Repetitive Reading Helps Toddlers Learn

“Again, again!”  That common cry from a toddler who wants you to read her favorite book for the hundredth time today may have real value. New research suggests that it is repetition more than variety that helps toddlers learn and understand books.

toddler and mom reading

Psychologist Dr Jessica Horst and her team at the University of Sussex looked at three-year-olds and how well they could grasp a new word found in stories. What the researchers found was that toddlers who heard the same story several times were better able to pick up the new word than those who heard different stories. Repetition may be the key to teaching toddlers.

Two groups of three-year-olds were introduced to a new, made-up word for a common item. One group heard the word repeated in three different stories over a period of a week. The other group heard only one story during the same amount of time. At the end of the week, the researchers looked at which group had a better grasp of the new word. Surprisingly, the children who heard just one story repeated during the week were better able to grasp the new word than those who got more variety.

Dr Horst says: “We know that the more books you have at home, the higher the academic achievement of children. But what we haven’t understood is actually how that learning happens.

“This research suggests that it’s not the number of books, but the repetition of each book that leads to greater learning.”

The researchers believe this is because children learn new information every time they hear a story. Hearing the same story repeated several times allows them to pick up new information from that story and add it to what they know. When children hear a variety of stories, they only grasp the preliminary information from each rather than build on what they already know.

Hearing new words in a variety of contexts makes it harder for toddlers to grasp the meaning of the new word. Dr. Horst suggests that rather than focusing on many books, parents should start small by reading one book several times.

She adds: “I think the message here could be that children don’t necessarily need a vast quantity of books, but they do benefit from repeated exposure to those books.”

– Summer, staff writer

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About the author


Summer is a mom of three, living life in the slow lane along historic Route 66. She writes, homeschools, gardens, and is still trying to learn how to knit.

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