Pattern blocks are a type of math manipulative that you commonly find in primary grade classrooms and beyond. They are great for learning geometry and a fun way to build spacial awareness as well. I blogged about pattern blocks back in the summer - here.
Pattern blocks are a great teaching tool to have at home for your children to play and learn with. I started this post as a way to share this link for making Christmas themed pictures using pattern blocks: http://prekinders.com/2009/11/christmas-pattern-blocks/
(That should be where I stopped typing but instead...I wrote a short dissertation. Clearly I'm stalling on my holiday to-do list!)
I thought I'd re-cap some of the toys that we play with at our house that use pattern blocks and offer a couple good websites for free printables of templates for pattern blocks. All of the products listed can be bought at Amazon.com or locally at most toy stores. It's actually quite amazing the selection of pattern blocks that you can buy at Amazon - wood, foam, see-through, magnetic, template sets, kits, etc. (Hop over there if you aren't familiar with what pattern blocks are!)
Melissa and Doug makes a wooden set - "Pattern Blocks & Boards" which has pre-printed images that the child lays the blocks onto. This has been a favorite toy for years! To extend my kindergartners learning with this I have him record the number of each of the shapes that he uses to create the picture.
Melissa and Doug also makes a toy for younger children (2+) called Beginner Pattern Blocks. These are great for wee little ones because the blocks fit into place and do not slide around. Each pictures requires less tiles and they are simple to solve. My daughter is an expert at this and loves to sit and play with it. The other set is still a bit frustrating because the tiles slide but she plays with both now.
Mightymind Set - is a activity set that has 32 colorful design tiles that store in a plastic tray. It has sequentially numbered puzzle cards for the child to build increasingly difficult pictures. Clearly people have known about this toy for some time since "over 3 million sets have been sold in 20 countries around the world" but I just discovered it this past fall. It's marketed for ages 3-8 but my 2.5 year old enjoys it and my six year old finished it quickly. I like that it gets increasingly more difficult as they take the color and outline supports out from the cards as they get progressively more challenging. The brochure for the product states, "MightyMind encourages and entices a child to think, explore and discover the fascinating way simple shapes can be combined to form intricate delightful pictures and designs. Children learn to solve puzzles without assistance. No language or reading is required." I think this is a great set to buy but the blocks are smaller than free templates that I found online. The tiles are plastic and I prefer the M&D wood ones, but this company also offers a magnetic set which would be fun on the go.
Another choice is make paper pattern blocks using card stock. The drawback is the paper ones shift when making patterns and they don't have the same feel as wood one.
The paper ones do make fun craft projects, though I'd advise an adult precuting the shapes so building with them comes out symmetrical. Here's a site for paper pattern blocks. http://www.heidisongs.com/Free_Downloads/assets/Pattern_Block_Masters.pdf
Also check out Heidi's blog post about using pattern blocks to build letters - http://heidisongs.blogspot.com/2010/06/printed-alphabet-pattern-blocks-and.html
Other good sites for free pattern block templates:
One of my favorite preschool websites has a wealth of pattern block templates: http://prekinders.com/pattern-blocks/ (These come in both color and black and white so you can offer differing amounts of support.)
One of my favorite Kindergarten bloggers Mrs. Wills has free pattern block templates. Just click on the picture and it takes you to her Goggle docs for free. These are smaller than the pattern blocks that I own but I love that it challenges my son to 'free build' using the template as a guide. It doesn't allow him to just lay the tiles on tops of the template so his mind is working at another level!
This site is geared for slightly older children but lovely designs. http://www.patternblocktemplates.com/category/science-technology/
Links to other learning using pattern blocks -- quilting, snowflakes, symmetrical building, art
Of my....I think I will be spending more time with pattern blocks this winter! But back now to my holiday to-do list!