This is a lovely article on suggestions for naptime, by Cynthia Aldinger. The article was written for groups of children, but many of these sweet rituals would be easily incorporated into a home setting. If you try any of these, let us know how it goes, in the ‘comments’ section below! Cynthia Aldinger is the founder of LifeWays, drawn out of her observation of the need for nurturing care for young children, many of whom are spending many of their waking hours away from their primary home.
Here are a few ideas about naptime for little ones in group settings:
For toddlers and pre-school and kindergarten-aged children, it helps to have very clear routines and rituals around sleep. Think about what you are doing for the two hours before sleep, what you will do to prepare them for sleep, and what you will do when they first wake up. I call this “framing” sleep. The routines and rituals provide the frame.
Here is an example of a sleep frame:
Two hours before nap, the children are outside playing. It is important that they have a full experience of the natural world and can play as freely as possible. When you bring them in, perhaps a special song or game gathers everyone together, and you playfully return inside.
Everyone takes off their shoes and places them where they belong. A container of warm lavender water is waiting for them. Each child then receives a gentle foot wash. Then their feet are dried and a soft cream is rubbed in.
Now it is time to wash hands to prepare to eat. Perhaps some of the children help to set the table, while others pour the water to drink. A blessing is sung, perhaps a candle is lit. Maybe one or two short finger games are played. Then the food is served, and everyone eats.
After eating, the children take care of their dishes. Now it is time for toileting. Then each child is given a warm face cloth to wash faces and hands.
Perhaps a story is told as they gather around the storyteller. Or maybe the story is told after they are lying down.
It is important that they lie down in the same place each time. This becomes their special spot. If it is cold, it can be quite nice to warm the bed or cot with a hot water bottle before they lie down. Each child may have a special cover from home that they sleep under, and some may also bring a special cuddly doll that they sleep with.
It helps if the teacher or caregiver can go to each child and gently stroke the face with light fingertips. This is very soothing for most children. If there is a child who really does not like it, then it should not be done to that child. Perhaps instead a gentle pat on the shoulder, or a little foot rub would be accepted.
After each child has been gently touched, then can come some quiet singing (or a story if it was not told earlier) or strumming a gentle instrument like a kinderharp. Live music or singing is preferred over recorded music. Eventually everything is quiet, and the caregiver may just sit in a rocker and slowly rock or just sit still and rest herself.
What makes a difference is if the caregiver can truly feel restful herself. This helps the children to go to sleep. If the caregiver is busy thinking of many other things or is restless, it will be more difficult for the children to feel restful. It is a good time for the teacher or caregiver to take a very brief moment to let her thoughts rest on each child. Picture the child in a moment during the day when he or she seemed to be most balanced, and hold that picture in your heart. If you find yourself, instead, picturing a difficulty you are having with a child, then try to see the behavior objectively and with interest and warmth. Taking the time to briefly picture each child strengthens your partnership with the child’s angel.
Some older children may not fall asleep, although I find that most children do. It is nice if the children can sleep for at least a half hour and, if they are younger, then perhaps one to one-and-a-half hours.
When the children begin to wake up, it is a nice time to brush each child’s hair and put a refreshing oil on their faces. I saw this done at the Awhina Child Care Center in New Zealand, and it was so beautiful. Then they need to have a drink of water and go to the bathroom.
If it is allowed, older children could go outside while they wait for the others to wake. Otherwise, they can draw or be given quiet things to play with or ongoing projects to work on, like sewing or finger knitting.
After all the children are awake, hair brushed, and faces oiled, it is time for a simple snack. Then cleaning up and going back outside until time to go home.
The important thing to remember is that sleep is a time for children to restore themselves and for their angels, our silent partners, to quietly watch over them. Nap time is one of the most sacred times of the day in our work with little ones. This is why we want to bring so much consciousness to how we do it.
I hope this is helpful. Many blessings on your work.