Math and Motion - DuPage Children's Museum

Math and Motion

June 2, 2016

Math is often thought about as a very rational thinking, left-brained activity, and art is often considered to be the opposite – feeling, affective, and right-brained. This dichotomous view of the arts and math is largely responsible for the way that these subjects are frequently taught separately from one another. When you think more closely about it, however, the two frequently overlap. Indeed, the arts, music, and visual art consist of a variety of mathematical concepts. At DCM, we understand how often math comes in to play throughout our lives and that it is important to provide opportunities for children to investigate, practice, and reflect on math. According to the position statement, “Early Childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings,” exposing children to math concepts and models early on through hands-on explorations, experimentations, and literature we better prepare them for the opportunities that await them1.

DCM recently developed and will soon be opening our newest exhibit: Math + Motion, an InterAct with ART exhibition, to continue to provide children with opportunities to explore, experiment, discover, and enjoy math concepts at their own pace. This exhibit highlights the mathematics of motion and art while directing the visitor’s attention to their interdependent relationship. It features motion through geometric patterns including tessellation and quilting and the algebraic patterns in music. Math + Motion is about using your senses to discover math. It is about the relationship between math and the body, helping visitors consider these questions: how does it make us move? How do we experience math as a full body experience? How do we experience math with our senses?

Patterns in the Arts
Patterns are things that repeat; relationships are things connected by some kind of reason. Patterns and relationships are important because they help us understand the underlying structure of things; they help us feel confident and capable of knowing what will come next, even when we can’t see it yet. Patterns serve as the cornerstone of algebraic thinking2. Recognizing, describing, extending, and translating patterns encourage children to think in terms of algebraic problem solving. Working with patterns invites young children to identify relationships and form generalizations3.

Patterns and relationships are found in music, art, and clothing, as well as in other aspects of math such as counting and geometry. Understanding patterns and relationships means understanding rhythm and repetition, ordering from shortest to longest, smallest to largest, sorting, and categorizing. Children will experience full body movement in our Music Theater where they can dance along to videos featuring rhythm and patterns or watch themselves on TV as they dance to popular children’s songs while playing a variety of simple instruments. Other pattern play happens with the oversized pattern blocks near the newly reconfigured pattern block bench. Children of all ages can explore repetitive patterning with our Follow the Leader electronic game.

Geometry is the study of space and shape. Research has taught us that children’s ideas about shape do not come from passive looking: they have to explore the parts and attributes of shape to more fully understand it 4. At the same time, we know that children are naturally interested in shapes and spatial ideas. Children naturally notice and talk about the shapes of signs, buildings, everyday objects, art, and nature. We took all of these things into consideration when designing the geometric experiences in this exhibit.

One prime example of incorporating these ideas is in the new tessellation area. Visitors will enjoy quiet, contemplative infinity puzzles and a large oversized 3D tessellation puzzle. A tessellation is a pattern made with polygons (shapes with three or more sides) that completely fill a space with no gaps, spaces, or overlaps. M.C. Escher, a Dutch artist who we feature in Math + Motion, is best known for his mathematically inspired drawings and prints which display great realism. This artwork plays with patterns while at the same time showing impossible perspective, eye trickery, and metamorphosis.

Come visit the 2nd Floor of DCM starting June10th to see the new Math + Motion exhibit and encourage the child or children in your life to explore the interaction of math and art!


1. [ National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2003.]

2. [Taylor-Cox, J. “Algebra in the Early Years.” Young Children Jan, 2003. ]

3. [National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 2000: Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM.]

4. [Clements, D.H. & Sarama, J. (2000). “Young Children’s Ideas about Geometric Shapes.” Teaching Children Mathematics.]