Strengthen Your Child’s Memories: Why Retell and Read Aloud

When my four of my children came “home” through adoption, we began to build memories together. Actually when we lived in the orphanage for a month, we began the memory building then. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time scientifically. I just practiced what I had done with the original three Guires which was lots of retelling. LOTS. I suppose it was a practice instituted by my mother who didn’t accept monosyllable answers to questions and read aloud to us (even as teens) on long road trips. I can’t take credit for what she did or that I carried it on to my children. It was part of my nurture. If someone in the family asked how the day went, she/he expected an answer with lots of words. Turns out, my parents were building my memory and emotional intelligence.

What is retelling?

Some call it narration. It’s when a child tells back to you either something they read or something that happened. This helps the child process the event or portion read and helps solidify the information in their brain. A young child or toddler may need lots of prompting or reassurances in the retelling. It’s also an opportunity to help the child put the event or story in place in their mind.

“You fell. That was scary. Are you okay now? Do you have a band-aid on now?”

“The car stopped pretty fast. You are right. It felt super scary.”

“Tell me what happened in the story. What happened to _____? Do you think he was happy or sad?”


” …children whose parents talk with them about their experiences tend to have better access to memories of those experiences. Parents who speak with their children about their feelings have children who develop emotional intelligence and can understand their own and other people’s feelings more fully.- The Whole-Brain Child

I naturally carried out the practice to the point where my children sometimes acted out their retelling and demanded I watch. Audrey once fell down some concrete stairs at the library after story-time and reenacted the fall for me as she told me how she fell. She was four years old. Audrey is a word lover, admittedly, probably due to her nurture and nature.

I quickly found out that my newbies, “home” from Poland, needed lots of extra help and cues in retelling and had difficulty remembering many of their experiences before becoming Guires. Part of the issue was obviously the language barrier. I began reading aloud to the new Guires in the orphanage before I grasped the science behind it.

We learn the language from hearing the language.

Our new four year old didn’t speak English and the Guire family spoke some rudimentary phrases in Polish with a great deal of assistance from our interpreter. She was being introduced to English one letter at a time and through listening to the read aloud. In the evenings, we did round two of read alouds with all the children. Gregory’s favorite was How the Grinch Stole Christmas, we listened to it over until he began to repeat phrases.

Reading aloud is a great way to learn a new language, but it is also how we learn our native language. We learn a turn of a phrase, context, vocabulary and all through hearing the written word.  Reading aloud activates the brain.


“Children whose parents reported more reading at home and more books in the home showed significantly greater activation of brain areas in a region of the left hemisphere called the parietal-temporal-occipital association cortex. This brain area is “a watershed region, all about multisensory integration, integrating sound and then visual stimulation,” said the lead author, Dr. John S. Hutton, a clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.” –

The brain is being activated in the left hemisphere, it is logical, literal (it likes words), and linear (it puts things in sequence and order) ( Read The Whole-Brain Child for more info on this).

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When a child hears more sophisticated language than he can speak, it stimulates the left hemisphere of the brain. His vocabulary grows. The more he hears, the more he knows.

“Since children acquire language primarily through the ear, the words they hear are central to their ability to understand and use words in speech and create meaning from words in print. If children don’t regularly hear new words in new contexts, they will not be able to add them to their mental storehouse of words. Moreover, children will be limited in their abilities to read and write based on the number of words and language structures they have in their minds (Orr 2000). “

Why read aloud? To grow the left hemisphere of the brain, increases vocabulary,  inables one to learn words in context, broadens verbal abilities and most of all,  helps you connect with your child (which also grows the brain, but that’s another post). So, grab a book, a comfy spot and read! Why allow or encourage kiddos to retell an event one hundred times? You are helping your child build memories and gain emotional intelligence.

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