Symmetrical Pattern Making with Natural Materials

Use shells, pebbles and other natural materials to make large scale symmetrical patterns and explore other simple mathematical concepts together. Such a lovely, hands-on way to discover about the world around us and introduce new concepts in a beautifully appealing way!Symmetrical patterns with shells and natural objects

Welcome to the latest in our ongoing Playful Maths series, co-hosted with Learn with Play at Home. This week we are looking at ways to use natural materials for numeracy learning, and the possibilities are limitless. We used some beautiful shells, pebbles and driftwood from the beach to introduce the idea of symmetrical pattern making.Matching and sorting using natural materials

We began by looking at the lovely materials and both 3 year old Pop and 4 year old Cakie sorted and paired them into groups of matching (or very closely matching) objects. This was a great maths objective in its own right, sorting and matching objects by size and shape, with the beginnings of grouping too. After we had found some closely matching pairs of similar objects, we laid them out ready to make some mirror patterns.Simple pattern making with shells

I stuck down some thin ribbon on the floor to make a mirror line and talked about the patterns we see in nature that are symmetrical, i.e. exactly the same on each side, reflected as mirror images. We looked at flowers, butterflies, ladybirds and leaves to see that symmetrical patterns happen frequently in nature, with some objects even having a very clear mirror line e.g. the leaves and ladybirds. Then we talked about making our own symmetrical patterns using the pairs of objects we had sorted, on either side of our line. Whatever appears on one side must appear on the other.Symmetry and pattern making with shells

At the very simple level, Cakie picked this up quickly and was able to replicate objects on either side of the line, especially if they were placed very close to it. When I started to move some further away, or angle them slightly, the challenge began!Pattern making with natural materials

We talked about it needing to be the same if it was folded together and worked out how to move pieces of angled driftwood to be the same, but opposite, on each side. I added some elements to the pattern and they added their own, until we had come up with quite a few different designs over the play session. Making symmetrical patterns with shells

Possible extension activities:

  • set out some designs and take photographs of them to make pattern cards and place these in the maths area with baskets of natural materials to experiment with
  • provide paper and art materials so that they can draw pictures of their finished patterns
  • provide digital cameras for kids to document their work and annotate them
  • search through more photographs of natural objects that have their own symmetrical patterns and make these into a book

Cakie: 4.7

Pop: 3.0

Bean: 13 mos

What they are learning as they play:

maths: recognising shapes and patterns in the environment, sorting and matching according to shape and size, recognise and copy basic symmetrical patterns, make their own symmetrical patterns using available resources

creativity: create art and patterns on a large scale, use natural materials to create art

Now go and check out the fabulous counting and grouping using sticks over at Learn with Play at Home!

Follow our Playful Maths pin board over on Pinterest for the whole collection of activity ideas!


  1. says

    I really like this-definitely for the “to do” list. Funny, we’ve been doing the bead symmetry activity from the nrich site this morning. This will make another hands on symmetry activity.

  2. says

    So gorgeous! What lovely shells! We have no shells but we are going to the beach tomorrow so I shall be on the lookout. I’ve yet to really do much on symmetry so look forward to giving this one a go. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. says

    Nature is really so symmetrical and I’ll bet if you added a microscope to the equation you will see really stunning symmetry.