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.
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.
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:
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:
- Hello and Goodbye Songs
- Opening Rhymes – usually Roly Poly and Open, Shut Them
- One Movement Song – favourites include Zoom, Zoom, Zoom; Knife, Fork, Spoon, Spatula; and Bananas Unite
- One Transition Song – current favourite is My Two Hands
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!
Here are some of my other favourite songs to adapt and change over the course of a storytime session:
- Zoom, Zoom, Zoom – We’ve got extra space verses, a pirate verse, Halloween verse, New Year’s verse,
- Fruit Salad – I ask the kids what their favourite foods are and we insert them into the song
- Green Zucchini – change up the colour and ask kids for other fun foods to eat
- Row, Row, Row Your Boat – makes a great lap bounce
- The Elevator Song – we’ve got a country version, an ocean version,
- The ABC Song – learn it in 5 different tunes!
- Mmm Ahh Went the Little Green Frog – we have so many verses!
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!