Repetition in Storytime, Part 2

In my first post about repetition I discussed what happens in the brain when we repeat information to young children and how repetition can benefit learning and language acquisition. In Part 2 I’m going to explore how we can incorporate repetition in storytime. What does it actually look like? How much is too much? Will the families get bored? Will I get bored?

I don’t think there is one answer to these questions. My aim here is to share what some storytime experts have recommended and to share what I do in my storytimes. What do you do in your storytimes? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Repetition Within a Storytime

Matching Hello and Goodbye Songs

One way to include repetition within a storytime is to pick a matching hello and goodbye song. Something with the same tune and mostly the same words. It’s easier for families to pick up. I also like how it makes the storytime come full circle. Two of my favourites are Hello, Friends and Bread and Butter.

Repeating Songs

In babytime especially, I always sing a song or rhyme more than once. At least twice but sometimes even three times. When I’m teaching a new song or rhyme I will do it twice at the beginning of storytime and then repeat it twice at the end of the storytime. I explicitly tell caregivers that we’re going to repeat the song a lot because it helps us learn. It’s a great chance to give an early literacy message about the power of repetition!

One of the things toddlers and preschoolers love is when you repeat a song but change it slightly or add a new verse. Think of songs like “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and try adding verses with different emotions. Or a classic like “Open, Shut Them” – have you ever tried the extended version? You can sing songs like this back-to-back or sing one verse at the beginning of storytime and do the second verse at the end of storytime. Either way you are helping to reinforce the words and concepts in the music.

Repeating Stories

One way to repeat the information in a story is to choose books that have a repetitive phrase or sentence. Before I read these books I introduce the phrase and have the whole group practice it together. I ask them to say it with me as I read. Not only do kids get practice saying a phrase over and over again but the storytime becomes interactive. If it’s a short phrase I will also point to it as I read. Here are some of my favourite storytime books with repetition.

There are some books where it’s easy to add an action with the phrase too. Here are some examples:

We make the hand motions for pouring and mixing, and then raise our hands as we shout, “presto!”
We flex our muscles on both arms when we say we are strong and brave. Then we make the superman pose when we head off to rescue things.

In addition to books with repetition in them, I’ve also done storytimes where I repeat the story in 2 -3 different formats. I always start by reading the book. Then I usually either do it again as a felt story or with props like puppets. This works especially well with toddlers. Older preschoolers may get bored if the story isn’t challenging enough, but toddlers will eat this up. If I have a small enough group I will pass out the felt pieces before I tell the story and have the little ones help me tell it by taking turns coming up to the felt board. This “one story, many ways” is highly recommended for sensory storytimes and for making storytimes inclusive to children of all abilities. I make a point to tell caregivers why we are repeating the story in a different format. They are sold though when they see how engaged their little ones become. You can do this with any book, but here are some I’ve shared on Jbrary before:

Pick a Sound of the Day

This isn’t something I’ve done a lot myself, but I’ll never forget the kindergarten teacher who told me she’d rather have a classroom full of kids who know the sounds of each letters than a classroom full of kids who can write each letter. I’ve seen many people blog about “Letter Storytimes” where they plan a storytime around a specific letter of the alphabet. That’s not really my style, but I could definitely see choosing a “Sound of the Day” like the “sss” sound or the “chh” sound and then choosing a book and song that both have that sound in it. Throughout the storytime you can draw attention to the sound and practice it repeatedly. I’d encourage caregivers to look for things throughout their day after they leave storytime where they can continue to repeat the sound with their little one. What a great way to support phonological awareness!

Repetition Across Storytimes

How Much To Repeat?

In Storytime for Everyone! Developing Young Children’s Language and Literacy, authors Saroj Ghoting and Pamela Martin Diaz state, “Repetition is important for preschoolers, but even more important for babies from birth to age two. About two-thirds of the items are repeated in each storytime. Some items from the first storytime are skipped over for new items, and then we comeback to them during the last couple of weeks. Sometimes you’ll get requests for a favorite – never turn them down! Children need repetition to learn.” In STEP Into Storytime, Ghoting again notes that “Storytimes for infants often repeat 70 to 80 percent of materials from week to week.”

In my babytime programs I follow this loose guideline. I repeat about 75% of the songs and rhymes each week so that caregivers learn them and have a higher rate of singing them at home. Every session I’ll pick about 10 core songs and rhymes that we repeat each week and about 5 more to rotate in to add a bit of variety, especially for using props like scarves and egg shakers.

For toddlers and preschoolers, here are the things I repeat each week:

It’s not a coincidence that the songs I repeat are the ones the kids ask for again and again. They get a boost of confidence when they know them and can sing along. On my first post about repetition, a storytime presenter named April left a comment describing her “rhyme time” portion of storytime where she repeats the same three stretching and movement songs every week with great results. I’m here to confirm that you do not need to think of new songs and rhymes for every single storytime. Especially if you are doing themes. If I do a theme I pick a book, felt story, and one song that all connect but the rest of the content I keep consistent from week to week.

Repetition with Variety

Repetition is important, but as Betsy Diamant-Cohen, Melanie Hetrick, and Celia Yitzhak note in their book Transforming Preschool Storytime, “Repetition with variety is the name of the game… in order to make things really stick, in order to facilitate learning and improve our memory, we do not just need repetition – we also need variation. Psychologists have shown that repetition with added variation in context or task demands can strongly enhance learning and memory.”

So what does this look like in storytime? With songs and rhymes, I like to introduce the first verse one week and then expand upon it in the coming weeks. For example, I love teaching the kids Bananas Unite and then introducing subsequent fruits and vegetables over the course of the 10-week storytime session. Even better, I ask kids to help me make up our own verses!

I love using felt pieces with this song too!

Here are some of my other favourite songs to adapt and change over the course of a storytime session:

Another way to repeat with variation is through stories themselves. As I mentioned above, I love doing the “one story many ways” model. Instead of repeating the story within a storytime, you can also repeat the story in different formats over the course of a storytime session. This requires more prep work – choosing the books, gathering props, figuring out the extension activities, etc. In my Planning a Storytime Session post I shared how I implemented the model over the course of 9 weeks. Here’s what it looked liked.

I chose three books that I also had the felt and puppet version to. There are lots of different ways to add variety while also repeating information though! The Transforming Preschool Storytime book provides 8 recommended books with 6 weeks of extension activities if you want to see some clear examples. I also recommend the books Read! Move! Learn! and Books in Motion.

How much of your storytime do you repeat from week to week? What are your storytime tips and advice for implementing repetition? I’d love to chat in the comments!

Repetition in Storytime, Part 1

The other day on Jbrary’s Instagram account I put a poll out asking people to vote on my next blog topic. 61% of you voted for repetition in storytime! I’ve been thinking about repetition a lot lately. Here are some questions I’ve been pondering:

  • What role does repetition play in brain development and language acquisition?
  • How much repetition do you or should you include in storytime?
  • What are different ways to use repetition with young children, particularly in storytime?

When I first started as a children’s librarian I didn’t have a clear answer to any of these questions. I remember learning the basic “repetition is good” mantra in my MLIS children’s courses, but I wasn’t confident in how to effectively translate that message into a storytime program or a storytime series. Now that I’ve been doing storytime for five years and have spent time reading relevant research I’d like to come back to these questions.

I’m breaking this discussion into two parts. This post will cover the what and the why – What is happening in the brain when we repeat words, sentences, and stories to children? Why does repetition aid in brain development and language acquisition? I will write a second post exploring the question of how – How much repetition should we include in storytime? How should we structure our storytimes? What are different ways to repeat content?

Early Brain Development and Repetition

When babies are born their brains are ready to learn. Every time they are stimulated by something in the their environment – language, people, physical sensations – their brain cells reach out and make neural connections. Neural connections in the brain are called synapses, and when they are stimulated repeatedly they become ‘hardwired.’ Hardwired means they are less likely to be pruned as the child grows older. When we repeat information it makes these synapses thicker. The brain recognizes these thicker synapses and keeps them because they are strong.

This image from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University shows the amount of synapses over the course of 14 years and the natural pruning process. Repetition of language and stories in the early years helps make that middle picture full of strong synapses that are less likely to be pruned.

Saroj Ghoting and Pamela Martin-Diaz summarize this process in their book Early Literacy Storytimes @ Your Library: Partnering with Caregivers for Success. They say, “Children ages three to ten have three times as many synapses as an adult. As a child grows, there are fewer synapses, but they are more organized. Some of the synapses are pruned. What makes some synapses stay and some be pruned away? Repetition! The synapses that are used repeatedly are the ones that are kept, and the ones that are little used get pruned.”

Repetition and Learning

For adults, hearing the same story again and again can be quite boring. We’re not experiencing anything new or unexpected. But for young children, repetition isn’t boring at all. In fact, when they repeat songs or books they are experiencing it in a new way each time. The first time a child hears a song or reads a book, for example, they are often just taking in the experience. With books, most of their attention will be on the pictures. When they experience it again they build on their knowledge – they will start to notice different things and begin to learn from it. Concepts and words become part of their memory and they are able to recall it later. A blog post on repetition summarizes it perfectly: “…as they repeat the process again and again, they go from experiencing to anticipating, from understanding basic concepts to exploring the activity to its fullest extent.”

There have been recent research studies that aim to understand how repetition impacts learning. A 2015 study found that parents who repeated words to their 7-month-olds have toddlers with larger vocabularies. I particularly like this study because it stresses the quality of conversations not just the quantity of words we say. Another study done in 2013 showed that children learned more words when they read the same story repeatedly in a shared storybook setting. That’s not the only reason we read books over and over again with young children, but it does exemplify the learning benefits of repetition.

The Benefits of Repetition

  • Outside of words and stories, repetition also helps babies and toddlers learn the consequence of an action. Ever seen a toddler drop their cup or pacifier over and over again? They are learning about cause and effect.
  • Repetition helps young children remember information and build memory. Having a working memory is a key step in developing executive function skills.
  • Repeating an action or learning to say a word eventually leads to mastery. When a child masters a skill they feel proud and happy!
  • Kids generally thrive on routine and certainty. Having daily routines or experiencing repetition through play is comforting and gives a child a sense of security. This helps them build trust and feel safe. Children need to be feel safe and love for their brains to turn on for learning.
  • When we repeat stories, kids begin to internalize them and can join in the storytelling. This increases their feeling of self-worth. That feeling of affirmation that “I can do this, I know what I’m doing” is invaluable for every little learner. A great self-esteem booster!

This post covered why repetition is important to learning and how it affects brain development and language acquisition. The next post will explore how we can support repetition in a storytime setting. I’d love to hear your ideas on how much and what you repeat in storytime! Feel free to leave me a comment below.

Early Literacy Messages: Using Personal Stories

Fostering early literacy skills, also known as emergent literacy, is one of my favourite parts about storytime.  I’ve written before about how I include early literacy tips in my storytimes here:

I try really hard to find ways to communicate these things in a friendly, approachable manner.  One of the best ways I’ve found is to couch them in a (very) short personal story.  Now I’m lucky I have a 4-year-old niece in my life that gives me tons of early literacy fodder.  If you don’t have a little one, feel free to adapt my stories!  If I hear a good story from a friend or co-worker I’ll ask their permission to share it in storytime.

reading 4
Farting pony books FTW!

Here are some of my favourite stories about Sophie I tell in storytime to communicate early literacy development.

A Bumpy Road

I used to do this bounce with Sophie when she was a baby all the time.  Then one day when she was about 2-years-old I was pushing her in her stroller and we hit a tree root.  She excitedly exclaimed, “bumpy road!”  It was amazing to see how she had learned new words and a new concept from a simple lap bounce. They really are paying attention!

We Bounce and Bounce and Bounce and Stop

Some songs grow with your child. The other day I took Sophie out to dinner and she was getting quite bored waiting for the food. I plopped her on my lap and started to do this lap bounce.  She was enthralled. Now that she’s four she was able to contribute her own verses such as “We wiggle” and “We shake.” Not only did a song keep her occupied, but it was a great chance for us to cuddle and learn together.

The Frog Goes Tissy, Tissy, Tiss

One of Sophie’s favourite songs when she was a toddler was “Mmm, Ahh Went the Little Green Frog.” However, she liked to switch the verses and insisted that the frog goes, “tissy, tissy, tiss.”  Even though she couldn’t pronounce the “k” sound as a toddler, this song helped her practice it in a fun way.  Rather than correcting her pronunciation, we just sang this verse a lot!

Sophie, Put Your Shoes On

If you’ve ever struggled with getting a baby or small child dressed I totally feel you! When my niece was a toddler I would sing this song about all the items of clothing she needed to put on – shoes, socks, gloves, hat.  When I subbed in her name for “baby” she payed more attention, and it helped turn a struggle into a more enjoyable activity.

Oh, I Wish I Was a Little Bar of Soap


When Sophie was about one she developed a fear of taking baths. She didn’t like getting wet, she would scream when we tried to put her in the tub – it was a stressful situation for all.  Then one day I took one of her toys and started to sing this song. The crying stopped! I had to sing this song about 20 times during every bath time but it helped calmed her.

Let’s Stack the Books

stack of books

It’s common for kids to go through stages where they either don’t appear interested in reading or don’t have the attention span to sit and listen to a story.  When Sophie was a toddler my focus was on making books fun, even if we weren’t reading them.  This sometimes meant grabbing a stack of board books (not the ones pictured!) and making a tower together.  We might only look at one page before getting back to building, but books were still a part of our daily routine.

I Can’t Read

moo

One time Sophie and I were reading a book and I asked her to read it to me.  She looked at me incredulously and said, “I can’t read!” We had “read” books together before where she “reads” the pictures, so I was startled by her declaration.  One of the ways I’ve tried to build her confidence since then is to find books without words or with only one word. One of our favourites is Moo! by David LaRochelle.  She loves that she knows the word in the book and can “read” the book to me.

Do you have any personal stories you share at storytime to communicate the importance of early literacy? I’d love to hear them!

Early Literacy Messages in Action: Blog Post Round Up

This week on Jbrary we’re talking about how and why we incorporate early literacy messages in storytime.  I wrote all about my methods earlier this week, but the extra special part of this conversation is that it is happening on many other youth services blogs!  I have been so moved by everyone’s willingness to share about this topic (I may or may not have been crying while reading these posts), and I already know from comments we’ve received that this type of practical information is needed by storytime practitioners.  Please check out all these other amazing posts – it’s the Early Literacy Messages in Action Round Up!

Early Literacy Messaging Graphic

Kendra at Read Sing Play writes about how conveying early literacy messages starts right when caregivers arrive. She shares an excellent example of weaving an aside into a song transition. Main message: Be enthusiastic and engaging!

Erin at erinisinire traces her storytime planning journey over the course of the past three years. By ditching themes and focusing on the early literacy messages, her process changed dramatically. She shares examples of what she says to caregivers and links to some awesome resources.

Katie at Storytime Katie directly addresses common concerns people have about incorporating early literacy messages. She shows you how to take a formal aside and turn it into a conversational transition.  The feedback from her storytimers is testament to her genius!

Mary at Miss Mary Liberry highlights the importance of catering your early literacy messages to your audience and community.  She shares her best tips – use humour, be positive, demonstrate your genuine fascination – that help her convey these early literacy “reminders.”

Kelly at Practice Makes Perfect shows you how to “keep it simple.” She explains how after attending a workshop by guru Saroj Ghoting, she took the idea of an “empower aside” and worked it into her storytime transitions.

Lisa at Libraryland knows from being a library manager how early literacy messages in storytime factor into larger library initiatives.  By practicing her messages in her low-key baby play time, she gained the confidence to naturally weave them into storytime.

Kim at Literary Commentary shares her “stealth” method of incorporating early literacy messages and provides examples of library brochures and handouts she gives out to caregivers at storytime. She’s also got a stellar list of websites to visit for more early literacy information.

Kelly at Ms. Kelly at the Library not only created our awesome logo, but also wrote a post about the why and how she incorporates early literacy messages. She’s got some awesome examples and links to where to find more.

Brooke at Reading with Red created a Top 5 list of things she wished she knew about early literacy when she first became a librarian. Her list is the perfect combination of encouragement and practical advice for getting started with early literacy messaging.

Laura at Literacious covers the three major ways she tries to talk to her caregivers – storytime, parent/child workshops, and through their 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program. A great reminder of how we can include these early literacy goodies in all sorts of library programs.

Melody at Storytime Bandit gives four tips on how to make storytime more than entertainment by incorporating early literacy messages. Read til the end for links to favourite websites.

Mel at Mel’s Desk shares her favourite part – the message template she created! It not only tells caregivers why we do things but also how it contributes to their child’s reading development. Don’t miss the video clip of Mel in action!

Katy at That’s So Juvenile lays out her three guiding principals for using early literacy messages in babytime. She had me at her Harry Potter reference!

If you’re thinking , “I’d love to share what I do!” well it’s not too late to join! Write a post (or ask about writing a guest post!) about how or why you include early literacy messages in storytime and leave a comment with a link to your blog post. I’ll be sure to add it to this round-up.

Thank you to everyone who has participated so far!  This series is a testament to our profession.  I am so dang proud.

Early Literacy Messages in Action

Understanding and advocating for early literacy is one of the most important aspects of my job.  One of the most frequent places I can talk to caregivers about early literacy is storytime.

We often get asked where we find our early literacy messages and how we incorporate them into a storytime setting.  So this week, along with many other youth services bloggers, we will be sharing our advice and experience incorporating early literacy messages into storytime.  We bring you the Early Literacy Messages in Action Blog Tour!

Early Literacy Messaging GraphicWe’ll be posting a round-up on Friday of everyone who shares a post on this topic.  We’ll be sharing our posts on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #EarlyLitInAction.

Incorporating Early Literacy Messages Into Storytime

I don’t believe there is one right way to do this. Just like we all have our own storytime style, we all have different ways of talking to our community members. In general, my style is very relaxed, conversational, and informal.  Some people may be afraid to sound preachy or condescending, but I’ve found that when I keep the asides simple and casual this doesn’t happen. Also, if I can make the early literacy tips personal by sharing stories about my nieces and nephews that goes a step a further by helping me develop relationships with my storytimers. Here are three ways I incorporate early literacy messages in storytime.

1. In My Welcome Message

The main point I try to get across to caregivers in my welcome message is that storytime is a chance for them to bond with their child and develop a positive, loving relationship. So when they sing with their child, help them with the rhymes, and sit with them during the stories, they are making their child feel safe and loved.  When kids feel safe and loved, their brains are more open to learning.  This early literacy message works doubly to encourage caregivers to participate during storytime rather than sit on the sidelines.

2. Before or After Singing, Reading, or Rhyming

Connecting an early literacy tip to a rhyme, song, or book helps me remember to say it. I’ll often write the message down on my storytime planning sheet too.  Saroj Ghoting has a blog with a plethora of early literacy asides for specific songs and books called Storytime Share.  I try to work in at least one tip per storytime, but if I’ve got a really calm group I can often fit in more. But I’m cautious of over-burdening the caregivers with information, especially if they are new to storytime.

Here are three examples of  how I actually say early literacy tips to caregivers.


“We’re going to sing a song now about fruits and vegetables. This song has lots of great action words in it like peel, mash, shuck, pop, slice, and squeeze.  Today when you eat lunch or dinner, try using these words again or introducing new words about the foods you’re eating with your child.”


“Can everybody make their hand into a fist?  We’re going to pretend our hand is a beehive today. We’re also going to practice counting to five. Who here can count to five? Okay, here we go (say rhyme two times).  I love doing this rhyme because it helps kids develop their finger muscles which they’ll need when they learn to write. Any rhyme or song that encourages your child to separate their fingers is great for this development.”

Breathe

“We’re going to read a book called Breathe by Scott Magoon.  Before we read, let’s all practice taking a big breathe (practice breathing in and out).  How do you feel when you take a deep breathe? It makes me feel calm and happy. This book is a great way to teach kids how to calm themselves when they feel upset which we can model by breathing deeply.”

3. In 1-1 Conversations with Parents

If it feels uncomfortable to make these kind of statements in storytime, take advantage of the 15 minutes before and after storytime to interact with caregivers and kids 1-on-1. During this informal time, I’ve told many parents of toddlers that it’s okay if their child can’t sit still for an entire book – just read what you can and then move on but keep the experience positive. My messages can be more specific based on the child and sometimes the concerns of the parent.  When delivering early literacy messages becomes tied to developing relationships with my community members, it’s a double win!

Early Literacy Messages Resources

Here’s where you can find early literacy messages to use in storytime.

General Early Literacy and Childhood Development Books

  • So Much More than ABCs: The Early Phases of Reading and Writing (2013) by Judith A. Shickedanz and Molly F. Collins
  • Language Development in Early Childhood (2013) by Beverly Otto
  • Handbook of Early Literacy Research: Volume 3 (2011) Edited by Dickinson and Neuman
  • NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children (2011) by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
  • Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – And What We Can Do About It (2010) by Lise Eliot
  • The Philosophical Baby (2010) by Alison Gopnik
  • Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs (2010) by Ellen Galinsky
  • Proust and the Squid: The Story of Science and the Reading Brain (2008) by Maryann Wolff
  • From Lullabies to Literature: Stories in the Lives of Infants and Toddlers (2008) by Jennifer Birckmayer and Anne Kennedy 
  • Growing a Reader from Birth: Your Child’s Path from Language to Literacy (2004) by Diane McGuinness
  • Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy (2003) Edited by Hall, Larson, and Marsh
  • From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development (2002) edited by Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips

Would you like to join us in blogging about early literacy messages in action?  Feel free to use the blog title and logo in your post, and leave us a comment letting us know about it!