Taking the Nightmare Out of Nap Time
By Sandra Crosser Ph.D.

The center rules for nap time were: 1. No talking and 2. Stay on your cot. Sonia followed the rules. First she sat on her cot and made faces. Then she knelt with her head on the pillow and hummed. She squatted, stood, and bounced on the cot. She stripped the case off her pillow and crawled inside. She flopped onto her back and rhythmically kicked the canvas covering. Sonia always followed the rules for nap time.

If nap time was a difficult part of the day for Sonia, it was a nightmare for her teacher. Does this simple daily routine need to be so difficult?

Nap Time as Curriculum
It has become an accepted proposition in education that we must provide for the development of the whole child-cognitive, social, emotional, and physical. Perhaps it would be helpful to think about nap time as a learning opportunity-part of developing the physical aspect of the whole child.

In half-day programs it is usually inappropriate to plan sleeping time into the schedule. By varying the quiet and active experiences, teachers can provide children with the necessary physical recovery time after engaging in stimulating activities. However, Sonia was awake early each morning so she could be dropped off at child care before Mom had to be at work. Sonia played and worked energetically all morning. By afternoon she should be ready to rest. Her developing body needs rest, so nap time is an important part of a developmentally appropriate curriculum.

If we view nap time as an opportunity to learn, we then need to consider how we can plan for that part of the program as carefully as we plan for social interactions and literacy experiences. We need to consider individual differences and engagement of children in purposeful, age-appropriate activities as we schedule transitions and implement a time for rest.

Making the Transition
Scheduling rest time at approximately the same time each day takes advantage of the child's biological rhythms and helps children know what to expect. Make napping a regular routine children can count on for stability.

Moving from active to more quiet experiences requires that we give children time to change gears. Activities should begin slowing down well in advance of nap time. It is difficult for a youngster to go to sleep at home right after a session of tickle games with Daddy. It is equally difficult to get into the rest mode after stimulating play at child care.

To make the transition, children might move to the book and puzzle center after lunch. Soothing background music would enhance the decelerating mood. A teacher might read a quieting story or poem.

As children approach the area where they are to nap, the environment should be prepared in advance and should be conducive to quiet relaxation. If children are expected to set up their own cots, it should be done before lunch. When children enter the napping area, it should be dimly lit, with cots arranged ready for them to rest. White noise such as tapes of ocean sounds, a ticking metronome, tinkling wind chimes, or a muffled vacuum cleaner running in a nearby room can be soothing.

Pillows and blankets should be available on cots. In some areas of the world preschoolers typically nap in their undershirts and underwear. But even if children nap fully clothed, they will need to remove their shoes and have a blanket available.

Planning for Individual Differences
Just as we plan for individual differences in other areas of the curriculum (Wallace, 1995), we need to take advantage of what we know about individual children as we plan for nap time. Some children prefer one sensory modality over the others (Dunn & Reckinger, 1982). Therefore, the thoughtful teacher will plan for ways to take advantage of the visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, and olfactory preferences of children during napping time.

For example, the teacher could add fragrance to the napping area by putting out a basket of potpourri, setting a solid air freshener where children can smell but not reach it, or using one of the many plug-in scented air fresheners. If the air is dry, try adding a drop of cinnamon or lemon oil to the cool mist humidifier. Invite children to sleep in the good smells and tell you after nap time what they thought they were smelling.

The tactile child may find it helpful to sleep cuddled up with a favorite stuffed animal. It may also be soothing to rub his hands over various textures in a small feel book as he settles down to rest (Heath, 1994).

Children with auditory preferences may find it quieting to listen to soft music or tapes of lullabies. They may also enjoy repeating favorite rest time rhymes and fingerplays as routines before nodding off. After hearing Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, Kevin put himself to sleep saying good night to his own room full of playthings. Children might also join the teacher in repeating relaxation rhymes such as the following:

Good Night
Good night, elbows.
Good night, nose.
Good night, eyebrows.
Good night, toes.
Good night, hair.
Good night, feet.
Good night, fingers.
Good night, cheeks.
Good night, shoulders.
Good night, head.
Good night, ankles.
Rest in bed.

The Giant
The big, enormous giant
Scratched his nose,
Took off his shoes,
And rubbed his toes;
Leaned back in his chair
And closed his eyes.
Can't stop snoring
Even if he tries.

The visual child might prefer settling herself with a tiny book tucked under her pillow. And both visual and auditory preferences are addressed if the teacher uses a guided imagery strategy (Myrick & Myrick, 1993). In guided imagery, the teacher invites children to close their eyes and imagine themselves in various scenarios as she guides them through the image in a soothing, hushed voice. Ideas for guiding imagery are unlimited, but for starters you might try images of lying on the beach:
Imagine that you are at the beach. You have been playing in the water and your arms are tired. Your legs are tired. You lie down on the warm, soft sand. A breeze blows over you. It feels so good. You close your eyes and listen to the waves softly washing up on the shore.

Other images might include floating inside a bubble; becoming a balloon floating through the clouds; gliding with the fish in a lake; rocking in a boat anchored at the shore; soaking in a bubble bath; sleeping in a bed of marshmallows; or riding a kite on a hot summer day.

The kinesthetic child will also enjoy the visual imagery if he is permitted to sway and rock with his mental pictures. Children who need to feel their bodies move may comfort themselves with their own rhythmic body movements. You might even offer a hammock or glider as an alternative napping spot for those children with kinesthetic preferences.

Try pretending to be various animals snuggling down to rest. Pigs wiggle into the mud. Turtles glide into their shells. Ducks hide their heads under soft wings. Rabbits snuggle into downy nests. Butterflies land on a bush and close their wings. Bees cuddle into their hives. Deer lie down in soft, tall grass.

Most children will enjoy repeating special sleeping verses you find or create together. For example, during a group meeting start the children out with the following verse and invite them to add to the pattern. Repeat the newly revised version at nap time.

Animal Good Night
"Good night. Sleep tight,"
said the cow with a lazy moo.
"Good night. Sleep tight,"
said the owl with a quiet whoo.
"Good night. Sleep tight," said the cat with a dreamy mew.

Another suggested activity involves creating short relaxation exercises children can do as they lie down on their cots. Start with something like this: Stretch your arms; now stretch your legs; yawn; put your chin on your chest; close your eyes and take a deep, deep breath.

Try including a lesson plan for resting in your daily schedule. Thinking about nap time as curriculum and planning carefully for individual differences can help take the nightmare out of nap time and make it an enjoyable time of the day for both teachers and young children.

Sandra Crosser, Ph.D., is associate professor at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.

Dunn, R., & Reckinger, N. (1982). Learning Styles.Educational Leadership, 39, 629-630.

Heath, P. (1994). Developing Tactile Learning Experiences.Day Care and Early Education, 22, 12-13.

Myrick, R.D., & Myrick, L.S. (1993). Guided Imagery: From Mystical to Practical.Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 28, 62-70.

Wallace, J. (1995). Accommodating Elementary Students' Learning Styles.Reading Improvement, 32, 38-41.