So your little one is refusing to sleep, and you’re not ready to give up nap time? There is a happy medium: Rest Time! What’s the big difference? Rest time has no expectation of sleep. Kids are expected to do just that, rest. This is a super common transition in childcare that has teachers continually coming up with new ideas to keep kids quietly engaged while their classmates’ sleep.
How long should rest time be?
Typically, nap time is 1.5-2 hours, depending on the developmental age of the child. What is more important is how much sleep they are getting in 24 hours; check out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for a guide. As kids grow, they don’t need as much sleep, hence the nap time to rest time transition.
When I was teaching, we asked children to rest their bodies for 30-40 minutes at the beginning of rest time. Just a stuffed animal, soothing music, and their imaginations as they stayed on their required nap cot. This gave teachers time to assist some children in falling asleep in a (mostly) quiet environment. After 30-40 minutes, the non-sleepers needed something to keep them entertained and as quiet as possible.
You can recreate this same expectation at home! It won’t happen on day one (or maybe day five); just keep explaining this new routine consistently. A really helpful way to help young children to understand time is to make it visual. A kitchen timer or wake-up clock are both great ways to help children see how much time they need to rest quietly at first. Make sure you have clear expectations about where they need to stay (in bed, in their room, etc.) for these 30-40 minutes.
When that time is up, then they have options they can choose to play independently and quietly in their nap area. Even though they aren’t sleeping, it is time you can rest or catch on work without needing to respond to them. At this point, set another timer for 1-1.5 hours to let your child know when rest time is over, and they can leave their nap area.
How do I keep my kid engaged the whole rest time?
One way to keep this rest time successful is to limit the choices you give kids each day and keep rotating items. I found it helpful to gather many quiet time activities all into one large bin over a weekend. This large bin is stored out of reach from my son throughout the day.
Once a week, I pull out 3-4 options, rotate with the previous week’s choices, and place these into a smaller bin. I highly recommend keeping this smaller bin of activities with you until that first 30-40 minute timer goes off. (More than likely, if it is in the room with your kid, they won’t rest at all since they’ll play the whole time. They’ll also be bored before the 1.5-2 hour time is over.)
What are quiet activity options for rest time?
This list is just a starting point for you. We have tons of ideas that can be modified for rest time too! Take time to review the ideas to see what works with your specific child. Some toddlers are happy with a rotation of books the whole time. Some 4-year-olds can’t be left with writing materials unattended yet. Use your best judgment knowing your child’s personality, likes/dislikes, independence level, etc.
- Books: Find never-ending options from the library!
- “Reading” glasses (sunglasses, random New Years’ Eve leftover glasses, giant silly glasses, etc. Sometimes it just takes a new accessory to make reading even more fun!)
- Car drives the alphabet book (this link is for a paid printable, but you could DIY too!)
- Pipe cleaners and beads: not for children under 3 or until your child no longer mouths objects
- I Spy games or I Spy Bags
- Lacing cards
- Whiteboards and dry erase markers
- White paper on a clipboard and pencils: Switch out pencils for colored pencils, crayons, markers, or another writing utensil that you feel comfortable leaving unattended (aka, will they keep it on the paper?).
- Paint in a bag: Put tempera paint inside a Ziploc bag. Hot glue or duct tape along the seal. Kids can trace letters/numbers/shapes in this unique texture.
- Sponge Building: Buy a bunch of sponges of different colors and cut up into various shapes and sizes. Kids can build and crash their creations silently.
- Paper Towel Roll Building: Another silent way for kids to build and crash with a paper towel or toilet paper roll.
- Magnetic letters and metal baking tray
- Felt books or felt boards
- Whisper phones (greatest invention ever to help loud talkers use a quiet voice!)
- Toddler busy boards (DIY or support another parent and buy on Etsy!)
- Yoga cards
- Mix and Match Creature Blocks
- Q-Tip Maze
- Not A Stick Drawing Prompt: Don’t forget the book to spark their imagination!
- Googly Eyes Drawing Prompt
- Crazy Straws and Felt: Love this fine-motor activity!
- Color Matching with Recycled Squeeze Pouch Tops
- Symmetry Drawing
- Lego Puzzle Challenge
Here are some collections of ideas for even more activity possibilities:
- 10 Easy Busy Bags
- 54 Mess Free Quiet Time Activities for 3-Year-Olds
- 43 Quiet Time Activities for 2-Year-Olds
- What’s in the Preschool “All By Myself” Box?
I hope this helps make your family’s transition from nap time to rest time easy and fun for everyone. It may feel like a lot more work initially, but I promise with a great rotation of activities, you’ll be thanking yourself for all of those quiet hours!
Please share any additional ideas you have too. What makes your rest time successful??
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