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!

13 thoughts on “Repetition in Storytime, Part 2

  1. Love this! I repeat most of my songs from week to week, switching out the books and/or felt stories. I find that repetition is also great at providing a sense of comforting structure for a lot of children – it can be so reassuring to know what’s coming next, to know the words of a song, to know what’s going to be expected of you each session.

    1. Exactly. It’s the same for daily routines as well.

  2. This is so comprehensive! Thank you so much for typing all of this up and sharing all of the great information.

  3. In addition to having the same hello/goodbye and wiggle songs week to week, I also like to group similar themes together for three-week “units.” For example, this winter I did a “textiles” unit in which we covered Hats, Clothes, and Blankets/Quilts. That way the parents (and I) get some variety, but we still get to repeat a lot of the same vocabulary words and concepts.

    1. Oh I love that idea! Do you tie your books or felt stories to that theme as well?

  4. Yes! The books, at least two songs/felt activities, and the preschool craft are “on theme.” Planning this way also means that I can sometimes build toward a more complex theme through the “unit.” In January, I did a sort of “All About Me” unit, where the weekly themes were “My Emotions,” “My Body,” and “Liking Myself.” Doing those first two themes helped lay the foundation for the later concepts.

  5. I LOVE Dog’s Colourful Day for this!

    A few of my other favourites for repetition- either a repetitive phrase, or for repeating as a felt or with actions, are:
    Up, Down, and Around by Katherine Ayres
    Say Hello! by Linda Davick
    Sometimes I Like to Curl Up In a Ball by Vicki Churchill
    Everyone is Yawning by Anita Bijsterbosch
    Go To Sleep, Gecko! by Margaret Read MacDonald
    The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom
    The Wide-Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner
    Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London

    1. Thank you for these recommendations! I know most of them but Go To Sleep, Gecko! missed my radar.

  6. Thank you for sharing the benefits of repetition. I learned about the importance of repetition during the many Early Literacy training opportunities that were offered to me in my career. However, it never hurts to see this shared time and time again! At my last branch I was leading 3 separate early literacy aged storytimes. I liked to have separate sets of hello/goodbye combinations to help differentiate to those transitioning from Baby to Toddler or Toddler to Preschool. It also helped me form getting tired of singing the same song 3 hello and goodbye songs each week! They’re mostly Jbrary songs, of course! 🙂

    For Baby Storytime we sang “Why Hello Everybody” and concluded with ABC’s.
    Toddler Stortyime we sang “We Clap and Sing Hello” and “We Clap Goodbye Like This”
    Preschool was “Hello Friends” and “Goodbye Friends” ( incorporating the appropriate ASL)

    1. Love it! I think that’s one of the biggest challenges with repetition – finding ways to change things up so that *we* don’t get bored. Having different hello and goodbye songs is one way to make each group feel special and their own thing. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  7. Hi,
    I am new to the elementary school library. To say I am excited is an understatement!! In your repitition post, January-March 2 are listed in the post. Have you done something similar for the other months? Your blog is going to be a life-saver for with my little ones! Thank you so much for sharing your talent!
    Kristin Rast

    1. Hi Kristin, thanks for reaching out here! My storytime sessions usually run 9 – 10 weeks which is what you see here in the blog post. If I was using the ‘one story, many ways’ approach for the next session then yes I would do the same thing but choose different stories. Sometimes I take a break from this method though to feature an array of new titles or titles that are harder to adapt to other formats. There’s no one right way to do it – choose whatever works best for you and the kids you work with. Hope that helps answer your question – let me know if not 🙂

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