Nap time is one of those daily rituals that can end up being stressful rather than relaxing—for children and for teachers. Instead, preschool staff might start by using the transition to nap time as an opportunity to help children take a break from the day’s activities.
Set the scene
First of all, slooooooow doooown! What’s the rush? When teachers are relaxed, children can relax too.
Daily routines offer children a sense of consistency and security. Look beyond the many small tasks that make up nap time. What can you do to create an environment of relaxation and to help release children from the activities and tensions of the day? Here are some suggestions.
Start at lunchtime
Let each child leave the table when finished with lunch instead of having children wait until everyone is finished—waiting is generally not children’s strong suit!
Guide the children to use the bathroom.
Remind them to wash their hands and faces.
Make it easy for children to locate the right cot by labeling them with children’s names and pictures.
Assist children in getting their bedding and placing it on the cot, if they need help.
Encourage them gently and quietly during this routine.
Keep in mind that it’s not the teacher’s job to do tasks that children are capable of doing for themselves. Effective teachers offer support and guidance from the wings while children engage in tasks tailored to their abilities. It’s amazing to see the confidence, self-esteem, and independence children develop carrying out familiar routines without adult intervention.
Help children relax
Slowing down the nap time routine promotes relaxation and helps children de-stress. Some children may experience anxiety in their home lives. When the lights go out, tensions build—they may hear parents arguing or loud noises from outside or be aware of unsafe neighborhood conditions. Children need to know that in the classroom there are no ghosts, no scary situations, no upsetting scenarios. Teachers can comfort children by saying, “You can go to sleep now, and I will watch over you.” Restful sleep is an act of trust.
Talk softly, dim the lights, and give every child a hug, a pat on the back, or a low five. Show them that you cherish and appreciate them. Make it your priority to develop a warm and caring relationship with each child.
Early childhood educators can give children coping mechanisms to deal with stress or chaos. The following are skills that children can use at nap time on their cots and at bedtime at home.
Concentrating on deep breathing is an effective way to calm the body’s natural response to stress. Taking deep breaths slows down the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and promotes a feeling of being in control. Anyone can use this technique. Coach children to simply breathe in deeply
( … two, three) and hold ( ... two, three) and release ( … two, three). Repeat until relaxation—or sleep—happens.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a wonderful way to relieve stress. Teach children to tense and then relax different muscle groups. Start with the toes; move up to the legs, stomach, arms … and finally, the face and the scalp—if anyone is still awake!
Visualization, also known as visual guided imagery, is a technique that uses the imagination to slow thoughts down and release worries. Teachers can help create a peaceful image in children’s minds: “Let’s imagine. It’s a warm, sunny day, and we are lying under a tree. We can smell flowers. The grass is soft ...”
Listening to calming music can help a child regain balance. Even very young children can enjoy relaxing to classical music—or to the sound of whales communicating or waves breaking on the beach.
A comforting story
Moon Dreams, by Ruth Martin, The Napping House, by Audrey Wood, and Time for Bed, by Mem Fox, are three books that convey a sense of warmth and calmness.
A song or poem
After having a great morning together, share a lullaby or a repetitive poem. Be sure to use a quiet, soothing voice.
When the children are ready to get up, let them! Help children recognize when their bodies have had enough rest. Guide them in making good personal choices. As children awaken, remind them that others are still relaxing, so they need to talk quietly. Be sure they know which activities they can do after they nap: “You can come to the table and work on puzzles” or “play with clay” or “draw with markers”—a quiet transition to the afternoon activities and busy explorations.
Supporting Dual Language Learners in Making Connections
So many wonderful, comforting ideas in this article remind us how powerful words are in setting the tone and making each child feel special. Two strategies can help you provide the same comfort to children who are DLLs. Help children understand the stories and visualizations you will use by introducing the topics and words at other times, using demonstrations and images. When DLLs have a better understanding of the words you use, they will feel more included and will be able to focus on relaxing. When possible, learn some stories or visualization messages in the home languages of the children.
WENDY MENDOLA is the owner and executive director of the Tot Spot Childcare Centers, in Wayne County, New York.