The importance of repetition and pattern for children blog header

The importance of repetition and patterns for children

Repetition and patterns are basic building blocks of all learning. In primary development it is extremely important to understand that children do not learn through the adult lens of a sit-down activity with peers, but rather through a cycle of observation, experimentation, and eventually mastery. Think of language acquisition as a perfect example. Children hear it, try to imitate it (often with endearing or hilarious results), and then eventually speak as we do. More on that later.

Repetition in this case is daily, and the pattern – while also daily – adapts to the place that your child is in their development. This place depends hugely on the stimulation, input, and attention they receive from their primary caregivers and those around them. Much like the language example, you know this process takes a long time. Music is no exception and very much the same; if you want your children to exhibit musical skills, they have to see real music being made so they can observe, experiment, and grow to love – if not master – the skill. This means seeing primary caregivers repeat musical patterns (in a class, singing at home, playing an instrument), and being given the opportunity to express and participate in their own emerging musical birthright.

How pattern and repetition shape learning

child hand with toy

Repetition is a key component of learning. When we repeat something, the brain starts to get used to it and understand it. Neural pathways require repetition to remain permanent. This is partly why children who are exposed to so much music can be seen repeating the songs over and over again in order to learn them.

Think of this as similar to programming a computer. The information needs to be entered, but only becomes a permanent part of the memory after the right amount of repeatedly entering that information into the computer.

Patterns are the great key to accelerating this learning. In day-to-day life, your patterns define your very existence. For a child, this translates to a stable routine that they not only count on but come to anticipate. This helps to create a rich environment for learning because the pattern of the day gives rise to opportunities to introduce learning. If you go to the park every day, your children develop physical awareness, dexterity, an understanding of seasonal weather, and learn social structures by making friends.

Through music, there are rich and interdisciplinary opportunities to develop all learning.

Here are some examples of musical activities and how they benefit children through the use of repetition and pattern:

  • Songs without words → engage only the part of the brain that deals with melody and engages syllabically to develop speech without text
  • Chant → engages the parts of the brain that deal with rhythm and language without melody
  • Small movements → develop hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity, and group collaboration
  • Large movements → develop large spatial and body awareness, as well as group collaboration
  • Use of props → provides variety and should be used strategically in combination with the above

How repetition affects young children’s speech development

Repetition and pattern are important factors in how children learn to speak. We often hear from our families how their children’s language is developed much in advance of their peers, which they attribute to our music classes. Any in-person structured activity that stimulates your children will work, but music sits at the potent intersection of enjoyment and opportunity; it is probably among the most cost-effective activities that you can engage in as a family. In this age of screen time, this is powerful stuff.

Children who are exposed to the repetition of speech sounds, words, and phrases are more likely to develop better language skills at a faster pace. Through music, we have the most natural means by which to do this, as well as one of the most enjoyable. Music also provides some innate structures, but a great educator and group program will layer the interdisciplinary activities that will help speed your child’s growth.

The benefits of pattern and repetition activities in regulating behavior outcomes in children

Turning an enjoyable activity into a tool for regulating behavior is a typical strategy in classrooms around the world. Whether you sing ‘clean up, clean up,’ or have a song to get coats and boots on, you know that music is a powerful tool in establishing an activity pattern that can be repeated.

There are endless ways to take advantage of these opportunities to structure activities, teach structures/expectations, tell stories, play, or be unstructured. Each has its place and benefits, but they need to be thought of actively rather than passively or only incorporated when we get inspired or find an idea to copy. An active pursuit of using musical patterns and repetition to boost learning outcomes for families is a must for early childhood education and educators as it is a rather untapped resource due to our culture of cutting back music programs in general. We’ve lost sight of their value.

Many resources exist for those that are interested. While finding the right resources can be daunting, you only need to find one helpful colleague or musician to start a wonderful journey into expanding your ability to support all learning, particularly leveraging the power of pattern and repetition through music.

ABC Academy of Music specializes in Early Childhood Music Education with a focus on in-school and daycare delivery. Check them out for more information!

Barnaby Kerekes

Barnaby Kerekes is a graduate of UBC and U of T in Music Performance, with a specialization in Orchestral Bass Trombone performance.  He has worked under many notable conductors of the Canadian and international music scene and has been heard coast to coast in live performances, and on CBC Radio 2.  Barnaby is the founder of ABC Academy of Music in Toronto, Canada, which since 2004 has taught students from Canada, South Africa, England, Scotland, Europe, and the USA.