Why kids need us to read the same book over and over again…

Find out why your kids ask you to read that book over and over again! It's a good thing.

As our families gathered this last Mother’s Day, we were swapping favorite books for little kids. That’s what the women in my family love to do – talk books!  Husbands, on the other hand, like to photo bomb nice pictures.  I was telling my sister about one of our family favorites, Barn Yard Dance,  and how we’ve read it so much we can recite it from memory while still actually loving the book.  As if on cue, that photo-bombing hubby of mine walked past, heard the title and started reciting the book, word-for-word.  Greta came running in to see if she was missing out on something exciting. 🙂

Have any of you noticed how your kids ask for the same book over and over again?  My boys even now will do it.  When I finish a book and there is a chorus of “again, mommy” that rings out.  I used to let myself get a little annoyed or feel the need to switch out books more often until I read about WHY these repeat readings matter.

Repeat Picture Book Readings Boost Vocabulary

The size of a child’s vocabulary is so very important and one of the best ways to give this a boost is through read-aloud time!  Studies have shown that vocabulary is the single greatest predictor of success when a child starts formal learning. So much of what is taught is verbal.  The child that understands more will naturally be able to learn more.  And then once a child can read, personal vocabulary either feeds or frustrates reading comprehension.

What I find so amazing is that we don’t necessarily have to read a gazillion books to see this increase in vocabulary acquisition.   Sometimes less is more  Study after study has shown the huge benefits in giving in to our children’s pleas for “Again, Again!” and reading that same old book over and over again.

Dr Jessica Horst of Sussex University recently published a study that she conducted on 3 year olds comparing those that read a variety of books vs. those that read the same book or two over and over again for the same amount of time. While both groups saw development of new vocabulary, the latter group far exceeded the variety group in the rate of vocabulary acquisition.  Familiarity is the key to learning new words.

This makes sense when we remind ourselves that they are learning a new language. Immersion through repetition is vitally important.

>>But what about for older kids?<<

While we know this works for toddlers and preschoolers, researchers have also found that repeat picture book readings to elementary aged students increases vocabulary acquisition by 15-40 percent and that these advances are relatively permanent. This is a powerful reminder to KEEP reading to our children, even after they are reading on their own.

Repeat Picture Book Readings Boost Comprehension

In addition to the benefits in boosting vocabulary, repeat picture book readings also boost comprehension.  Different nuances and aspects of a story will come to life as you read that book multiple times.  This helps our children to understand the story at a much deeper level than if we just glossed over it one time.

Repeat Picture Book Readings Boost Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is simply a growing awareness of how individual sounds (phonemes) come together to make words.  Reading aloud strengthens this and repeat readings amplifies the effect. This is an important precursor to learning how to read.

Related to phonemic awareness is the ability to articulate.  Ever heard the saying, “well-read, but poorly pronounced?”  As we read aloud to our children they are not only exposed to new vocabulary, but they hear how those new words are pronounced.  This is helpful for people of all ages.

For our little one’s it is critical. I’ve always KNOWN this to be true, but getting to see it in action is especially powerful.  I mentioned a few months ago that my little girl had some pretty substantial speech delays.  While researching what to do, I was struck by the importance of pretend play with your child and the powerful affects of reading aloud.  As I became more intentional to carve out that one-on-one time to read to my littlest it was amazing to see the results.  Not only was her vocabulary and comprehension growing, but also her phonemic awareness and ability to enunciate.  For her it has given us an opportunity to work on her speech as she practices trying to say newly acquired words.

Little Green - a beautiful book that packs a powerful punch: helps develop fine-motor skills, new vocabulary, promotes artistic expression and is simply a delight to read.

As the research out there has been compiled a few themes emerge that characterize making the most of repeat book readings, including:

• focusing on one or two books at a time

• reading each book four or more times

• reading for 20 minutes or more if the child is still interested 

• reading the book daily or every other day

Now of course these were characteristics found during formal studies looking at the effect of repeat reading on vocabulary and comprehension. In an everyday home environment this typically happens more organically. As you bring good books into your home (if your kids are anything like mine), they’ll gravitate to one or two for a time and then cycle to something else. Mine have all gone through seasons of asking for the same book over and over again in one sitting.

So today’s lesson?

>> Read, read and read again. <<

>> Reading a few repeatedly is more effective than reading many only once. <<

>> Take cues from your child.  If they beg, “please read it again,” then do it! <<


A delightful collection of board books for your toddler {and an explanation of why they want/need that book read over and over again!}

Books My Two Year Old Loves

As I look back over the last few months, I thought I’d compile some of the books that Greta has cycled through.  Ironically enough, they grouped themselves into pairs and yes, she asked for them OVER and OVER AGAIN!

Her Current Fav’s

Most recent set:


1. Little Green ~ I discovered this gem when we were learning about birds several years ago.  It is perfect for the younger crowd.  My kids have loved to trace the down-up-down’s and loops that this little hummingbird makes which is a fun, playful way to start working on writing stroke practice.  It inspires my kids to observe birds and then want to go paint them.  I love the open-ended approach to art in this book.  The words just roll off your tongue like butter.  And finally and probably of utmost importance in the eyes of each of my children has been finding the “caterpillar” hidden on each page.  Greta is obsessed and this little girl that has struggled so much with articulation and saying more than one syllable words loves to play around with saying caterpillar.  It’s one of her clearest words because her incentive is so high to let me know when she’s found it.  We’ve read this 2-3 times every day for the last 2 weeks…

hush2. Hush! A Thai Lullaby ~ This book came to us via a library reading program one year.  It was one of the free books you could pick when the program ended.  I’m so glad I picked it up.  This beautiful book follows a mom as she walks in and around her hut hushing the different animals.  My kids enjoy the antics of the “sleeping baby” and the sounds each of the animals make.  I just noticed this week (after reading it for the 110th time) that each animal is a different color, so it is naturally incorporating color awareness as well.

Set 2

jonah1. The Story of Jonah ~ We received this giant board book (shaped like a fish) when Xander was born.  The rhyming text and interesting illustrations have captured the attention of all our children…

2. Come Aboard Noah’s Ark ~ Another giant board book that includes great rhyming text.  We love just reading the text, hunting for different animals, finding “pairs” and such.  For kids that want to take it a step further, both this one and the Jonah story have some excellent conversation starter questions on the last page.

Set 3

The Seed and the Giant Saguaro - amazing book based on the "This is the House that Jack Built" theme.1. The Seed & the Giant SaguaroI love all of Jennifer Ward’s books.  The author lives here in Arizona, so several of her books are on desert themes.  Her love is the great outdoors and drawing children outside through her sing-songy books.  This one is a variation of the “This is the house that Jack built” and follows a saguaro, it’s fruit that is found by a packrat, who is followed by a rattlesnake, roadrunner, coyote, etc…  Greta was obsessed with pointing out each of the animals and loved the foreshadowing of what would appear on the next page.

2. Time for Bed ~ While we were reading The Seed and the Giant Saguaro, she was also obsessed with this beautiful book.  She loved identifying the baby animals and their mothers.  Again, beautiful rhyming text, great exposure to relate-able vocabulary and a book that even I didn’t mind reading over and over and over again.  This phase lasted 2-3 weeks as well!


Set 4

Little Blue Truck - perfect book for the 4 and under crowd.  1. Little Blue Truck ~ My sister told me about this one.  Lo and behold, little girls love trucks almost as much as little blue boys.  We read this one back in January.  We both loved reading it again and again and again.  I wish I had had this in our collection when the boys were younger.

2. Big Red Barn ~ I love all things Margaret Wise Brown.  When I was looking up The Little Blue Truck, I saw that this was a recommended book.  Don’t you like how effectively Amazon “convinces” you that you need another book.  Thankfully, I resisted the Amazon urge and checked it out from the library first.   Another winner that I didn’t mind reading again and again.  Greta loved finding the tiny butterfly flitting across each page.

After this phase was over, she had a pretty good command of her barnyard animals! 🙂


Set 5

 1. Goodnight Moon ~ Where do I even start?  I love this book.  My mom had to purchase this book twice because we loved it this much.  Even though we had the board book version, it finally bit the dust and we are on round 2 over here as well.  Greta and I have taken to telling things in her room goodnight.  She loves to identify different things in each picture, hush like the mommy bunny and of course find that tiny mouse on each page. {It must be a halmark of great little kid books to have something hidden on each page to find as that seems to be a common thread in books we end up loving…}

runaway2. The Runaway Bunny ~ I told you that I’m obsessed with Margaret Wise Brown books, right?  I love this one so much that my nursery theme (for all four kids) has been centered around this book.  So naturally, I was excited when Greta fixated on this book for a season.


What books have your little one’s love to read over and over again?

Related posts:

Seven Benefits of Reading Aloud
How to Cultivate Read-Aloud Time

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  1. Okay, I am convinced! We’ve made a habit of “I’ll read that again as long as we pick another book in between” but I guess we’ll have to change that up. Fortunately, we’ve worked to have a library of books we don’t mind reading over and over.
    The Little Blue Truck books are BIG favorites here. Thanks to the rhythm and flow, I have both memorized and can take a shower whilst “reading” those to my big girl.
    I am always interested in what you are reading with your kids and why. It always means I am adding to our Amazon wish list.

    • Yes, there are certainly books that I put limits on in our home. In my opinion, one of the hallmarks of a good book is one that interests parents as well. Evie told me about Little Blue Truck. It is one of our newer favorites!

      • Hi! I just read this article in the AFHE newsletter, and I came back here because I have a question. You partially mentioned it in your comment here, Heather. When do you NOT repeat a book, in spite of requests? Would you refuse if you saw possible negative behaviors (I grew up loving Judith Viorst, but my kids seem to just learn new ways to talk back from Alexander and her other characters)? Or if the book were just plain DUMB (I made the mistake of checking Pinkalicious out of the library recently)? Do you continue to read a book for the vocabulary benefit if you don’t like the book? Thanks!

        • Great questions. As parents we absolutely are in the position to make the decision to veto books. I have tossed books we own that I feel teach bad behavior before. I veto books for all of the reasons that you mentioned. There is a balance in all of this and I only want my children to feast (which is what they are doing when we read books over and over again) on books that contain material we don’t object to them consuming. There are enough GOOD books that they can feast on. When we check books out from the library, most are read only once. When we reach that magical moment when they want it over and over again and there is nothing objectionable in it, we’ll keep renewing that book as long as we can.

          That is where personal discernment comes in for all of us. If there is a book that we feel would not be beneficial for our children to read (and pattern themselves after) than we need to remove it. If our children only want what we would term “twaddle” or “pablum” (which sadly is growing in epic proportions) – a book that is stupid and doesn’t feed the mind or engage the imagination in positive ways, we need to limit that.

          In fact I was just talking about this today with my boys. The asked me if they could buy the LEGO movie. I explained to them that watching it once was not a big deal, but that it wasn’t the kind of material that their dad and I want them to have a regular diet of consuming. It was interesting trying to explain the nuances behind our decision.

          Does that help?

  2. What a great list of recommendations! I will be sharing this on FB as well as checking some of these new titles out from our local library! Thanks!

    • As promised, we checked “Little Green” out from the library and I am set on buying it now! Thanks for the recommendation. My son loves spying where the caterpillar is and I adore how the book incorporates art and nature. Great pick!

  3. What a great post, Heather! My favourite read-aloud was written by a friend of mine. I have also ordered it for friends who are having babies…that’s how much I love it! It’s called “Storm is Coming” by Heather Tekavec. It’s fun to see your favourites list. 🙂 Hugs, Camille

    • Oh that looks like a fun book. I just requested it from the library. I always love book recommendations and have enjoyed everyone that I’ve gotten from you.

    • We LOVE “Storm is Coming”. We bought it through the preschool Scholastic orders when we lived in northern California, but now that we live in east Texas where we do have lots of big storms, it’s a great reminder for my 3.5 and 5.5 year olds that the storms aren’t so frightening. Plus, it’s just so fun to read!

  4. My kids are 6 and 9 now, but when they were little, they both loved reading ABC Look At Me by Roberta Grobel Intrater over and over again. I am convinced that this is why they both knew their letters by sight very early. I also loved that the book talked about feelings. Another favorite was Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth. This one was great for numbers and counting. We read that one over and over again, too. The kids knew what they wanted to learn about and that is what we read…. over and over and over again until they were ready to learn about the next thing.

    • Yep. Kids are wired to be curious and want to learn. It always amazes me to watch how they cycle through things in their reading or during imaginative play. I’ll have to check out those books!

  5. Thank you, Heather. I have never wanted to read the same book over and over. But NOW I know the reason why. So I have read the same books to grandson Abraham over and over again. He loves a little Golden Book about Firefighters and the newer Chugga Chugga Choo Choo. I like both the books, but I must admit I turned down the Disney books… Even first time

  6. Great article. I’m excited to look at the book recommendations for ideas for new stories to read to my son at home!

    We also ran a follow-up to the original “same stories” study and found that reading stories before nap time was even better for word learning. We found that familiarity is really good for kids but so is reading before sleeping. Here is a link to that study: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00184/full but here is a quick summary: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/newsandevents/?id=23368


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