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Repetition and child development

27 Nov, 2023

Have you heard the adage: “practice makes perfect?”. In early childhood, repetition forms the basis for learning, skill development, and accomplishment.

Think about when a child first learns to walk. They begin by crawling, then repeating the action of standing and toddling, before they master the ability to walk.

A child must first learn fundamental skills before they can acquire speed, increased confidence, and mastery. It is through repetition that possibility becomes ability.

What is repetition?

Repetition doesn’t necessarily mean reading the same story, or completing the same activity, over and over again. Instead, repetition refers to any form of work that provides the child with opportunities to practice a skill or knowledge area.

Repetition comes in many forms. This may include reading the same story one hundred times, learning extensions and games that repeat the same skill, peer tutoring, or passively observing a lesson or activity completed by another child.

Repetition may also come from routine or the environment. Knowing what to expect, and having things happen in an ordered way, helps children to know what to expect and feel at ease.

When the environment is predictable, a child feels safe and secure, which establishes the optimal environment for learning.

The science behind repetition

Learning requires electrical energy to create neural connections. The less ‘automatic’ something is, the more energy is required to create the connection.

In adults, these neural connections are well developed based on previous experience, repetition and practice. This allows them to do things like driving a car, or doing basic maths, by expending very little effort.

In children, these neural connections are only beginning to be formed. Repetition is a necessary building block that allows them to strengthen the connections in the brain that help them learn.

Why is repetition important?

  • Repetition helps to strengthen the brain’s neural processors for learning
  • Repetition teaches children to practice, master and retain knowledge
  • Repetition provides the opportunity for practice and reinforcement
  • Repetition is needed for skill mastery and success
  • Children learn through repetition and memorisation
  • Children learn self-discipline and critical reflection through repetition
  • Through repetition of movement, coordination is improved
  • Through repetition, children learn to differentiate variations and differences in the world around them
  • Through repetition, children develop the confidence to progress
  • Repetition teaches children to internalise concepts
  • Higher order repetition such as synthesis, analysis and application develop the child’s intelligence

Supporting repetition at home

Provide the opportunity for repetition

You can support your child by providing them with opportunities to repeat activities that interest them. During play time, don’t encourage them to pack away if they are in the middle of activity. Allow them as much time as possible to complete the activity.

Learning extensions

Encourage learning extensions based on repetition of your child’s favourite story, movie, activity or song. Invite your child to repeat the activity, and extend by drawing pictures, reflecting on similarities and differences, and encouraging them to pre-empt words or actions. This repetitive learning will help them to forge the neurological connections they need for more complex learning.

Multi-sensory instructions

Promote repetition using multi-sensory instructions. Ask questions such as: “What does it look like?” “What does it smell like?” “What does it sound like?” These instructions will encourage your child to retain new information.

Self reflection

Reinforce the positive aspects of repetition by asking your child about what they enjoyed doing at preschool throughout the day. On your way to preschool the next day, remind them about what they enjoyed the previous day. This will encourage them to self-reflect, which will assist them in learning things more completely and quickly.

Repetition in learning is one of the most important fundamentals in child development. To support and reinforce this important building block of neurological connections, save up some extra patience for those days when your little one wants to read “Possum Magic” for the umpteenth time. Trust in your child’s internal development drive that repetition is what they need to learn and succeed. It will pay off!

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