How I get 12 toddlers to nap EVERYDAY at nursery!
At nursery, a few weeks back we had a perspective parent make an impromptu visit to the nursery, I was in the baby room with 12 sleeping toddlers and the dad came in on tiptoes awe struck.
“How do you do this? We have a nightmare getting Netty to nap.”
It was 12.55 and all 12 of my babies were fast asleep.
I have 12 babies aged 11 months to 22 months and getting them down to nap all at the same time can be tricky but when all the staff team (4 of us) follow the steps I’m about to share somehow everything falls into place.
To get the toddlers off to sleep we follow these four simple steps.
- We talk about it.
- We wind down
- We set the scene
- We go to sleep together!
- We talk about it!
The toddlers arrive at different times but usually everybody is in in time for circle time at 9am.
We sing our welcome song; have a story or two and the children get to explore sounds with rattles shakers etc. and sing along. Around 9.30-9.45 depending on how interested the toddlers are we start our play activities indoors. Painting, sand, water, bricks, toys. We stop for milk and fruit at 10.30 and then we go outside to play. But throughout each step we talk to the toddlers about what we are doing now and what we are doing next.
“We going to wash up the paints now and have some fruit!”
And we encourage them to join in.
“We going to put away the cups and fruit plates now and go in the garden.”
And we’ll follow through with what we said, and go outside into the garden. The babies will have trikes and slides and balls to play with, sand and water too.
Around 10 minutes before it time to go indoors for lunch…
“Toddlers we going inside soon to wash hands for lunch!”
I often find if we don’t give our babies the heads up beforehand, a little warning to get their last slide in. we can have tears and tantrums and that can really upset the group as a whole.
“Time to go in Toddies!!!” We have to kind of sing that and make it fun; they are usually having a great time by now and reluctant to stop.
And then we go in.
We communicate what are going to do with the babies ….and then we do it. Every step of the way. We do this all day every day. I think it’s important to let them know what’s coming next, they may not be able to talk all that well but they do understand. Respect them and tell them what’s coming next and you’re less likely to have toddlers resist your request.
- We Wind Down.
So we’ve been in the garden and the fresh air and we’re coming in for lunch, they’re all hyped and excited and pulling at their coats and bumping into each other. We, the staff need to calm them down and get them ready for lunch. Whilst we’ve been in the garden, one of the staff has set the room up ready for a quiet lunch and then nap. The nap room is adjacent to the dining area and we lower the blinds, and settle the kids on the carpet looking at books with the grownups whilst the other staff takes them off to wash hands. All the while we are talking about taking them to wash their hands and getting ready to eat lunch. The room is much calmer as the a bit darker, the sensory lamps are on illuminating orange and red soft lights and we play classical music mostly baby Mozart in the back ground,. We eat lunch in this room (you don’t have to do this at home though) with the music playing in the background with the staff talking in low calm voices.
One or two babies don’t quite manage to finish lunch and often fall asleep before pudding. If we notice they are getting sleepy we save their meal for after they wake and settle them early, sometimes with a little milk. I do this as I personally don’t feel comfortable letting them fall asleep without a little something in their stomachs.
I have one adorable little 11 month old girl who loves to eat but can never quite make it through lunch without nodding off mid chew, but if we dare put her down to nap without letting her sit at the dining table with us, even for only 10 mins, she gives us one helluva tantrum, no matter how tired she is she has to at least attempt lunch lol.
We make the environment calm quiet and sleep inducing, we often put on the air infuser with a little lavender after lunch too or eucalyptus if anyone has a cold.
After lunch we clean the children up, have another quiet story.
- We set the scene
As I said before whilst the kids are in the garden one member of staff stays indoors and tidies up, lowers the blinds a little and plays gentle classical music, the sensory lamps are put on a warm orange glow and the book are where they wait to before they eat lunch and before they go down for a nap has more cushions and bean bags to encourage them to relax and look at books.
After lunch the blinds come down completely and only the orange lights illuminate the room. We used to have the lamp alternate between various colours but the toddlers would stare at them and find it harder to fall asleep.
We encourage the parents to send in bedding from home. This gives the children a sense of familiarity and home to help comfort them. They’ll often have their own teddies or comforters too. This is great with our more sensitive children too.
4 We go to sleep together!
Even though one or two children go to sleep slightly earlier, all the toddlers sleep together at roughly the same time. And unless we have a new child who is unfamiliar with us and the routine, we rarely have any protests from the babies. They often run to their beds and get their cuddle toys and comforters and sit on your lap ready for story, they know what’s coming next, we helped them wind down after a busy morning of activities and playing and now we are reading a story in a nice warm dark room. The staff stay with the children and tuck them all in. We switch the music to Disney lullabies (we play the exact same CD when we want them to nap every day), some of the toddlers fall asleep on their own, one or two need us to stroke their cheeks or hands to fall asleep. But throughout the entire time they are falling asleep, sleeping and ready to wake up, we are right there with them. If one or two wake early after a short sleep cycle (we had a catnapper) we can respond immediately and get them back off to sleep.
We follow these four steps in the run up to bed time EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!
Without fail or deviation.
And on the days that we deviate from that plan all hell breaks loose.
Consider these four steps in your daily routine with your toddler at home.
Explain what you are doing together and what you plan to do next throughout the morning.
Get out and get some fresh air and then when you come back indoors begin to wind down your toddler by doing calmer, quieter activities. TV is not a good idea though as the blue based back light can actually stimulate them too much. Try calm music and stories or cuddle time.
Fill up their stomachs with milk if they can’t hold out for a proper lunch, they can always eat lunch when they wake up, and I hate putting babies down to nap on an empty stomachs even if they’re sleepy. I try to give them a small bottle of milk, I personally think it can help to prevent them waking up before they are really ready from hunger.
When you’re ready to settle them to sleep, set the scene by making the room dark and calm and stay with them while they settle to sleep. Toddlers can often display anxiety at being left to nap alone. If you toddler resists napping because you suspect they are worried you are going to leave them, stay with them until they fall asleep. I find toddlers or a more sensitive or grumpy temperament can become clingy of parents and carers, although all toddlers can become susceptible to this behaviour at one time or another. It’s totally normal and you can alleviate it by responding when they need you, or staying with them till they nod off if they need that from you. Toddlers are small people with developing emotions and often times meeting those needs as well as their physical ones can really help to improve their sleeps and nap times.