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The necessity of repetition ... or not

(23 Posts)
Amberdays Mon 11-May-15 22:47:13

Hi, I'm relatively new to home ed, I have an 8yo and 5yo. My lovely and overly concerned mother in law regularly mentions to me how important repetition is in learning when it comes to say, maths concepts and language things like spelling. We're still pretty much unschooling and aren't doing much in the way of maths and English but we do do the odd half hour of a workbook. I know at school they might teach algebra for example then give a brain crushing amount of sums to do to drive the concept home. I just wanted to ask what people think about this. Is this really necessary to learn something? When I look back at my own schooling I don't believe, for example, that spelling tests are what gave me my grasp of spelling, it was reading books and writing. Not mindless repetition. Interested to hear anyone's thoughts, particularly those with older kids who've gone on to exams etc. Thanks. :-)

Mumstheword18 Tue 12-May-15 15:18:58

FWIW I think being interested and/or seeing the value in something is the biggest factor in terms of things that end, I can see how repetition and 'driving the concept home' might be a secondary strategy when the learner isn't interested/engaged!

soapboxqueen Tue 12-May-15 16:20:34

I would say for spelling etc that reading is a driving influence. I'm not a big fan of spelling tests. I'd rather play games that reinforced a spelling rule (as crackers as they are).

For maths however there are some things like tables that need to be known and repetition (making it as fun as possible) is probably the most direct route. Though understanding tables and repeating them aren't the same thing. Also doing a long list of practise calculations in maths helps children to consolidate a new skill.

They're are very few things that we learn straight off. Most concepts are introduced to us in a myriad of ways and we see the pattern and learn. In essence repetition.

However, when learning at home you can create different and interesting ways for that repetition to occur and a child can just stop doing the long list of sums if you think they understand after two examples.

I think your Mil just thinks that home school should look like school.

ommmward Tue 12-May-15 18:17:29

My children repeat things All.The.Time, consolidating their knowledge. Jokes, pieces of information, entire conversational strands, behaviours, all sorts. I think it is a really important part of learning (not that any of the things they do repeat would be considered the slightest bit educational by any Educayshionalist, most of the time)

Mumstheword18 Tue 12-May-15 19:30:40

I think there is a difference though in repeating to cement knowledge and forced repitition because rote learning is seen as the only strategy.

There are plenty of ways to make connections in areas such as spellings and maths without what the OP refers to as 'mindless repitition'. That said, one of mine really prefers to learn some things by rote, she will ask me to spell words and then write them out or ask for the times table CD, but this is of her own will (and lots of Asperger traits!!!) and I think that makes a huge difference.

CaptainSubtext Tue 12-May-15 19:41:59

It seems to be very important for my DCs, especially with maths. Actually this was a big problem they had at school (they only started HE this year) - they would cover a topic for a week and then move on, so there wasn't enough time or repetition to consolidate anything and it would be forgotten. Now we can go with their exact needs it's so much easier for things to sink in because we spend much longer looking at a particular concept.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 12-May-15 19:43:06

I agree that it is the subjects/ topics that children are interested in that they seem to do well in and grasp well.
I also think that in terms of concepts that you want them to learn, in our case it was times tables and writing skills repetition worked very well.
however, for some this may not work. I'm a firm believer that we all have different learning styles and whilst forcing children to learn in a particular way they will gain knowledge but probably not as much or as in depth as if they use their particular style.
Finally, fun is the key imo. If you want to recite times tables introduce some rhythm, or melody. Only one of our dc were H.ed but they all learned times tables by marching, beating a drum, rapping, making up silly songs etc.
The writing I referred to, I insisted that dd kept a diary and a journal. She left school at y3 as a reluctant writer. Now she loves writing for pleasure as it wasn't forced on her.

I would find out how they like to learn and take it from there tbh. Then find out some topics they would like, leave some activities and books around the place and see what they choose to do.

drogoboogie Tue 12-May-15 19:43:15

Could she mean repetition in the form of reviewing the concept every 3-5 weeks (in mathematics)? I teach 5 year olds and I would repeat concepts this often in the form of a practical, hands on experience. Not aware of any teachers in schools who would give a mind numbing list of sums to a child in the 5-8 phase. or a spelling test

CaptainSubtext Tue 12-May-15 19:44:39

But no, that repetition doesn't have to look like what they'd do in school.

I also think it may take less time/repeats than it would in school, for my DCs anyway, because at school they were so overwhelmed by the environment (eg my DS used to say "school is too noisy mummy") that barely anything could sink in at all.

Amberdays Tue 12-May-15 21:23:21

Hmm, really interesting, thank you. Drogoboogie, you've obviously not been near my daughter's old school! Loads of sheets of sums to do every week pretty much. I'm thinking that repetition is useful and has its place but is a much more dynamic process than the school rote approach. Turning anything into a game is usually effective. We have a timestable game I picked up in lidl which has been a great resource. Repetition without event realising it. Captainsubtext that's a good point you make about less being required at home because of the quality of the learning experience and less distraction. I suppose it's just a case of seeing what works.

Saracen Wed 13-May-15 07:57:35

Some things do need repetition. Kids thrive on repeating what they love to do - just watch them doing skateboard tricks or singing silly songs until they drive their parents up the wall - and that is more effective than the "brain crushing" method you mention. If your theory is right, you did learn spelling through repetition: you were repeatedly reading and writing words. It just didn't feel repetitive to you because you were interested. Research into performance in my favourite hobby, chess, shows that spatial ability, mathematical talent, and overall IQ are all irrelevant in predicting whether a kid will grow up to be a chess superstar. The main predictor of whether a kid will be brilliant at chess is how much she loves playing chess! The more she loves it, the more she practices and the more she practices, the better she gets.

One point which no one has yet mentioned is that repetition is often used at school as a substitute for waiting for a child to be developmentally ready. There are many things which a child could either master by doing masses of repetition at the age of five, or by waiting until the age of ten and simply learning it fairly quickly and effortlessly. (Do you know the adage, "Start toilet training at two and finish at three, or start at three and finish at three"?)

I sometimes tell parents of young children who come to me to learn chess that they mustn't be disappointed if their child seems to take a long time to get the hang of ideas which seem obvious to the parent. Children aged 4+ are generally capable of learning all the same chess concepts as older kids and adults, even very advanced concepts. It just takes young kids much more repetition to get them. That doesn't mean they shouldn't play chess if they are interested, but there is no particular benefit to starting young and if the child isn't keen, I don't recommend it as they can get discouraged by their slow progress.

I can give several striking examples from my older daughter's experience. She was autonomously educated and undertook all sorts of things later than most kids would. I am sure she has no particular talent for these things; she just waited until she was ready. Last week, aged 15, she started group music lessons alongside much younger kids, most of them aged 7-9. The teacher mentioned to her that in his experience she'd likely progress far faster than the others due to her age, so she should feel free to work ahead. She joined the class late, missing the first three lessons, by which time the others had already reached Lesson 12 in their book. We bought the book on Saturday and by Tuesday she was on Lesson 22. After years of doggy paddling she wanted to learn proper strokes and started swimming lessons at the local pool. She was twelve when she began lessons alongside seven year olds. She progressed through all the swimming levels in two terms.

Motivation? Life experience? Muscle strength and coordination? Brain development? Whatever made it easier for her, her age eliminated the need for so much repetition. It seems unnecessary and unkind to drag an unwilling child to toil over lessons for years if you could wait for her to be willing and ready and do it more easily. Watching the lessons at the pool, I overheard another parent say, "It took three years for my son to reach Level 2. Good thing we started him when he was four. He's never liked it, but it's paying off." This is the same viewpoint which leads schools in this country to require all four year olds to work toward reading and writing, rather than waiting a few years when most of them would pick it up more easily.

ommmward Wed 13-May-15 15:28:41

I really really needed that post, Saracen - the reminder of the power of just in time education. Thank you!!! X x

Amberdays Wed 13-May-15 16:41:09

Wow, thanks Saracen. That is really, really interesting. Makes so much sense. It's really anxiety, isn't it, drumming stuff into kids when they're not ready instead of waiting and having faith that it will all come in good time. It makes me think of childbirth too ... we poke and prod and measure when (imho) it's far better in the overwhelming majority of cases to leave well enough alone, it'll all happen when it's meant to when we don't interfere with the process. Thanks again, that was really helpful.

Saracen Thu 14-May-15 01:59:15

Good! You're welcome.

I needed to hear it too, LOL. Waiting can be scary. The childbirth comparison is a great one. I can well understand how difficult midwives must find it to sit by without doing anything to "help" nature along!

My younger daughter is rapidly approaching nine and is growing like a weed. All of a sudden she looks too tall to not be reading at all. Sounds silly when I put it that way, but that's how I feel at the moment! A bit wobbly.

However, I do have a suspicion that there's more going on than we think. Last Saturday morning she and her dad returned to an empty house. Apparently she reported to him, "Mum is sorry she can't wait any longer for us. She's gone to take my sister to her sailing race." Much later, he discovered I hadn't told her this. She must have found the note I left for him. In cursive, no less. grin Of course, she could easily have guessed where we'd gone, but the phrase from my note ("sorry I can't wait any longer") gave the game away.

FireCanal Thu 14-May-15 02:25:56

There's repetition and there's repetition grin
A spiraling curriculum revisits concepts and builds on them over time. If you think about it, this is how life experience works. You don't do something once, put it away forever and assume you know everything there is to know about it.
However, going back, doing it again and then extending your skills/knowledge a bit further, and then repeating that process again, again and again does allow you to properly understand the concepts and actually learn.
This is not the same as immediate endless drumming in of facts.

slightlyeggstained Thu 14-May-15 02:49:20

Inclined to agree with pp, repetition isn't always mindless repetition. At the right level of difficulty, doing sum after sum can be absorbing enough to keep you occupied for ages (think how many adults love playing sudoku). At the wrong level, it's either too hard, or horribly boring. And that's obviously hard to judge without trying it out.

Amberdays Thu 14-May-15 07:21:17

And this is so true FireCanal. I taught myself to knit several years ago. I don't knit constantly tho. But everything I pick up the needles and make something else I consolidate what I've learned, and every so often I'll decide to make something which involves a new stitch thus building on my previous skills. It's autonomously learned knitting: I decide when I'm ready for the next level. Saracen I'm intrigued by your younger daughter. Clearly she can read but you've never "formally" taught her? My youngest is 5 and I've been doing some phonics with him just lately. An app called word wizard that I heard tell of on a thread on here. He enjoyed it, loved dragging and dropping the letters. When I was reading to him last night I asked him what some of the words were and he's really taken in some we the stuff we did, he was able to figure out the words I pointed to. I guess, to him, the wee phonics app is a game and fun and why not, no big deal. I'm conscious of not pressuring him into learning to read but at the same time while it's presented to him as a bit of fun then I reckon why not? His control of using a pencil isn't there so I do think writing will come later for him. He can do it a bit but gets frustrated so my instinct is to leave that alone. I feel liberated by your comments tho Saracen, I feel much happier letting him dip his toe in the reading water without worrying that unless I bombard him with countless opportunities to repeat what he's learned it's a waste of time (see my mother in law's approach).

Mehitabel6 Thu 14-May-15 07:34:15

I find that I need repetition myself and think children are similar.
For example I have no problem on the computer with things that I do all the time but I have great problems with things that I have learned but only need occasionally.
You don't have to repeat in exactly the same way- find different ways to apply it.

Nigglenaggle Thu 14-May-15 07:51:22

Repetition is important but it's repetition with a change of context that helps you learn, particularly if you can change the place where you learn it. This is why schools set homework but luckily is very easy for us to do as home edders. (This is from The Great Courses 'Scientific secrets to raising kids' so is evidence based although I don't have a reference unfortunately)

ommmward Thu 14-May-15 09:07:32

Building on what Saracen said, i know children who have learned to read through a lot of dialogue, constantly asking questions about how particular words are spelled and what the rules are - an educational support worker's dream - and others who swear blind they can't read, don't appear to be doing anything whatever to change that situation, and then they get caught fluently reading the descriptive closed captions on a video (not dialogue so there's no way they are just mimicking what they see). In both styles, there is lots of repetition going on, but it's entirely self directed by the child, and only in the first case are any other people privy to any part of it.

Saracen Thu 14-May-15 10:44:21

I find the whole question of how people learn to read quite fascinating, because it's clear there are so many different approaches which work for different people. Sometimes I even think it is totally presumptuous of us to believe we understand anything at all about learning to read! Maybe it's like the blind men describing the elephant: we all see what worked for us or our children and think that's how it is.

Anyway, if you want further reassurance and anecdotes on the subject, have a look at the conclusions Peter Gray drew from his survey on unschooled children teaching themselves to read. The first of seven principles he came up with is "For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read." From my experience this strikes me as likely, though of course a handful of survey responses doesn't prove it. If it were ever proved true, it would take ALL the pressure off.

My dd isn't unusual among our acquaintances. Some kids want plenty of input into the reading process and are happy to demonstrate this emerging skill. Others are downright secretive, giving no outward clue of how well they can read or how they learned to do it. They stoutly deny having any reading ability at all until one day they are "caught" reading, sometimes quite fluently! I had sort of expected my dd to fall into this camp: she doesn't like being taught and she HATES being "tested".

Amberdays Thu 14-May-15 15:04:55

Interesting article thank you. I feel as if I'm on an intensive unschooling course myself. I'm inclined to agree, how can we really presume to know anything much about the process of learning to read. It's really liberating to hear of children learning to read at wide range of ages. My daughter learned early, always loved books really from when she was a little baby. I think she is my son's motivation for learning to read, he really looks up to her and wants to be like her, reading books and writing stories etc. And she encourages him. How different that may be if he was sat in a class of 30 kids the same age, I suspect it would be a real turn off for him.

Ineedmorepatience Sat 16-May-15 14:01:59

Wow saracen what a great post ^ up there somewhere!

I totally get what you are saying about some children learning things quicker if they are tackled later.

We will be HEing from September and are planning to eventually re teach many of the skills that Dd3 hasnt managed to grasp despite being in school for 8 yrs!!

Reading this thread has been really helpful smile

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