The Importance of Rereading Books With Your Kids
Imagine you’re cuddled up with your kids in your best reading nook accompanied by a new stack of picture books. Maybe you just picked them all up from the library. Every book in the stack is new for you, and you’re looking forward to reading all of them just as much as your kids are.
You’ve just finished reading aloud the first book. It was okay, nothing particularly special. Just a perfectly fine book. But there are plenty more books to explore. You start reaching for the next book on your stack, and you hear it. “Read it again, Daddy!” And, before you know what’s hit you, you’ve read the same book 6 times in a row.
We’ve all been there before. Sometimes it’s perfectly easy to oblige with a rereading. Maybe the book is legitimately very funny and it’s a pleasure to read through it again and make the kids roll around with laughter. But, let’s face it, who hasn’t tried to get out of the 3rd or 4th reading of the same book by tempting the kids with another book. “Ooh look at this one!” We just aren’t wired to be repetitive reading robots.
It seems like it’s simply hard to relate to a child’s desire to hear the same picture book over and over again, but I recently realized that it’s not too different from some things that adults do all the time. Wanting to hear the same picture book again really isn’t too different than rewatching the same episodes of Friends or The Office over and over again. And it’s not too different from putting your new favorite song on repeat.
Why do we adults do those things? Well, in the case of watching Friends for the millionth time, returning to familiar characters and familiar storylines that you know by heart is soothing. We certainly want our kids to be comforted by and invested in the stories they’re reading, and that calming effect certainly can’t be underestimated.
And wanting to listen to the same song over and over again might actually be an even better comparison. Why do we do that? It’s because we want to memorize the song. We want to know it inside and out. One play through is hardly enough to appreciate it. Ultimately, we want to be able to sing along. But we certainly can’t do that the first few times we hear it. We have to hear it several times. And every time we listen to it the song becomes a little more familiar as we uncover every little nuance.
In many ways, this is what our kids are doing when they want to listen to the same book over and over again. Before he could read, our son would memorize every word of his favorite books, and he could recite the text as we turned the pages together. And that right there is exactly why reading to your kids has such strong academic benefits. That’s how vocabularies grow. Whether intentional or not, one of the reasons they’re begging to hear the same story again is partly to familiarize themselves with all of these exciting new words and to learn how to use them correctly.
And enriching your vocabulary isn’t the only brain-boosting benefit tied to rereading books to kids. If you want to read more on the topic, Devon Corneal does a great job spelling out many of the other ways that repeat readings benefit children’s brains and reading skills. Just remember that when children are listening to you read, they’re learning a lot more than just vocabulary. They’re also learning about the patterns and rhythms of speech, intonation, and so much more. They’re learning how to master our language itself, and this in turn can even help them organize their own thoughts and express themselves more fully.
Another very important benefit of rereading books has something to do with psychology. A very big talking point in education is buy-in or investment. When kids are invested in what they are learning - more learning takes place. It all boils down to choice. As a parent or a teacher, it’s best to embrace that power of choice as much as possible.
If kids are included in picking out the books you read together, there is automatically going to be more investment - and we need to encourage that. Jodie Rodriguez calls it developing a “thirst for books”. And that’s exactly what’s taking place when our little ones ask to hear the same book again. They’re actively choosing what they want to hear. They’re displaying a thirst for books. And I think it’s important to always keep that in mind and to say yes as much as humanly possible.
And I’d certainly be amiss if I didn’t mention my very favorite reason to reread books to our kids - and probably the least talked about. I’m talking about the family bonding. Forget about how great repeat readings are for the brain, let’s talk about the memories you can make. That’s what it’s really all about in the end - doing everything you can to provide a magical childhood for the kids. And giving your kids a little something special to be nostalgic about when they grow up.
If you think back to when your parents read books to you as a child, it’s highly likely you’ll think of something they read to you repeatedly. My parents read to me quite often, but I can honestly only remember two stories very clearly. My dad would often read me stories from the Brothers Grimm - and I would always ask for the story of the man who had to stay in a haunted castle for three nights. And I’d always ask my mom to read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot’s wife looks back and is turned into salt. Wasn’t I cool?
The point is that I’m not exaggerating at all. Despite the fact that my parents read a lot to me, those are the two stories I remember clearly. Those are the memories where I can actually picture where I was sitting and where my parents were sitting and the whole thing - and it’s because of repeated readings.
My wife and I have read to our kids every single night of their lives, but I’m afraid if we kept reading new books all the time, and if we never developed any particular traditions or circled back to family favorites every once in a while, I feel like our kids would be in real danger of not remembering a single specific book we ever read. And even worse than that, without a specific book to tie down the memory, they might struggle to remember family reading time at all.
And once I realized how important repeat readings are for family bonding and building memories, I also realized how neglectful I have been with my role in endearing some classic stories to our kids. Certain picture books - like Where the Wild Things Are - are absolute masterpieces and full of nostalgia for many adults. But it can be very easy to forget that they won’t be special for our kids unless we actually read them often and make them a part of our family tradition. It’s worth it to always be mindful of the power of repeated readings, and make sure to use that power to return to whichever stories are most important to your family.
So when you sit back and reflect on it for a while - it’s clear to see just how vital a role rereading books can play in childhood. Even if it feels like you’re being turned into a robot and your kids have you on repeat - the benefits simply can’t be denied. Sometimes we all need to suck it up and read that story as many times as they want - with all the same drama and intonation and exuberance as the very first time. Trust me, it’s absolutely worth it.
Do your kids like to hear the same book over and over? What’s your record in one sitting? What are some of the books your family keeps returning to? Let us know in the comments!