isn’t about did you get the right answer, it’s about how did you solve the problem and did it work?

As you work with kids (and yourself) on math, make sure you keep the focus on the process. This means it’s okay to make a “mistake.” Often times we learn more when we do make a mistake then if we just got to the right answer the first time.

Problem Solving Process: 1– understanding the problem, 2– planning how to solve it, 3 – carrying out the plan, 4—reviewing the solution and repeat steps as necessary.


Starbucks and algebra

Sometimes we get scared when we hear the word algebra. Flashbacks to high school frustrations and stress. But it doesn’t have to be that stressful. Lets break it down.

Algebra is when symbols are used to express rules about number relationships and operations. Before you say, yeah but I’ll never use that, lets take a look.

Let’s say that each block cost 10 cents, so for 1 block it’s 10 cents, 2 block it’s 20 cents, 3 blocks it’s 30 cents. Do you see a patter, 10, 20, 30. But how that pattern grows is based on a formula. For every block you add you need to add 10 cents. So if you want to know how much it will cost for any amount of blocks we will use algebra. Y=.10x. Cost is a function how many blocks you get. Now I’m pretty sure you do this kind of algebra daily.

You might not buy blocks, but let’s say it’s Starbucks stars. We know that for each $1 you spend you get 2 stars (the patter is: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10). We also know that it take 125 stars to get a free drink. How much do you have to spend to get a free drink. Y=2x where x is how much you spend and y is the number of stars. This time we know what y is and we want to find x, so lets plug the numbers in, 125=2x….125/2=x…x=$72.5. You have to spend $72.50 to get a free drink at Starbucks, so you better make it a good one.

We know young children aren’t going to be pulling out their pencils and paper to write out the formula, but that doesn’t mean they are doing it. So the next time you ask a child to extend a pattern, guess what, they just did algebra in their head!


Parents are a children’s first and most important teacher. You can shape how your children see and view math. It can be a dreaded subject at school or it can be a tool that allows us to solve our problems. Here are some ways you can use math at home with your children to build a positive foundation.

  • Count the number of apple slices, talk about more and less. As you eat a slice recount “how many are left.”
  • When you build with blocks, talk about how tall or long something is, “the tower is __ blocks high.”
  • When you are out on a walk, notice the plants and trees. See if you can find patterns in the petals or pinecones.
  • When you are at the stores, see how many items you have in your basket, is it too many for the express line?
  • As you walk around your house, store, park or classroom, use spatial words like: behind, in front of, under, above, next to.
  • While in the produce section, weigh some fruit or veggies. Talk to your children about the number on the scale and which items weight more or less than the others.
  • When you are talking to children about future events, show them on a clock or calendar. Talk about how much time until the it happens. Try using an analog clock to show children how much time until clean up, dinner or bath time.
  • When eating animal/goldfish crackers, talk to the child about how many they have. Ask them math questions like: if you eat two, how many would you have left? If I gave you 3 more, how many would you have all together? If you gave me half of your crackers, how many would we each have?

Math is in our daily lives, we have a lot of opportunities to make math meaningful to children. Let’s make the most of it! (That was math talk, most is a comparative amount.)


This carpet is 28 markers long!

These students are 8 toy people tall.


Good health starts with what you put in your body, what we eat feeds our every cell and determines if those cells will thrive. The grocery store is full of math: printed numbers, bundles and bunches, and patters. It’s impossible to go into a grocery store and not use math.

Children can be helpful in the store by helping you see which items cost more or less, which items are bigger or small, which bunch of bananas has the number needed. Children are also good at playing the lava game in the store, yes knowing which tiles you can step on and how to navigate them is part of spatial reasoning which is math. (Here’s a spatial reasoning test for adults you can take:

In case you were like me and had a childhood dream to be a grocery bagger, you will have a chance to test your skills. Look for the grocery bagger challenge at Wellness Day on May 11th. Come see how fast you can bag all the groceries while maintaining the integrity of the items. The best time will win the groceries! So start practicing those geometry and spatial skill!


Patterns are all around us. A patter is something that repeats, it’s more than just unfix cubes or beads. Patterns exist everywhere and anywhere. Here are some examples of patterns:

Alternating: red blue red blue red blue, or clap, snap, clap, snap
Growing: I, II, III, IIII, IIIII
Number Patterns: 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10, 20, 30, 40…
Spatial relations: symmetry, mirrored patterns
Fibonacci: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…
Fractal:  A never-ending pattern, created by repeating a similar process over and over at different scales. Think snowflakes and fern branches. For more info:!/media/2443481/what-is-a-fractal
Spiral: think of a lollypop that starts in the middle and swirls out, or a sea shell

Where to find patterns: strips on a shirt, flowers petals on a Dahlia, the rhythm in a song, a mandala, the newest dance moves, the architecture of a building and children’s toys.

Your challenge for the month, find a pattern naturally occurring (as in not staged) and send in your photos (each photo is 1 entry). Photos will be shared on the agency website and a winner will be drawn for a gift card to Shutterfly.

Go find some patterns!


Just like counting is important in math, so is vocabulary. Having a good understanding of math concepts means you need to know the language. As you work on the measuring activity with your kids, try working some measurement vocabulary into the conversation.

  • Comparison or compared to
  • Order, as in put them in order from smallest to largest
  • Capacity, how much will it hold, which holds more and which holds less
  • Volume, how much space is taken up, an object height, width and length
  • Weight, which weighs more, or is heavier. Which weighs less or is lighter. (For older kids talk about mass which is the amount of matter regardless of gravity.)
  • Area, how much surface area, does it cover more or less
  • Duration, does it take more or less time
  • Most, more
  • Least, less

Helping children to understand and use math vocabulary will help them in more than just math. Now they have a larger vocabulary and we know that vocabulary is important for reading comprehension. Yay for math!


Measuring and comparing is a math activity that children do without having to be told. They will always know who has more candy and whose tower is taller. They are natural at comparing. What children need guidance on is how to apply units of measurement. How many more blocks high, how many less steps, how many more minutes. These are all measurement questions that we can ask.

Your challenge is to do a measuring activity with children but using a non-standard unit of measurement. Don’t worry about how many inches, feet, ounces or pounds something is, find a new unit to compare. For example, how many pool noodles long is the swimming pool.

Here is a great video of Peg + Cat looking at how to measure distance using Cat! (if it doesn’t play, try opening it in different web browser.)


We are all creatures of habits and daily routines, which are patterns. This means that your life is literally math.
We know that there are habits of successful people and a path to a promising future, but did you know that math play a big role in that. Research has shown that children who struggle with math are less likely to go to graduate or go to college than children who struggle with literacy. Math is at the foundation of a Bright Future.
I can hear the sighs, “oh, I’m not a math person.” We are all math people! We are good at what we practice, this means we need to practice math. The sighs are getting louder, “I don’t want to do worksheets!” The good news is that math isn’t a worksheet. Math is real life, in fact, that is the best way to teach math-with real life.

This month we will be looking at what math is and how you can include it in your day. Join me in activities that will help build yours and your children’s math knowledge.