With an average of ten toddlers from the ages of 18 months to 3 years in an indoor space, there are times during the children’s free play when they need additional quiet rest times, that supplement the traditional afternoon nap. These “rest times” generally do not involve sleep, but allow children who have been hurt, anxious, overtired or overwhelmed to settle back into their bodies and gather themselves. These framed rest times positively affect the quality of the day not only for the individual who receives them, but for the other children and teachers as well. This allows for a more peaceful and fluid day all around.
"In our modern civilization, where all eyes concentrate on outer, material things, no attention is given to the state of sleep, although man devotes to it one third of his daily life. Never should it be thought that man is inactive while he sleeps. He is inactive only in so far as the outer external world is concerned but as regards to the health of his body, and more especially in the health of his soul and spirit, sleep is all important. True education can provide for a right life of sleep, for whatever activities belong to a man's waking hours are carried over into the conditioned of sleep, and this is especially the case with the child."
Rudolf Steiner, The Modern Art of Education
For young children, it is good to have very clear routines and rituals around sleep. It helps to think about what you are doing for the two hours before sleep, what you will do to prepare them for sleep, and what you will do when they first wake up. I call this "framing" sleep. The routines and rituals provide the frame.
Here is an example of a sleep frame:
An hour or two before nap, the children are outside playing. It is important that they have a full experience of the natural world and can play as freely as possible. When you bring them in, perhaps a special song or game gathers everyone together, and you playfully return inside.
As we respect the importance of rhythm in the life of the young child, creating a rhythm and space for rest time in our busy day at the Seaside Playgarden is critical to good health and well being. I want to share with you what we have done to create a quiet space for this special part of our day. During lunch break, the teachers create a space for rest in the sun room. The furniture is moved into the front room, and light blue curtains are hung in the doorways to define the space and the mood. Light blue soft flannel blankets and pillows are laid out on the circle rug for each child.
It’s a puzzle to me how and why so many of the Waldorf and LifeWays early childhood programs I have visited turn on some kind of mechanical device to make “white noise” when it’s time for nap. These teachers have heard and believe Rudolf Steiner’s indication that “the young child is all sense organ,” and they apply this understanding in a wide range of other activities. They wouldn’t think of putting a lullaby on a CD player before leaving the nap room, or playing recorded music during the morning. They go to great lengths to try to create a harmonious environment that surrounds the children with living sounds and are even likely to use a broom or carpet sweeper rather than whipping out the vacuum cleaner after snack, to avoid the noise. Yet they don’t hesitate to turn on a fan or the clothes dryer or a machine with recordings of static or nature sounds, all in the name of lulling the children to sleep and keeping them there.
Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten, one of our LifeWays North America Representative Programs, was flooded this week during the storms in Colorado, and although they have been able to salvage tables and chairs, everything else will need to be replaced.
How to Help:
Rahima writes: In 1984 another Waldorf teacher and I dropped out of the school to be home more and opened one of the early home-based Waldorf programs in the country. As lead teacher, I essentially re-created a Waldorf kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds in a dedicated room in her home that opened out into the yard. Since working with 12 children instead of 19 was easy for me, she was free to tend to her new baby and put him down for a morning nap before joining us. This all went on upstairs, away from the children, because who had ever heard of a baby in a Waldorf kindergarten or preschool?
Faith writes: When I first started working with toddlers, I also happened to read Nokken by Helle Heckmann, who tells about how she spends hours outside each day with the children in her play program, regardless of the weather. I was completely inspired! I wanted to spend hours outside each day with the children, too! I had fond, fond memories from my own childhood of sitting in a field, face-to-face with Queen Anne’s Lace flowers. I don’t remember if there were any adults around or not. There must have been, but I don’t remember them. I also remember sitting in the garden behind our shed and examining the intricate Columbine flowers that grew there. I remember the feeling of having all the time in the world, with nothing else to be done but to sit with the flowers—this was the feeling I wanted the children in my care to have.
Jaimmie writes: Recently, a plumber came to LifeWays to repair the garbage disposal. At the time, we were getting dressed to go outdoors. As soon as they caught sight of the plumber with his toolbox, a group of little boys in hastily-assembled outdoor gear were in the kitchen doorway watching the “worker guy.” One by one, I coaxed the intent observers back to their hooks to finish dressing. We fixed backwards snow pants and adjusted an upside-down jacket, put on a missing boot and a discarded mitten. Throughout the entire process, the little fellas kept inching toward the kitchen and stealing glances at the plumber (all the girls were in preschool on this particular day).
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