You loved Bear Snores On... the first 25 times, but now you are sick of that sleepy bear and his cave-crashing friends. Your little one, on the other hand? He just keeps bringing you that same book. Every. Single. Night.
Hearing the same stories or stories with the same characters time and again actually provides real benefits to your child. Learn how to provide those benefits, while retaining a modicum of sanity for yourself.
REPETITION INCREASES LEARNING
1. A child's understanding of a story increases with repeated readings. The first couple times a child hears a story, he might attend to the basic plot or latch onto an interesting character. With repeated readings, his focus emanates out, and he notices details in the story, the story's cadence and language, and how something that happened at grandma's house was similar to something from the story.
2. According to a 2013 study by Dr. Jessica Horst of Sussex University, a child more quickly learns new rods when he hears those words during repeated readings of the same story rather than from multiple stories containing the same word. Again, as a child's comprehension of a story increases, he can attend to individual words.
3. Repetition changes the brain. Every time a child listens to a book, neurochemicals fire, wiring the concepts and vocabulary from that book into the child's brain. Repeated readings equal repeated firings, and that equals more cemented learning.
REPETITION PROVIDES COMFORT
1. Children are creatures of habit. They drink from the same blue sippy cup at lunch and play with the same boat at bath time. Children look for patterns to figure out how the world works, and they find comfort in rituals. Familiar books allow children to predict what comes next in the story -- and the day.
2. Favorite stories are also soothing to a child. Just like a bath and glass of water, a favorite story helps a child settle in and relax.
Okay, so we know that repetition increases learning and provides comfort. Let's make it fun for us, too!
PLANNING FOR REPETITION; PLANNING FOR EXPANSION
1. Be choosy! Since you know that any new book could become your child's new favorite, be choosy! Don't read books that you don't enjoy at the initial reading.
2. Think of the book you are reading as you might a song. We sing the same songs over and over without getting tired of them. Find places where you might soften your voice or make it louder, where you might slow the language for suspense, or where you might add a tickle. Assign voices to your characters. This "staging" of the book gives you checkpoints in your reading, keeps you engaged and allows you to enjoy "performing" a book you've already read a hundred times.
3. Strike a reading deal. When my son was younger, he got to choose one of the night's books, and I got to choose the other. After four or five nights with him making the same choice, he would switch his choice to a book that had been my choice the previous night. We'd then stay with that book for four or five days until he again chose one of my offerings to fixate on for a few days. We came back to the same books time and again, but we cycled through them much more quickly than if he'd gotten to do all of the choosing.
Listening to the same stories over and over is developmentally appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers. It's been found to increase both vocabulary acquisition and comprehension. Additionally, favorite stories comfort children. Hopefully, the above strategies will make reading them over and over more enjoyable for you, as well.
Suzanne, Children's Librarian