When Kids Listen Again and Again

Anyone who has shared books with a child aged between two and four has probably experienced the “read it again” syndrome. You just read it aloud—three times in one go  yesterday—and now it’s being thrust at you for another round, which will be followed immediately by a plea to read it another time right now, please. Of course, this kind of instant repeat wish didn’t spring to human evolution with the invention of the printing press or popular literacy; narrative “bathing” comes with maturing language acquisition whether it’s tell-me-that-story-again, recite-that-poem, or read it again.

Verbal repetition when a child is relatively new to language, is both exciting and soothing.[1]  Every repetition of the same text aloud provides the joy of recognition spiced with the curiously pleasant realization that some tiny, previously unheard nuance now strikes consciousness as well as the ear. Lindsay Patterson wrote last month of research conducted regarding podcasts for kids that opened up new insights on the attraction of repetitive listening by young children.[2] The sample surveyed giving rise to this preliminary research was small and details about it, so far, don’t include socioeconomic, gender, or ethnic demographic reference points. However, having a starting point is better than having none to push forward exploration of the power of listening to the development of children’s capacity to internalize information provided through language.

Unlike listening to podcasts or other audio stimuli  that occurs when children are schoolaged, a “family listening time” that seems to occur while trundling around suburbia in a car, there can be important qualities in caregiver story-time (book-focused or otherwise), that are beyond listening and narrative, of course:  the likelihood that caregiver/narrative giver and listener are in close—and enjoyable—proximity is chief among these. However, that doesn’t account for the repetitive delight in the same text if the caregiver happens to have a stack of other equally beloved options at hand as well. Snuggling pleasure aside, there is pleasure, too, derived for the preschooler in repetitive listening.

Kids of this age are learning to listen, and delighting in learning, just the way that they are learning to skip or hop, dress themselves, and sort out other skills that take degrees of coordination, pattern recognition, and practice. Picking out the verbal narrative from surroundings that probably offer many other stimuli—both auditory and multisensory—is definitely a skill, and skills take practice to foster their acquisition to a deeply rooted state. It’s this early childhood delight in learning and practice that many kids lose in school, begging the question of how we kill it there and then.

If caregiver-child bonding through read alouds is all the cuddling time a child receives, lapsit book sharing opportunities shouldn’t be replaced wholesale with audiobooks for the child who wants to hear a story aloud. Audiobooks, however, can help bridge that stress gap between the adult who can’t bear to read this particular book one more time and the child listener who simply isn’t finished listening to it for another dozen, two dozen, or more times.

Picture book reading doesn’t need to be fancy and theatrical. It can be, however, and there are abundant audiobooks available that last only 10 minutes or so while delivering every word of the book in a manner that needs little or no access to images. These are truly books for the preschooler’s mind. Here’s a handful to try–just once,  if no child is around demanding the performance again and again:

Goodnight, Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, first published with illustrations by Clement Hurd in 1947, recorded by Linda Terheyden with Live Oak Media (1984) clocks in under five minutes and can be soporific for the adult who is asked to re-read it multiple times at bedtime; here’s an alternative.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton, first published in 1939, now recorded by Matthew Broderick with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016) moves contemporary attention from the antiquity of depicted machinery to focus the listener on the timeless aspects of the childhood perception of heavy equipment as heroic.

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, first published in 1936, now recorded by Brian Amador and Angel Pineda with Penguin Random House (2016) offers character development, conflict, and resolution all within 10 minutes of rich and flowing language. This picture book was recorded as a 78 rpm platter 60 years ago, too, so this new recording may twig memories in today’s young grandparents about their own early storybook listening.

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3111254/2

2  https://current.org/2017/04/survey-by-kids-podcasts-group-sheds-light-on-listening-habits/