These exercises give the children a new understanding about how commonly used patterns and designs are produced, so that they can observe their environment with intelligence and appreciation, and create their own designs. As always, we begin with very simple exercises, and do not go on to the next step until they do the first really well. These small steps need to be practiced. Once a person can really achieve in any form of art, it is enormously satisfying.

It is interesting when studying design to bring a kaleidoscope into the classroom. During Victorian times, they were used by people who designed carpets. Have the children look through a kaleidoscope at something very simple; they will begin to see repetitive patterns. Older children would enjoy making their own kaleidoscope.

Every lesson we have with children has got to be leading them somewhere -- in this case, to really understanding how we use concepts of design. Whenever possible bring in samples of fabrics or old wallpaper books to illustrate these design patterns.

These design projects could make great gift wrap or greeting cards.

  • Paper
  • Colored pens, pencils, crayons, paint, etc.
  • Vegetable stamps ( raw carrots, potatoes (this could be carved to produce a design), onions etc)
  • Other simple stamps
Exercise 1: The Square Pattern

All designs we use are created on certain nets (patterns). The square is the most simple net. Have the children begin by dividing their papers into squares of any size. The net can be part of the design, or it can disappear. If an invisible net is desired, have children form it by folding their paper in half, and in half again and again, until they get the size square desired. At first ask them to put a fairly simple motif into the middle of each square. They could draw it, or use a simple stamp.

Exercise 2: The Half Drop Pattern

Begin as in exercise 1, by dividing the paper into squares or rectangles. This time have children make a design in every other square in the first row. In row two, continue alternating designs, but begin below an empty square. Row three is patterned like row 1. Continue in this way.

Exercise 3: Alternate Motifs with Half Drop

Establish the net as before, but this time alternate motifs. One motif would be repeated on alternate squares in the first row. Another motif would be used on alternate squares in row 2. Continue in this way.

Exercise 4: An Elaborated Net

This time the net itself becomes an integral part of the design. Have the children create any design they like, using the drop pattern, but this time have them incorporate the net visibly into the design.

Exercise 5: Triangular Net

The square can be divided diagonally to form a triangular net. It is interesting here to explore the concept of mirror images.


Once the children have the basic idea, they can go into quite difficult work. Show them examples of old Spanish tiles. Muslim workers originally created these designs using rulers and pieces of string. Bring in pictures of Moorish buildings, such as the Alhambra in Spain, or the beautifully patterned Islamic mosques.

The teacher could also bring in a collection of beautiful pictures that show detail of historical costumes, heavily embroidered and bejeweled, such as that from the Elizabethan and Baroque periods, or the ornate costumes of Thai or Balinese dancers. Let each child choose a picture and get them to really look at the design and choose one motif to work up into a pattern. This exercise will help them to really look at pictures -- to really look at design. If we do these things, the children really begin to appreciate art.
Nature also incorporates exquisite patterns and designs. The book, Art Forms in Nature, by Ernst Haeckle shows the incredible symmetrical beauty of microscopic life forms as well as corals, jellyfish, shells, fungi and plants. This treasure belongs in every classroom, and can also serve as a wonderful inspiration for pattern and design.