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Sunday 29 April 2018

Again! Why Repetition is a Good Thing

Johanna strongly relates our joy of rereading our favourite books to the learning processes that children go through when learning to read with books that explain the world they know and the experiences they wish to engage in. We can all remember books that did that for us as children if we try.

My eldest son is about to turn 12, but when he was a toddler he would watch the same films and television programs over and over and over again. I cannot tell you how many times I watched the same few episodes of Bob the Builder or the film Wall-E in the first few years of his life. As a tween he now binges on basketball games, repeating shots and plays until he has them imprinted on his brain.

His younger brother followed the same pattern when he was small. We watched endless repeats of Pocoyo and Mouk on television and now, as a nine year old, he watches a season of My Little Pony and then starts again at the beginning. The same goes for anything dance related, as he aspires to be a famous ballerino.

And both of them do the same with books. Master 12 has read, and reread, Harry Potter, Goosebumps and Specky Magee books until he can recite them word for word. His brother has read Louisa the Ballerina books and The Secret Rescuers series many times. After wondering why they kept rereading and rewatching the same content, I did some research to give me a little insight.

One of the most pertinent points on this subject was made by Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, who said rereading was not an “indulgence”, but an essential part of the reading process for children. As Lucy explains:

Adults tend to forget what a vital part of the process rereading is for children. As adults, rereading seems like backtracking at best, self-indulgence at worst. Free time is such a scarce resource that we feel we should use it on new things. But for children, rereading is absolutely necessary. The act of reading is itself still new.

Children are still learning the meaning of the words they are reading, as well as the meaning of the word in the context of the scene. And with that I was taken back to the time, as a grade 3 pupil, I read and reread a passage in a book to understand the meaning of the word “embrace”. Before that day I hadn’t heard the word, and so was struggling to understand what it meant in the story I was reading about dancing princesses.

After going over the passage several times my desire to know what it meant was so strong that I shyly asked my teacher, Mr Rowe. He pondered the question for a moment and then responded with “it’s like a cuddle”. At the time I remember thinking cuddle didn’t seem to fit the scene, but it gave me enough information to go on so I could understand the text better.

The other reason children reread and rewatch is that learning happens through repetition. When we learned to ride a bike we didn’t just know how to do it – we kept trying until we stopped falling off, wobbled less and less and eventually took off along the road, bike track or driveway. I can still rattle off my times tables and the odd Shakespeare quote for the same reason. In Zig Ziglar’s words, “Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment”.

So the next time my sons want to read the same book again, watch the same television show or play the same card game, I need to remind myself that this is part of their learning. And so it must be good for me too.

Johanna is a journalist and author of the book Business & Baby on Board.
Johanna Baker-Dowdell

Twitter: JohannaBD



  1. Johanna you have given us "educational experts" a timely reminder of the importance of rereading for a child's developing skills and enjoyment. Hopefully these familiar, magical experiences will encourage a love of lifelong reading.

  2. I have finally borrowed Lucy Mangan's book 'Bookworm' from the State Library, after reading this blog post and the article from The Guardian. It was on order when I placed a hold on it, and I just got it today. I know from a quick peek that I am going to enjoy it hugely and will probably want to buy my own copy - it is a most beautiful hard cover edition. It is also available as an audiobook from Audible.com, read by the author and I have listened to the 5 minutes sample which only makes me want to read it more.