Kite Tails

Years K - 3


This simple activity came from children who simply started playing with their Poly Plug. It was they who invented the idea of making kites and their teachers who seized the opportunity to introduce pattern work. Kite Tails can be a counting activity or a pattern activity. It is suitable for Threading.


  • One Poly Plug each
  • One calculator each
Note: This investigation has been included in Maths At Home. In this form it has fresh context and purpose and, in some cases, additional resources. Maths At Home activity plans encourage independent investigation through guided 'homework', or, for the teacher, can be an outline of a class investigation.

  • Visit the Home Page for more Background.
  • For this specific activity click the Learners link and on that page use Ctrl F (Cmd F on Mac) to search the task name.


The photo above suggest the simplest form of Kite Tails, which leads to counting the plugs in the tail. But if the red board with all its plugs is the kite, the plugs from the yellow/blue board can make a patterned tail:

Kite with Tail


  • counting
  • pattern generalisation
  • pattern interpretation
  • pattern recognition

Some children take red plugs out too because they like to put 'bows' on their kite tails and use red ones from the kite to make them:

Tail of a Poly Plug Kite

Other children make use of the thick/thin attributes of the plugs and make patterns which include colour and thickness.

Patterns & Patterns

These examples are patterns because they are composed of a unit which repeats. We too often fall into the trap of using this as a 'definition' of pattern. A trap because such a definition doesn't include cases like:

1Y, 2B, 4Y, 8B, 16Y, ...


1Y, 1B, 2Y, 3B, 5Y, 8B, 13Y, ...

in which no unit repeats.

Make kite tails with these rules - the number aspect is too obvious when written in this form. They are patterns but they do not contain a unit which repeats. A pattern is in fact a pattern because it allows prediction of what comes next (and next after next and next after next after next ...)

Allowing children to make the 'repeating unit' kite tails, which seem to come naturally, and then offering some of these others with the question "Is my kite tail a pattern?" encourages a broader understanding of the concept of pattern.

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