Published Date: 02/17/21
17 Nap Time Tips for Daycare Centers
As adults, we wish we had two hours in the middle of the day to lay down and shut our eyes. But children...they often don’t want to lay down and rest, even though their growing bodies desperately need it. Of course, you need an environment where children can nap undisturbed, so what do you do when you don’t have those peaceful days when all children close their eyes the second their head hits their nap cot?
Do Children Need Nap Time?
Most states require that children in full-day daycare or preschool have a rest period during the day. Generally, that period is at least two hours and in a childcare center, often ratio laws differ during nap time, allowing teachers to take their break and have lunch.
Beyond your state’s regulations, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers need nap time to mature properly.
How Much Nap Time Do Children Need?
From the physiological to the emotional benefits, napping is essential for a healthy upbringing and the number and duration of nap times are directly correlated to a child’s age.
- 0-6 months - 3-4 naps per day - many states have regulations that require childcare providers to allow infants to sleep on demand, rather than adhere to a schedule
- 6-month-old- 2-3 naps per day, totaling 5 hours
- 1-year-old- 1-2 naps per day, totaling 4 hours
- 2-year-old-1 nap per day, 2-3 hours long
- 3-year-old-1 nap per day, 1-2 hours long
- 4-5-year-olds- 1 nap per day for 1 hour
Of course these are guidelines and you’ll have children who sleep both less and more than indicated.
Why Children Won't Nap at Daycare or Preschool
It’s essential that children are never disciplined for not sleeping and there are many reasons why a child may not sleep, or even rest, during nap time. These include:
- A child is simply not tired at nap time
- A child is overtired and the nap window has been missed
- They are hungry, or they have food insecurity at home
- Poor sleep at home
- Reaching new developmental milestones
- A change in the amount of sleep a child needs
- Trauma at home or in their community
- A desire for control
- They’re used to their home environment and are having trouble adjusting to a daycare setting
- They’re overstimulated
How to Make Nap Time Run Smoothly at Daycare
These 17 nap time tips will help you get children calm and rested at daycare.
1. Set expectations for nap time
Whether you’re a daycare center or preschool with a structured schedule or a family childcare provider with a looser approach to they day, setting expectations daily is crucial for a successful nap time. If you do circle time, it’s a great opportunity to review the daily schedule and set expectations. If not, find another time during the day to set nap time expectations, like remaining quiet and staying on cots.
2. Use positive reinforcement around naps
Along with setting expectations, using positive reinforcement is key to getting children to rest quietly during nap time - or to help get the behavior you want any time. When a child lays quietly - even if it’s just for a few minutes - praise them for it and thank them. Positive reinforcement encourages the behavior you want to see happen. While you won’t see drastic changes overnight, over time a child will learn to remain quiet during rest periods. Avoid extrinsic rewards like sticker charts and treats, as they don’t work long-term.
3. Transition to nap time with a calm activity
Nap time is often right after children eat lunch. If you’re struggling to get children to calm down, have children help set up their nap mats or cots, and help them settle with a quiet story time.
4. Use a nap time song
Children respond well to consistency. Select a quiet song that you play daily to indicate that nap time is starting and the children will know that it’s time to rest their bodies when they hear it.
5. Be prepared for non-sleepers during nap time
It would be wonderful if every child laid down and rested quietly every single day during nap time, but children are human beings, just like adults. Some days they’ll easily drift off to sleep and some days they won’t be able to. Have a plan for children who aren’t sleeping during nap time. This may include permitting quiet activities on their nap mats or designating a space in the room where non-napping children can play quietly with specific toys.
6. Teach nap time skills during awake times
Have nap time practice during the day when you lay out expectations. Children can practice setting up their cots so there’s no confusion when nap time arrives, and then practice laying down quietly for a few moments.
7. Set up a good nap time environment
Dimming the lights, playing soft music, and using white noise can all help children relax and settle into a nap or quiet rest.
8. Have a consistent nap time schedule
Children thrive on schedules and holding nap time at the same time daily can help them rest when.
9. But be flexible
Pay attention to nap time changes throughout the year. You may find that it’s best to shift nap time by 30-60 minutes when the clocks change in November and March for daylight savings time. Children may be waking at home earlier or later based on the sunrise and that may impact how the rest at daycare.
10. Set the nap time tone
Daycare and preschool teachers may be a little frantic at the start of nap. Often cleaning up lunch, getting set up for nap, and trying to get a teacher off to break is all happening at the same time. But children pick up on your stress levels, so if you stay relaxed, it will help them relax.
11. Teach yoga and meditation techniques
Yoga and meditation techniques can help children relax and rest quietly during nap time. Teach deep breathing exercises and other ways of calming their bodies and their minds.
12. Work on proprioception activities
Proprioception is our ability to perceive our body in space - it gives us the ability to use utensils without looking in a mirror to see where our mouth is, for example. As with everything, children develop their sensory processing at different rates and some children, even those without sensory processing disorders, may be sensitive to a tag in their blanket touching them or the way their socks feel on their feet. Working on proprioception during the day may help these children settle during nap time.
13. Hide nap time distractions
While it may not always be possible to have nap time away from toys, do your best to face children away from things they may find stimulating or even use a sheet to cover up shelves during nap.
14. Give children nap time jobs
Children are likely to be disruptive when they’re bored and remaining on a cot for hours without sleeping is boring for most children and adults alike. Especially for older preschool children who are sleeping less, more able to follow directions, and can stay on task for longer than younger children, giving them a quiet job at nap time can keep them occupied. They can test markers to separate dried out ones, help clean out the bottoms of cubbies, sort lost and found items - be creative! There’s lots to do around daycare and preschool classrooms!
15. Incorporate more child-led activities into your day
Children have little control over their lives and not resting during nap time could be a way of communicating they want to be in control. Reduce the number of teacher-led activities and increase the number of child-led activities to give children more autonomy and control over the day. You may find it greatly improves their naps!
16. Teach children how naps help their bodies grow
Often we expect children to do things because we say so, with little or no explanation as to why it’s important. A science lesson on how sleep helps growing bodies can help them understand the importance of naps and make them more likely to rest quietly.
17. Give it time
A child who’s new to daycare or preschool may take several weeks or more to adjust and rest quietly during nap time. Be consistent with your approach and they’ll get the hang of it. Remember, a child attending part-time will often take longer to adjust to their new routine. Pay attention to the number of days the child has been present, not the number of weeks they’ve been enrolled.
Children aren’t robots. Their sleep needs change day-to-day and evolve as they grow and hit developmental milestones. While we all know you can’t force children to sleep, you can help limit nap time disruptions at your daycare or preschool with these tips.
Daycare Nap Time FAQs
Q: What if a child refuses to stay quiet during nap time?
A: When a child refuses to stay quiet during nap, it disturbs other children. There are two things to consider when a child refuses to remain quiet during nap: 1) all behavior is communication, and 2) the child has not yet developed the empathy required to not wake other children. Work on social emotional skills with children who won’t remain quiet during nap, focusing on empathy. This will help them understand the importance of remaining quiet during nap time.
Q: What if a baby will only sleep while being held?
As a childcare provider, you’d need to grow a dozen more arms to hold all the children who may need you at once. That said, infants have a biological need to be held and responding to their needs is critical so they develop secure bonds. If possible, you can get a baby carrier, which will allow you hands-free movement while baby sleeps. One trick is to get the baby used to the crib or pack & play during awake times. Place the child down in the crib while he or she is awake and happy and play - make silly faces, talk about how nice the crib is, play with the child, and celebrate the child being happy in the environment. As soon as you are done with this practice, remove the child from the crib - it is not to be used as a place to contain a child during awake periods. For a high needs baby, it will take a longer adjustment period, but do your best to meet the child’s emotional needs while they’re in your daycare.
Q: A parent told me that their child is having trouble sleeping at night and wants me to keep them awake during nap. Can I do that?
A: Absolutely do not keep a child awake during nap time if they want to sleep. Most states have laws forbidding it and even if it’s permissible in your area, children need to rest their bodies for optimal development.
Have other nap time questions or tips? Send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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