Inside: Repetition is the mother of learning and here’s why repetition is important for kids.
If I had a nickel for every time my preschool students requested the song We Are the Dinosaurs by The Laurie Berkner Band during our last circle time of the day, I’d be a rich woman. Back when I was teaching in the classroom, I often tried to sneak in a different song, not because I didn’t like We Are the Dinosaurs, but because it always ended up playing on a loop in my brain for the rest of the day.
I was just plain tired of it.
Knowing how important repetition was for strengthening connections in their rapidly developing brains didn’t make listening to the same song day after day any less annoying.
But, if, like me, you find yourself reading the same bedtime story or playing the same board game or making the same lunch for your young child again and again, per their request, it may help to understand why this kind of repetition is so valuable. That way, during your 107th reading of Goodnight, Moon, you can practice acceptance and relax, trusting that your little one is getting exactly what they need through the repetition of this rhythmic favorite.
So, why exactly is repetition so important to developing brains?
1) Repetition strengthens brain connections
When we learn something new, a neural pathway is established in our brain. The only way to strengthen that pathway and make the idea “stick”, so to speak, is to go over it again and again, through repetition.
Keep in mind that this repetition works for better or worse.
If your child throws a tantrum at the store and gets the thing they wanted, the learning that a tantrum yields positive results is reinforced. If they throw a tantrum and do not get the thing they wanted, the tantrum is not reinforced, and over time, becomes less likely to occur as a way to get something they want.
Likewise, when we read a book to our child, rhythm, alliteration, visual representation, language, sentence structure, sequencing, patterns, and story are introduced. Reading the same book again and again reinforces and cements this learning.
If you’ve ever had the experience of reading a book in your twenties and then picking it up again in your thirties only to find that it is a completely different experience the second time around, you’re familiar with this phenomenon. Your child is growing and changing rapidly during the early years, and each subsequent reading of a book both strengthens what has already been learned and has the potential to reveal something new that will be reinforced and strengthened through the next reading.
2) Repetition builds confidence.
When a child hears the same song or story over and over again, they begin to predict what is going to happen next, building their confidence.
Remember that for a young child, virtually everything they are exposed to out in the world is new. Familiarity breeds comfort and safety, which primes their brains for learning. A stressed out and overworked brain that is constantly trying to process new information cannot learn as efficiently. It doesn’t have a chance to dig deep in any direction if it is always trying to dig wide in every direction.
The experience of listening to the familiar song or book gives children both security and confidence, as they are more able over time to join in the singing or storytelling. Being part of the storytelling through their ability to predict what is going to happen next helps them connect more deeply with the material and draw connections and parallels to their own lives.
Good stories are powerful teachers, but they need the benefit of time and repetition to teach well.
3) Repetition contributes to relationship connection.
When you read a story again and again to your child, they associate you with the same safety and comfort that the story brings them, and vice versa. Every time you set aside your preference for something new and honor their desire to be nurtured through this repetition, you are building trust with your child.
Moving forward, as your child grows, everything in your relationship will be built upon this foundation of trust.
Now, this isn’t to say that reading the same stories and singing the same songs together are the only ways you will be building trust with your child. But they sure are some of the easier ones. Take advantage of the ease that repetition offers you. Sometimes it can be a relief to not have to reinvent the wheel.
In my experience as a teacher and the mother of a teenager, I now look back on those We Are The Dinosaur days with nothing but fondness, and often longing. It reminds me of the expression, “the days are long but the years are short.”
One day our houses will be so quiet that we will be able to hear our own hearts break. And nothing will sound as sweet as a beloved child’s voice asking, “Again?” after we’ve turned the final page of a tattered and well loved book. It is my wish for all of us that we can breathe in the sweetness of that moment and, indeed, read it again.