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Why kids love repetition and why it's so good for them

Father and child reading

Repetition is a powerful tool for learning and luckily kids love love love it!

You might be driven dotty by the sixth successive retelling of that Charlie and Lola story; or by doing the same puzzle three times in a row; or by being asked the same question quadruple times. But kids love repetition, and it’s the way they learn best.

Here’s why.

Building knowledge

Repeating concepts and actions gives babies and toddlers an opportunity to build on their foundations – and ultimately acquire more knowledge. With a set range of activities that they do repeatedly, babies and toddlers spend less and less time and energy on how they perform these tasks. This enables them to focus more on learning the next step.

“For instance, by playing with blocks often, your toddler will start off learning how to balance them on top of each other. As he masters this, he can focus less on the basics and spend more energy on how to use the blocks to construct a more complex model,” explains Lourdes Bruwer, Nubabi’s occupational therapy expert.

Repetition provides your baby with multiple opportunities to strengthen the pathways of the brain. The more connections the brain has, the greater its processing power. More connections also mean that information can travel in a number of ways, opening the door to more complex thinking, says speech therapist, Carianne Vermeulen.

Predictable outcomes help a child make sense of the world

In a few weeks and months of doing the same activities over and over, a young child begins to learn what to expect. And they love this! You’ll see it in their reactions, when they laugh hysterically when you play peek-a-boo behind the couch, or squeal with delight when daddy pretends to be the Toe-biting Monster. These games require repetitive patterns of action that end with the same, predictable outcome. Babies are just tickled by the anticipation of knowing what’s coming.

When your baby is calm, alert, and ready to play, show her a toy. Shake it close to her face, then tickle her tummy with it. If she’s old enough, she’ll smile and maybe even laugh. Next, follow the same sequence again: show, shake and tickle. Now your baby will really laugh! Do it again and she may start laughing before you even get to the tickle part. She’ll want to play your new game several times before she’ll tire of it.

When you play simple repetitive games like this with your baby and read books the same way again and again, you’re helping your baby joyfully make sense of her new world.

Recasting and expanding repetitive activities

Repetition does not have to be rote and tiresome. Expansion (adding to the task) and recasting (changing the way a task is presented) are wonderful alternatives to mere repetition, says speech therapist, Lindi Bester.

This kind of repetition with variation is a powerful tool; by using repetition with variation, we draw on the confidence, security and connections your baby has already established to support learning a new skill. Not only does this sense of mastery and security make a baby more receptive to new information presented, it also encourages the brain to function at a higher level, since learning is happening through application and synthesis rather than simple memorisation.

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