Imitation and Repetition – In Play and At Home

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. – Ephesians 5:1-2

girl dancing in ballerina tutu – imitation and repetition at home

We were recently in our nephew and his wife’s home for a seven-day visit. It was such a delight to play with their five children each day, ages 7, 5, 4, 2, and 1. Each night, my husband and I reflected on what we noticed about each child. Imitation and repetition was a recurring theme.

The children had seen a dance/talent show before we arrived and so for several days, they danced for us. They read a book about a magic show and so they incorporated the dance routines into the magic show. (Even Uncle Geoff got in there with his juggling act and dad joined in with his card tricks.) They performed for their mother’s birthday and their sister’s birthday. It was fun and hysterical all at once to watch how they imitated and repeated what they had observed from the show and from their Bugs Bunny book.

Imitation and Repetition At Play

A second example of imitation and repetition occurred after we went out to eat for several dinners. Suddenly the game at the local park was all about an imaginary restaurant, the King’s Castle Restaurant. Complete with a dining area, kitchen, chefs, and owner, the oldest child led the play, employed his sister as a waitress and his brother as a chef, and invited other children, as well as his aunt and uncle, to order food at the restaurant. All routines imitated the routines of what they had experienced the previous nights — being seated, taking orders, preparing food, delivering food, and paying for the meal. It was sheer delight — lobster, crab, turkey sandwiches, pizza, coffee, root beer, and McDonald’s were all available at the King’s Castle Restaurant. Amazing. The children repeatedly imitated what they had seen in adult behavior as they role played at the “King’s Castle Restaurant.”

A third example is that our great nieces and nephews’ parents are readers. Guess what else we saw their children do? They gathered around the 7-year-old several times a day to hear him read stories. I saw this at 6 am, after breakfast, after lunch, in the afternoon, and before bedtime. They spontaneously gathered as siblings for story time throughout the day!

Children Learn What’s “Caught” — Not Just Taught

As we homeschool, much of what is learned is “caught,” not taught. In other words, we plan and teach our curriculum, but daily living is what the children repeatedly imitate. If we have angry outbursts, they have angry outbursts. If we snap back at people, they snap back at people. If we get harsh in correcting, they get harsh with their siblings. Conversely, if we show patience, they imitate patience. If we show flexibility in disappointment, they imitate flexibility in disappointment. Well … it’s not always a 1:1 correspondence (smile) … but you get the idea. We all notice that our children’s behavior often reflects our own behavior in a myriad of ways.

What Do They See in You?

So my question is… what behavior do you want to see in your children? Daily reading of Scripture? Memorizing Scripture? Praying? Writing in a journal? Reading? Serving your neighbors? A gentle indoor voice? Tidiness? If this is what you want to see in your children, model it first and you’ll be surprised what you see your children repeatedly imitate.


  1. Lord, what do I desire for my children that would bring honor to you? How might I model this in our household?
  2. Abba, who is my child imitating and what are they imitating?
  3. Lord, what influences should I increase or decrease in my children’s lives, so that their imitations might glorify you?

Dear Lord, you are my model. You stated, “Be holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1:16 NKJV). I can repeatedly imitate you when I am watching you (via reading your word, listening to your Spirit). Enliven my ability to imitate you in daily living by keeping my eyes on you. Lord, forgive me when I take my eyes off you and self-govern. Bring me back, Lord, to a closer, more intimate walk with you. In Jesus name I ask for this, Amen.

June Hetzel, Ph.D., Dean of Education, Biola University