Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Maths Manipulatives - Pattern Blocks

We have a nice large set of sturdy, wooden, pattern blocks that Boykin got for his birthday one year, probably when he was about 2 or 3. (Thanks Mum :D) The shapes in our set are hexagon, equilateral triangle, two sizes of parallelogram, square and trapezium. Did you know that in America they call the trapezium a trapezoid?

They have been very well used over the years. When we were doing workboxes, they appeared quite regularly along with a selection of printouts for Boykin to make pictures on. I put the printouts in a clear plastic A4 page protector, changing the top one so that he had different patterns to work with each time. He simply placed the pattern blocks on top of the page protector which helped make the printouts more durable, so durable that they are still perfectly usable 5 years later :)

We've used them to explore symmetry, both by looking at the shapes themselves and by creating symmetrical patterns.

This is what we got when we played the symmetry version of game 3 below.
We've used them to create and explore repeating patterns and sequences as well as using them to explore shape, area and angles.

The blocks have been used as building bricks, and even glued together to make a sculpture.

And, of course, we have used them to explore tessellation. There's something so satisfying about creating a pattern from just a small selection of shapes that could go on into infinity, if only we had enough tiles :) They came in very useful for the maths activities in Picture Book Explorers - The Mousehole Cat.

Yesterday, the Girl came up with the idea for a game, which we have further developed today giving us two or three variations. What other variations can you come up with?

Game 1:
Start by placing a hexagon on the table.
Take it in turns to draw a shape from the box without looking or trying to identify the shape by feeling.
Place the shape on the table so that it touches at least one other shape on the table.
How big a pattern can you create with no gaps?

Game 2:
Follow the instructions given for game 1.
The variation is that you have to keep a running total of the sum of the internal angles of the shapes as you place them.
For instance, there is a triangle and a square on the table. Their sum of their internal angles is 180 degrees and 360 degrees respectively. This gives a total of 540 degrees.
Younger children could add together the number of angles/sides.
Useful information:
The internal angles of a triangle = 180 degrees.
The internal angles of a quadrilateral = 360 degrees.
The internal angles of a hexagon = 720 degrees.

Game 3: The most popular version in our house.
You will also need two different colour dice - we used red and white.
There are 6 different shapes in our set, so we gave each one of them a different numerical value.
The white dice determines the shape to be used and the red dice determines the number of that shape to be used.
For instance, using the picture below, a white 6 and a red 5 have been thrown. The hexagon is number 6. Therefore, 5 hexagons would be added to the pattern being built.
Take it in turns to roll the dice and build the pattern.
To make it more challenging, try working together to keep the pattern as symmetrical as possible.

Other Pattern Block Activities:
Click on Pattern Block Pictures at Kelly's Kindergarten
Ideas for using pattern blocks to explore shape from Scholastic
More pattern block printables from ABCTeach - not all are free
Online pattern block activity at Math Playground
Game and sequence pattern printables at the end of this post from Confessions of a Homeschooler
Using pattern blocks to explore fractions
Pattern blocks matching game
Exploring tessellation


  1. I had a lovely set of pattern blocks just like this, and when I was working at the montessori I took them in, and then when I left, I didn't pick them up again :'(

    1. What a shame! And so annoying :( Maybe you can invest in another set? Ours have been very well used over the years, they have proved to be well worth the money :)