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Read it Again! Why Repetition Matters

National Reading Month is a good time to read about reading. 

National Reading Month is a good time to read about reading.

National Reading Month is a good time to read about reading. 

Does the repetition annoy you? Might it be exhausting to read the same sentence over and over and over again? Maybe for you, but research has shown young children thrive on repetition. 

You’ve likely heard it from your kiddo at bedtime, “Read it again!” Or really any time you finish a book at reading time, “Again! Again!” And you consent and flip back to page one. But after six times through of “Go, Dog, Go!” you start to wonder if it’s worth it. 

Read it Again - Why Repetition Matters

We see the same pattern with lots of activities at the Museum, not just reading. While some kiddos might run from exhibit to exhibit on fast forward, others–especially the 2-4 year-old age group–might stay fixated on one thing, doing it over and over again for an hour. (This is always a benefit of having a membership, because then a trip spent doing one thing never feels “wasted.”) It turns out, this repetition is expected, encouraged, and engaging. 

WHY DO YOUNG CHILDREN SEEK REPETITION? 

You probably don’t remember it yourself, but being a toddler and then a preschooler is really hard work. During this timeframe (1.5-5 years), a child’s brain develops more than any other time in life. Children are born with all the brain cells they’ll have in their lives (over 100 billion!), but it’s the connections formed between those neurons which really make the brain work. Every interaction they have makes new connections. So, why do they seek repetition to foster that growth? 

  • Connections and boundary-testing: asking for something to be repeated and getting a positive response (when so often other circumstances require caregivers to say no) is one of the most valuable interactions a child has with an adult, fostering the caring, responsive relationship required for healthy brains.
  • Control: repetition means expectations are met, which is comforting and gives children a safe harbor in an often unpredictable day.

HOW DOES REPETITION BENEFIT CHILDREN?

Cognitive and emotional functions in the brain work in tandem. Children learn better when their physical needs are met, which includes safety and connection. The emotional reasons behind repetition of reading material lead to cognitive leaps: 

  • Vocabulary building: repetition allows focus, then mastery, then a sense of confidence in their new skills; children learn new words better by repeating a few words instead of exposure to many words.
  • Memory: the first time through a book, a child may be most interested in the pictures; the second time, they begin to take in the words; by the fifth and sixth time, they have memorized parts of it, which allows for better understanding. 
  • Language patterns: every time through a text, a child gains new understanding of the parts of the sentences and paragraphs; this seems extraordinary for children under 5 who can’t read, but the neuron connections being made foster not only future reading skills, but speaking and writing skills as well. 
  • Fluency: the ability to read text accurately, quickly, and with expression is a goal for advanced reading, not early readers, but repetitive reading allows a child to hear text without stumbling or stopping, and reading time becomes more pleasant for everyone. 
  • Confidence: once a child fully understands one book, it makes moving on to another more appealing.

Read it Again - Why Repetition Matters

HOW CAN CAREGIVERS SUPPORT REPETITIVE LEARNING? 

With all the above information about benefits, you can’t possibly still be annoyed at the request for “Again! Again!” right? Wrong. Caring for children is super hard, almost as hard as being a toddler. It’s okay to find even beneficial moments difficult. Here are some ways to make the most of the moments: 

  1. Say yes. The positive response is part of the joy and advantage of repetitive reading. Allow the comforting bond to soothe you through “Go, Dog, Go!” 
  2. Choose something new to focus on for each reading. Depending on the age of the child, ask them to find all the red things on the page, all the things with wheels, all the words that start with the letter ‘v’, etc. 
  3. Make connections between the content of the book and your child’s life. If the character is riding a train, remind them of the time you rode a train together. 
  4. Offer books from the same author or about the same topic. It will engage a new book while still having components of the original, such as similar pictures or vocabulary. 

As soon as children are reading for themselves, all of these same benefits apply to them reading aloud to you. Then you’ll be able to say, “Read it again!” right back at them. 

References: https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/; https://www.mindchamps.org/blog/reading-same-book-good-for-kids

 

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