The Importance of Repetition

It happens so many times, your child comes home at the end of the day and reports what he has been working on…and it’s the same thing every day.  Often times this can make a parent nervous, especially if the child is older.  Why is my child doing the same thing every day?

Occasionally repetition can signal that a child is stuck, but only if they appear to be doing the same thing each day without interest or attention.  While a teacher looks for signs that a child needs assistance moving on, she is unlikely to be concerned about a child who repeats an activity with a sense of enthusiasm and exploration.  In fact, it’s what a Montessorian delights in seeing.

Repetition is how we learn.  The phrase practice makes perfect says it all.  The way that learning works is that through repetitive exploration we are able to look at a material from different angles and explore it, letting it become part of our understanding of the world.  At the same time, it allows us to self-critique: we look at how we are doing something and make slight changes in order to perfect the action, making it more efficient.  The Montessori environment is designed to support exactly this kind of learning.  Children choose their own lessons, allowing their interest to guide them to a choice.  They are drawn by desire and that interest allows them to return to an activity with frequency, working with it until they have perfected it.  It is, in fact, a developmental need.  Dr. Montessori wrote “when a child has attained this stage, of repeating an exercise, he is on the way to self-development, and the external sign of this condition is his self-discipline.”

The repetition of practical life activities are essential to the entire learning process.  In order for children to learn academics like reading, writing, and arithmetic, certain neurological pathways of the mind need to be formed.  In order for children to sit still and attend to complicated abstract concepts for long periods of time, they need to have better developed proprioceptive awareness, which is awareness of their bodies in space.  At birth and until they develop proprioceptive awareness, children do not know where there bodies begin and end in space; they do not understand where they are.  For example, if the lights go out, they feel that the whole world, including themselves, disappears.  As we develop proprioceptive awareness, we begin to feel our bodies in space and we become aware of our bodies.  As this awareness develops, so does our ability to retain a visual memory of abstract concepts.  The activities that help children develop proprioceptive awareness are those activities that we see in practical life and in the home: sweeping with a broom, pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying groceries, emptying the trash, or pulling weeds.  The repetition of these activities helps prepare the brain to be able to concentrate on and process more abstract academic work.   Younger children are especially drawn to these activities as their bodies are driven to develop this awareness.

Older children may return to a complicated work repeatedly, but they may also return to a work they have already perfected.  Occasionally, children like to work with something they have already mastered, but look at it from a different perspective and skill level.  Sometimes just remembering how well they can master something gives children the confidence to move forward with more challenging activities.  With complicated work, the repetition is a necessity for the child to learn the information so completely that he may quickly recall it.  This means repetition utilizing all of the senses.  For this reason, children learn math facts in the classroom through hands-on activities.  Four different activities may touch upon the same math facts with the intention of the child exploring these concepts repetitively.  Through self-driven repetition, the child internalizes rather than memorizes.  The same applies to learning the phonetic relationship between a letter sound and symbol in the alphabet.  Children will work with the moveable alphabet for a long time repeating the activity until they internalize the relationship.  Once internalized, they can spontaneously burst into reading naturally (and often to the surprise of everyone!)

You can support your child at home by encouraging (but not forcing) them to repeat activities at school or home, especially those daily living activities.  If your child is willing (and not all may be so don’t worry) to talk about things they enjoyed working on during the day, you can remind him/her how much he/she enjoyed the activity before the start of school the next day, rather than perhaps trying to engage them in something new that you might like them to learn.  “Hey remember how much you liked doing ____” can encourage as much learning, if not more, than “ask your teacher for a new lesson.”  Children not only learn self-discipline and self-reflection through choosing their own work and repeating it, they also learn things more completely and quickly.  It is their interest and internal drive that will help them accomplish things successfully and our trust in children’s internal developmental drive is what encourages them to excel.

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