You will need a collection of objects that will make prints. For example, try cotton reels, blocks, parts from construction toys, Lego.

Cover a table with polythene, roll out some water based printing ink on a flat plastic tray. Use three different colours. Put some of the objects in each of the trays. First of all, ask the children to experiment making prints. Have a large damp sponge to wipe sticky fingers and an old towel for damp hands. Remind the children that they must always put the inky object back in the ink tray. This is a rule.

Now you can reinforce the concept of a regular, repeating pattern.

"Here are some sheets of coloured paper. Which colour will you choose? Choose an object from a tray of coloured ink. Make a print on the top left of your paper. Choose a new colour and make another print next to the first one. Which colour haven't you used? Make a third print next in line with the first two. Now you can repeat the order of the colours to make a coloured pattern. It is hard to keep thinking of the right order so keep checking your paper to decide what is coming next."

Young and less experienced children will find it hard to repeat the sequence all the way down a sheet of paper. Make sure there is plenty of space for the prints to dry as soon as they are finished. These prints can make a spectacular backing for a display, or be used as wrapping paper. Children could print onto fabric in this way. Try using all sorts of pre-coloured and printed papers, including newspaper, for the children to print on.

  • Look at the unit 'designing a pattern' for ideas about how to extend this activity.
  • Only use water based printing inks.
  • Children should wear old clothes or protective aprons.
  • Have you thought of inventing pattern games with your children? Some could be sounds, some could be physical games outside, some could be word games. But then, they can become art games, visual games and designing games.
  • An imaginative leap is to examine patterns on clothes which we are wearing. For example the soles of your shoes or trainers or the ribbing on your jumper.
  • Why should patterns repeat? (Is this a kind of visual hiccup or is it necessary to cover larger areas of space like walls and tables, windows and beds; and for that matter, people, buildings and so on?) You could try making patterns that repeat because they have been made by mini-machines such as stamps made out of glued card, rollers, bits of blu-tack or plasticine with impressions pushed into them, date-stamps from the libraryall covered with ink or paint and printed repeatedly. And you can turn them around, drag and smudge, over-print them, print them on different surfaces. You can encourage inventiveness.

A collection of objects, different coloured papers, water based printing ink, trays, rollers, a large sponge, old towel, polythene