Children’s Creations of Islamic Designs

In my combined first and second grade, Arabic repeating mosaic designs that children made on graph paper were very popular. The whole class was first introduced to the process, and after that it was a popular Choice Time activity.

We began with ½” graph paper. In a block of four squares, a child would make a design with markers. Then, skipping one or more squares next to that, they would repeat the same square and design and continue across the page and making identical additional rows until the whole page was covered. When they felt the squares were complete, they would make some lines or designs in the blank squares connecting the decorated ones. Again, these lines and designs were identical. Sometimes a child might outline the four squares and repeat that square with the spaces across the page and continue the rows until the page was covered. Then they would go back and put one design in every square, returning to add additional identical designs in every square, and then connecting all the squares.

After being first introduced to the whole class, the youngest children had some difficulty carrying out their repetitive pattern but didn’t realize it. They just didn’t choose to make any more after that first one in the fall but were apt to design some later in the year. I’ve often thought how amazing children are when they choose to do the things they are capable of and just neglect to participate if it’s beyond them with no apparent discomfort. They just get involved in something else.

Graph paper was always available for future designs, and as time went on designs became more and more complex. Some would use 1” graph paper or ¼” graph paper, began their design with six squares or a rectangle, or just became far more elaborate with each additional design created. It was a very popular activity  because each child could participate at her own level.

The designs involved the concepts of patterning, symmetry, transformations, and geometric shapes.

See an illustration of the Islamic Designs and read about the math program in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Patterning in First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade, patterning was a popular activity in the math center during Choice Time.

When using geoboards, most often symmetry was the choice of design, while sometimes repeating designs or making pictures were created. Initially, young children might have put as many elastics on as possible, and we might guess how many were used. But, as they observed others, their choices became more elaborate.

When a child presented a pattern on a pegboard during evaluation time, children were asked to tell what the pattern was. They might see, for example, if the pattern was red, blue, green, yellow, red, blue, green, yellow, red, blue, in the first row, then the second row would start with green and yellow. After looking at the horizontal pattern, we would look at the vertical one and see it’s now red, green, red, green, etc. with each successive row containing just two alternate colors. Then, we’d look at the patterns diagonally noticing red, yellow, green, blue, etc. Since this equipment involved colors, numbers could substitute, so 1 was red, 2 was blue, 3 was green, and 4 was yellow, exposing them to the patterning of number. After seeing the patterns with colors, the board might be hidden, and asked if we went vertically, what would the numbers be? And then show them.

Of course, the youngest children might present a pegboard with no recognizable pattern. They might be asked if there were more red or blue pegs. Let’s count and see. Or, if they were ready for something more complex, are there more red and blue pegs than green and yellow? Again, counting to see. This equipment, as with all equipment and activities that were provided in the class, accommodated different abilities and yet was shared with all. The youngest children received as much attention for their efforts as the older ones. However, the youngest children were always exposed to higher achievements that they, too, could participate in when they were ready. By making the simplest offerings more complex, it still could appeal to the brightest. Hopefully, everyone had a chance to feel good about their projects.

So, patterning was a big part of our program. It is important because math is a patterning of number and a study of patterns. So many problems can be solved if patterning is well understood plus it contributes to their study of geometry.

Read more about the math center and patterning in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

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