by Jenny Kleppe
Here at All Seasons Preschool, teachers practice “Repeated Readings.” This is exactly as it sounds; a story is read to the group several days in a row. As parents and teachers know, children love to hear their favorite books over and over (and over) again. Repeated readings help young children master the storyline, content, and vocabulary of a story.
When I was a new teacher, I taught preschool and early childhood family education in Head Start classrooms in a large, diverse city. I wanted to expose my students, many from underprivileged backgrounds, to many wonderful stories with full and rich language. Every day, I read a different story. Even when children requested a story we had already read or wanted me to tell them a story over again, I insisted that everything they heard from me be new. I thought this would be more interesting than repeating something they had already heard. I thought I was helping them by exposing them to more vocabulary and more stories. I had never heard of repeated reading practice, and if I had, I’m sure at the time I would have disregarded it as not right for my students. The results? I had many children who did not sit still at story time. Many appeared disinterested and unengaged from the books I read and stories I shared.
Now I know better. While I had the best of intentions, I was naïve about what young children needed to internalize the meaning and vocabulary in stories. All children benefit from repeated readings. Hearing vocabulary and story themes multiple times facilitates comprehension, and makes new vocabulary part of a child’s own working vocabulary. Most young children, and especially children with special needs or English language learners, are not able to comprehend all of the story the first time it is read. Hearing it multiple times allows them to fill in the missing pieces each time they hear the story repeated.
Several studies have borne out the multiple benefits of repeated reading. Some advice for using repeated readings at home: use books that are age-appropriate and interesting to your child. Read these books repeatedly over the course of a couple of weeks. While reading, encourage your child to actively participate by reinforcing his/her comments or gestures concerning the book (such as pointing to a picture). Provide explanations in response to questions or new vocabulary words, and ask open-ended questions about what is happening in the book or what is going to happen next.
Once while teaching at Head Start I agreed to read a popular story several times over a few weeks. The book was “Pinkalicious” by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann. The quality of this story didn’t match that of a classic fairy tale or folk story, but it was a favorite. I found that after reading the story many times, the students didn’t lose interest as I assumed they would. The entire class said the words with me as I read them! They learned new and complex vocabulary! They laughed every time the character turned pink, and they predicted parts of the story! They played ‘pinkalicious’ during free play and asked how to make cupcakes. That book had become meaningful to them. And isn’t that what we’re aiming for?
Sometimes what children ask us for is intuitive and expresses what they need. Repeated reading fills a social and emotional need; the comfort of a familiar story, but it also fills a cognitive need; predictability and a deeper understanding of that story.
A practical how-to guide for repeated readings can be found here:
Trivette, C.M., Simkus, A., Dunst, C.K., & Hamy, D.W. (2012). Repeated Book Reading and Preschoolers’ Early Literacy Development. Center for Early Literacy Learning: Cell Reviews, 5 (5), 1-13.