When my son was about two and a half we moved him from a crib to a big kid bed. After that transition, he never really napped again (not that he was a super duper napper before then). I struggled with him for a few weeks to try and encourage him to nap... but then realized he didn't need a nap, but I needed nap time.
At that point I was eight months pregnant with my daughter and I used "nap time" each day to relax, catch up on chores, and often would take my own nap. Since I am a strong believer in kids knowing how to play and create independently, I decided to introduce my son to the concept of "quiet time" so that we could both get the rest/break/creative time that we needed. As a special education teacher I spent a lot of time training my students to work and play independently, so I attempted to implement some of the same strategies as I taught my son how to play independently for his quiet time.
Six Tips for Establishing Quiet Time:
1. Establish a regular time each day for quiet time and try and be consistent.
My son currently has quiet time in his room while my daughter has her afternoon nap. She typically goes down between 12:30-1:00pm. Both kids go into their rooms around the same time and I encourage my son to play quietly until he hears his sister wake up from her nap. If she sleeps for longer than two hours then he will often come down and see me before then, but sometimes I have to go and interrupt him to tell him he's done. Before my daughter was born I was less consistent about quiet time because we would sometimes go and play with friends instead or go off on adventures. Now that my daughter actually needs a nap, I am more consistent with my son... which has made his quiet time much more successful. As he practices playing independently each day, he gets better and better at it and can sustain it for longer.
2. Keep it short and make it positive.
We started quiet time off by having it happen in shorter increments. He would play for 10-15 minutes and I would check in on him to tell him what a great job he was doing being quiet, being creative, and playing independently. Often during our check-ins I would ask what he'd already played and make suggestions of other things he could try or possible extensions on what he was already doing.
3. Give suggestions or choices of activities.
We aren't home that much and my son doesn't play that much in his room, so quiet time is extra special for him. He loves exploring the toys that are kept in the cupboards, building with his Legos, or dressing up. Many people don't keep toys in their kid's bedrooms, but we do. We may have to re-evaluate when my daughter gets older if she is different, but my son is very rules based, so he doesn't ever try to play with toys after bedtime, so we haven't had a problem keeping them in his room. If your child doesn't have toys in their room, you could have quiet time in another part of the house where there are toys, or you could have specific activities set up in your child's room for quiet time and then remove them afterwards. Jenae at I Can Teach My Child shares her quiet time boxes here. Some kids just read books and do learning activities/puzzles during quiet time and don't play with toys. Do whatever works for you and your child.
We created a simple quiet time poster to put on the back of my son's door (above). It helps remind him of the activities and play "tools" that he has available to him during quiet time. He told me the activities to put on the list and when we first started doing quiet time he would give me a play by play every day of what he did (pointing at each item on the poster in order)... once he was done with his free time. I loved hearing about how he spent his time... and I thought it was a great conversation activity for strengthening his memory and working on sequencing too!
4. Practice quiet time activities during other parts of the day.
After we created our quiet time poster, we spent time during the day using the play "tools" on the poster and came up with a variety of fun ways to use them. We created train tracks using all sorts of materials, made train stations, read lots of books together, dressed up in costumes based on the books we read, practiced cooking new foods in the play kitchen, created towns for the cars to drive around and race car ramps, and built all sorts of structures with the Legos. When we practiced, I would play with my son for a little bit and then let him continue the play independently to help him get used to creating on his own. When we practiced I also tried to use less language and not interact as much socially so that we were creating side by side and he wasn't dependent on me narrating our play or chatting with him.
5. Set expectations ahead of time.
Decide what your quiet time expectations are ahead of time and make sure your child is aware of them. You could post them in their room in a visual way if that is easier for them. Our main expectations are that my son has to 1) stay in his room, 2) come downstairs if he needs something (instead of yelling), and 3) play mostly quietly- he has no ability to be silent (no banging loud instruments or singing really loud). He usually has lunch right before quiet time, so he isn't usually hungry. Sometimes I will give him a baggie of fishy crackers to have with him though if he is still hungry. We also have him take care of bathroom business and drinks ahead of time, but are pretty flexible with that as long as he is quiet. After all, I get to get a snack and go to the bathroom during my quiet time... right?
6. Be realistic and flexible.
Some days will be better than others... especially as you are starting out with quiet time. Each child is different, so this will work better for some than for others. A child who already likes to spend time alone might be willing to play independently all day while a more social child really can't handle the quiet for more than an hour...if even thirty minutes. Figure out what works for you. I like to have time alone without any kids in the same room with me. Some parents don't mind having their kids have quiet time sitting next to them or creating at the kitchen table while they wash the dishes. I do believe that kids need to cultivate the skill of creating and playing independently, without constant adult interaction, and I think this is an important developmental skill to help them in school and later in life. With the way that we use technology to entertain ourselves these days, many teenagers and adults physically can't sustain an independent activity without checking their phones every few minutes. I think that kids who have free time alone to use their imaginations each day will ultimately be more creative and happier. I am AMAZED at some of the crazy things my son comes up with when he is off having quiet time.
7. Spice it up a bit.
Don't have your child play with the same boring toys or read the same books each day. Rotate toys around, make new (or older ones) accessible, and create other fun and interesting activities for your child to do... especially if they have a hard time knowing how to spend their quiet time.
My son is typically fine trying on costumes and creating super hero scripts for his entire quiet time without any suggestions from me, but sometimes I will still put some new activities into his room to have him try them out. Below are a few activities that could easily be introduced to your child and then be turned into quiet time activities.
Alright, now I want to hear from you...
- If you have a regular successful quiet time at your house, what are your tips?
- When did your kids stop napping?
- What are your kid's favorite quiet time activities?
- Do your kids need a more structured quiet time or do they prefer free play quiet time?