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Practices for Safe and Restful Nap Times in Early Learning Programs

Jun 22, 2023    |   Safe & Healthy ECE Programs

As early learning professionals, we seek to provide environments and routines that support healthy growth and development for the young children in our care. Nap time is an important aspect of curriculum planning, because the time young children spend resting their bodies and minds contributes to their ability to learn and play. In this article, we share practices that can help to create a safe and restful nap time for the young children in your care.

Nap Time Supports Healthy Development

Rest is critically important for the development of young children. Napping helps children de-stress, boosts their immune systems, and supports physical and mental development. Studies also show that nap time can support children’s learning, by strengthening their brain functioning in specific areas, including critical thinking, memory, motor-skill development, and emotional regulation. For all of these reasons, ensuring a safe, healthy, and peaceful environment for napping is essential, and an important part of our work as early learning professionals.

Practices for Safe and Restful Nap Times

A safe and restful nap time is all about developing a routine! Putting healthy habits in place and following a regular schedule ensures that children can enjoy a peaceful resting time. A few key practices that support a naptime routine are listed below.

Create a Peaceful Environment that Helps Children Feel Safe.

In order for children to relax their bodies and minds, they need to feel safe and calm. You can create a calming environment by playing peaceful music at a low volume, dimming the lights, and ensuring that children have their own cot with cozy and comforting items to help them rest. Establishing a predictable routine before nap time helps children to feel safe, by ensuring that they will know what to expect and what is coming next.

Since children fall asleep at different paces and for different lengths of time, it can be helpful to provide books and other quiet activities for children to enjoy while they are not sleeping. For more information about creating a calming environment, you might enjoy this G2K article from the archives: How to Make Nap Time More Peaceful.

Connect with Families and Talk about Sleep at Home.

To support children’s nap time, it can be helpful to talk with families about how children sleep at home. You might consider asking the following questions: Where does your child sleep at home? Are there any special stuffed animals or comfort items that he/she likes to sleep with? How long does your child usually sleep? How long does he/she take to fall asleep? Is he/she ever frightened or anxious about napping? Is there anything we can do to support your child during nap time?

When we learn what the child’s sleep is like at home, we can use the information to create a restful environment while they are in our care. It is also important to talk with families if you notice any changes in behavior around nap time such as having a particularly difficult time falling asleep, heightened anxiety around nap time, or being excessively sleepy. When we notice these things, we should talk to parents to see if any changes have recently occurred at home, and find out how we can work together to best support their child.

Keep Napping Spaces Clean.

When children are resting, we want to ensure that they are doing so in a safe, clean, and well-maintained environment. This means that their bedding should be regularly washed, nap mats should be regularly sanitized, and cots/mats should be regularly inspected to ensure that they are in a safe condition. In California, the following requirements for child care providers (under Title 22) help to ensure that children are sleeping in a safe environment:

  • Nap mats should be marked or colored so that the sleeping side can be distinguished from the floor side.

  • Each child’s bedding should be individually stored (in their own cubby or designated storage space) so that no child’s used bedding comes into contact with another child’s bedding.

  • Cots/maps should be wiped with a detergent/disinfectant weekly (or when soiled or wet).

  • Sheets/bedding should be washed weekly (or when soiled or wet).

  • Each cot/mat should be equipped with a sheet and, depending on the weather, a sheet and/or blanket to cover the child.

Consider Specific Safety Protocols for Infants.

When working with infants, there are several additional protocols to follow for safe sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS. There are a variety of licensing regulations that child care providers in California are required to follow to ensure safe sleep for babies. A few of these regulations are included below.

  • Infants should be placed in cribs on their backs until they are 12 months old.

  • Infants should be checked on every 15 minutes, while napping, up until the age of 2.

  • Infant cribs should be kept free of stuffed animals and additional soft items, as these items can increase risk of suffocation and overheating. For little ones who need an additional layer for warmth, they should be placed in a sleep sack provided by their parents.

  •  If an infant falls asleep before being placed in a crib, for example, in a provider’s arms or stroller, the provider must move the infant to a crib (or play yard for FCCHs) as soon as possible.

It is important that we stay up-to-date on these guidelines as changes are made regularly. Updates are posted on a quarterly basis here.

Additional Resources

  • Safe Sleep FAQs, a printable resource from the CA Department of Social Services that answers common questions that child care providers and early learning professionals have about the best practices for nap time in ECE programs

  • What Does a Safe Sleep Environment Look Like?, a printable resource from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) that can be hung in infant classrooms as a quick reference for safe sleep practices for babies

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