A question that parents ask when touring and preparing their baby for child care is,
"How does nap time work?"
They are looking around either suspiciously or wide eyed at multiple pack-n-plays and a stack of nap mats that are spread out in the playroom daily after lunch. It's difficult enough to get 1 child to take a nap at home, so thinking of 6-10 kids in one space napping is unbelievable.
They key factors that guide my approach to nap time are:
- Respect the rights of the child: they have the right to a balanced day that includes time for loud, busy play and for quiet, calm rest.
- Respect the needs of the child: I rely largely on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs when planning out the day or when deciding what type of help a child may need.
- Provide firm, fair, and consistent care: I set firm limits for safety and respect. I try to be fair in providing what each individual child needs. I try to be as consistent as possible with routines and responses.
Okay, so those are things that I do all day, but being consistent and predictable in turn makes for a peaceful rest time.
Respecting the Rights of the Child
Respecting a child is largely allowing as much space and time for their autonomy and dependence as they need to be comfortable. This is done by providing opportunity for different activities throughout the day. Activities are set up in a way that the children can choose what they are playing ("working on"). They naturally choose activities that satiate whatever curiosity or actions their body and mind need for that moment time. Children are masters at knowing what they need to make themselves feel good. If they are able to satisfy their need to explore, dramatic play, build, create, wander in their thoughts, sing, dance, run, or whatever activity their mind and body is trying to sort out, then they are able to rest when it is rest time.
This also ties in with the Reggio Emilia Inspired programming that I do my best to follow. There is a famous poem that speaks to the "100 languages of children." The poem reminds us that each child is different and expresses themselves in a variety of ways - all of which are beautiful, valid, and deserving of respect.
Respecting the Needs of the Child
Maslow is my go to theorist (we all have one, right?).
We've all done it. The baby is crying, we offered food and the baby is still crying. Now what?
You go through the list: change diaper, change clothes, try to burp, try to rock to sleep, get their favorite lovey or blanket. You're following the 2 lowest levels on the hierarchy of needs: food, water, warmth, rest and security, safety.
This, above all else, is the "curriculum" while they are in my care. It seems obvious, but sometimes we (adults) get so excited for the friendships, moments of pride, and reaching goals, that we assume they are getting the basics as we have provided them. If a child is expressing discomfort or is unable to fall asleep at rest time, then I take a look at how the rest of their day is going and how they are interacting with the environment. Changing up meal times, where they sleep, what they have with them when they sleep, or how they are put down to sleep may need to be done differently. Once you make a change, you need to stick with that change for at least 1-2 weeks to gauge if it is making a positive difference.
Provide Firm, Fair, and Consistent Care
So, when I say firm, I'm not talking about authoritarian leadership. I'm talking about setting reasonable, enforceable limits that make sense - THEN sticking to it. There are only two rules here: Be safe. Be kind. I have yet to find something that a child needed guidance on that does not fall into one of those categories. Janet Lansbury is very well spoken on setting limits for young children. The "firmness" I speak of, is that of enforcing limits - not of forcing children to do things.
How does being firm relate to nap time?
While the children may not be able to make the connection, you are being both kind and safe when you take care of your needs. They are not going to have a conversation with you about it, so you do it through example. The expectation at nap time is that you are calm and quiet on your resting space. So, even if they are not sleeping and it is nap time, they must be on their mat. This leads to sleep about 99% of the time.
If they aren't resting quietly, then I do support at fixed intervals. I feel that this is both fair and consistent.
What do fixed intervals look like?
A fixed interval is a set period of time that reinforcement is provided. These are slightly different for each age group.
- young infants 0-8 months*: rocked to sleep or until "just" asleep, then laid down on back in their sleeping space.
- 8-12 months*: next to their sleeping space, rock them to sleep or until "just asleep" for the first 2-3 weeks in care. Once they have "mastered" napping while in my care, then I begin putting them in their sleeping space when awake while helping the other children get ready for rest time. This allows them to observe the routine and gives them time and space to relax. The fixed interval is to provide positive reinforcement every 5 minutes (snuggles, gentle rocking, "you look so cozy, you'll go night night soon!", etc). After 15 minutes, I then rock them to sleep if they are still awake.
- 12-18 months*: If they are still in need of support to calm down with fixed intervals, then that support is provided. However, by this age many children are laying down and settling on their own. This is usually when I help a child transition out of a pack-n-play and onto a nap mat. They have had many months observing the older children follow the after lunch routine and are ready to do it on their own.
Other important parts of nap time that relate to consistency:
- Follow the same routine before lunch: make sure sleeping spaces are ready, read stories, change diapers.
- Follow the same routine after lunch. At my house, that looks like: clean up hands/face/table, put dishes away, turn off the lights, turn on music, help each child with covers and tell them goodnight.
- Play the same music or background noise during rest time.
- Reduce stimulating activities: any special lights, music, or very exciting activities are put away during rest time. We don't do screen time at gfc, but if we did it would be well before or after nap time.
Other factors to consider:
- child care programs are legally not allowed to have children sleep in infant swings, vibrating chairs, or other non-flat surfaces. Following the same safe sleep practices at home will not only be the safest route to follow, but will help create a consistent sleep environment across caregivers.
- What if they are fussing or talking to themselves on their sleep space? Let them be. It is their down time and if they need to let it out a little bit or work through their thoughts, then just let it happen.
- What if they are getting up, crying, rubbing their eyes - obviously still tired and need more sleep? I pick them up and snuggle, rocking them back to sleep. If they actually need more sleep, then they will relax and fall asleep. If they don't need more sleep, they will stay awake and be less fussy because they are secure and feel good.
*These ages are approximate and vary from child to child.