Are compulsory nap times at nursery a good idea?

Is it good for toddlers and pre-schoolers in daycare to nap at the same time - or just more convenient for the nursery?

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Back in November 2015 news emerged from the US about a two-year-old boy who was swaddled tightly and apparently “physically bound” to stop him moving around during nap times at nursery.

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The story was shocking to say the least and caused an outcry and a police investigation in the States. 

While this is an extreme story, it took me back to my time looking around nurseries three years ago (my daughter’s now in Reception). After seeing quite a few, I decided that any which had a set nap time were not for her (or us?).

Why so anti the ‘set naps’ then?

The alarm bells rang for me when a very close relative living in LA shared a story of how her nearly three-year-old son – who had long given up afternoon naps – was required to take a two-hour nap every day at the same time as all the other children in his day care facility even though he clearly wasn’t tired. 

On one occasion he came home and told Mummy that a piece of cloth had been put over his face during nap time (presumably to make him lie still) as he wasn’t sleeping.

My relative wasn’t happy to hear this at all. I can imagine all too well the agony of a 3-year-old who wants to play but instead has to lie still for what must seem like an eternity when they’re simply not tired. Oh, and as you can imagine, it played havoc with his bedtime too.

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What nap time solutions do nurseries offer?

Hearing this, I made the nap time question a key priority when it came to visiting nurseries for my own child a few months later. I found they varied in three main ways:

  • Some had a separate dark nap room with beds where the children could sleep at any time (or not, if their naps had stopped)
  • Some had an area in the main nursery room where children could sleep any time (you’d think they couldn’t possibly fall asleep with all the other kids running around and making noise in close proximity, but they sooo could!)
  • Some had set nap times where there were no play activities at all for around two hours at the same time each day (usually after lunch).

I found it tended to be the smaller and private nurseries that had the set nap time (this could just be coincidence) and when asked why naps were set, I was just advised it was good to get the children into a routine.

But by the time my daughter went to nursery, she was in a routine – and what if the routine she was in didn’t fit with the one they set? Should it really be her that adjusts to their timings rather than the other way round?

I also knew that older children start dropping their day-time naps often around the age of two and a half. Yet all of the children – even the older ones – were made to nap in certain nurseries which I didn’t, and still don’t, get.

I just couldn’t shake the feeling it was simply handier for the nursery staff if the kids all slept at the same time.

I’m willing to be convinced I’m wrong though – and would love to hear from any mums who’ve found the set nap time has really helped settle their child into a routine at nursery – or from a nursery worker who can share the wisdom of the set nap. Any offers?

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