The idea of symmetry seems so basic that it is hard to remember that young children need to learn what it is and how to recognise it. This visual and conceptual skill becomes an important foundation for mathematical and algebraic concepts when they get older. Yet, learning about symmetry lends itself well to fun and interactive activities that not only build mathematical skill, but spark the imagination.
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Symmetry With Natural Objects
To introduce young children to the symmetry found in the natural world, have them collect leaves and flowers. Then, explain the idea of axis of symmetry, the line through an image that produces two symmetrical sides. Have the kids try gently folding the leaves and flowers to see if they can find an axis of symmetry for each one. Alternatively, they can trace large leaves on paper and try to draw an axis of symmetry. Either way, stick to two dimensional objects for young children--avoid working with rocks, shells and other 3-D items.
This classic craft activity provides a great platform for teaching young children about symmetry. For hearts, show the kids how to fold a piece of paper in half and trace the outline of half a heart where the middle of the heart lies on the fold. Have them cut along the drawn line next. For children under 6 or 7, give them a template to trace and help with the cutting if necessary. With slightly older kids, have them try making a whole heart by tracing a bottom half or a top half instead of a side and talk about symmetry by investigating why this does not work.
Demonstrate that the human body is built symmetrically by creating body tracings. Using butcher paper and washable markers, have the kids work in pairs. One lies down with hands and arms spread slightly while the other carefully traces the outline. Once the tracings are done, have each kid draw an axis of symmetry down the middle of his own image. This activity can also be done with chalk or combined with a science lesson on the brain and right/left handedness.
Symmetric Leaf Patterns
A great symmetry activity for fall, leaf patterns use construction paper of two different colours. Have each child cut their first sheet of paper in half and then place their leaf on the half of paper so that the edge of the paper cuts through the axis of symmetry. Then, have her trace the part of the leaf on top of the paper and cut the image out. For complicated shapes, they might need help with the cutting. Next, she should fold the whole piece of paper in half and glue the cut out leaf on one side and the outline on the other to create two reverse-colour symmetrical images.
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