What to do when your kid won't nap at school
October 16, 2012 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Our pre-kindergarten son is not a napper, but the school expects him lay down at nap time. This is becoming a big problem.

Our son will be turning five soon, but he missed the cut-off for kindergarten by a few weeks and is still in a pre-K class. The kids are expected to lay down for two hours following lunch, which is a problem for our active little boy. He's never been a napper, even for us, and it's a struggle on weekends to get him to lay down for even 10 minutes. He's typically a pretty obedient boy. We've been working with him using Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for over a year and it's worked very well in many respects.

During nap time at school he will get off his little bed and try to sneak around the room, or if he does stay on his bed he's fidgety and noisy; either way, he disrupts the other kids' naps. The school has called us several times saying he will not listen to his teacher and lay down, so we pick him up and drive around or sit in the car (boring stuff so he doesn't get the idea that leaving school is fun) until nap time is over, then take him back. It's not gotten to the point that we don't even wait for the school to call, we just pick him up at nap time and drop him off afterwards.

We can't continue to do this, obviously, and realize we've begun to dug ourselves a hole. We've met with the teacher and director, and they said he needs to listen to his teacher and lay down, or he can't be present at nap time—which, they said, also includes him being expelled from the school. They changed the lunch hours of one of the aides that he really likes, and she sits with him at nap time and rubs his back and tries to get him to sleep. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

Do any MeFi parents have any ideas? We don't want to leave the school, but we're kind of out of ideas here. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!
posted by Arthur Vandelay to Human Relations (41 answers total)
Two hours seems like a fairly long time for an enforced nap/quiet period (at my son's school it's 30 minutes, or longer if the kid wants to keep sleeping). I'm surprised they don't have other kids with the same issue. Is it possible to figure out some kind of quiet activity he likes that he can do on his bed? Like coloring, or maybe watching a video on an ipad with head phones (though I can see that might not be a popular option with the school)?
posted by handful of rain at 2:39 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

two hours seems like a rediculous amount of time to expect a classroom of 4 and 5 year olds to be quiet. I wish I had a better response. Would it be possible to have someone watch him while he plays or draws in another area of the school? Perhaps he could sit with 1st graders if they are in the same building and start getting a leg up on the next year?
posted by efalk at 2:47 PM on October 16, 2012 [13 favorites]

Agree that two hours is a really long nap for a 4 year-old, especially an active one!

On a similar note to the iPad, but perhaps less shiny and distracting to other kids-- would they allow a book on tape and headphones? Could he temporarily join another class during this time?

Having worked with young children in a variety of settings, I wonder if this is a way for the center to skimp on staffing. Napping kids can be watched by a few staffers while the rest take their breaks, thus obviating the need to hire more staff to cover. Just a thought. In any case, it may be time to seek out a new solution. Regardless of anything else, two hours of idle time each "school" day isn't contributing to his education, and may get him started thinking school is a boring chore.
posted by charmcityblues at 2:49 PM on October 16, 2012 [12 favorites]

Piggybacking on efalk, could he go to the school library for naptime?
posted by Flamingo at 2:49 PM on October 16, 2012

Two hours? You need to talk to the staff about setting reasonable expectations. I'm sorry this is happening - what a complete drag.
posted by thatone at 2:50 PM on October 16, 2012 [15 favorites]

2 hours?! Maybe he can have quiet time looking at books or doing something quiet and non-disruptive, but 2 hours seems like an excessively long nap for his age. One hour or less is the norm for a 5 year-old. Library or joining another classroom sounds like a reasonable solution.
posted by quince at 2:51 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have to agree -- two hours seems ridiculously long, and I'd be genuinely surprised if all the other kids comply with no problems. Maybe along with the "quiet activity" option, his bed could be offside in some way that is less distracting to the others? For what it's worth, I am aware of at least one other pre-K school on the planet that lets even younger chronic non-nappers do something similar...and definitely not for two hours.

Also: I can't help but wonder if this is less about your child's compliance, and more about staff workload.
posted by gnomeloaf at 2:53 PM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wasn't a napper at the age of four either, but I was an early reader. My mom negotiated with the caregiver to have me spend naptime reading books instead. At four, I thought it was really stupid to teach obedience by making you lie down and do nothing, and I kind of still do.
posted by Nomyte at 2:53 PM on October 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Wow, I remember naptime being like 20 minutes long, not two hours. Frankly I'm amazed that your kid is the only one who won't lie down for all of it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:54 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

If they are unprepared and unwilling to provide effective preschool instruction to your child for two hours of the day, I would ask for a refund of the portion of tuition covering that percentage of each day. A two-hour enforced nap is ridiculous, and you're getting ripped off if you have to come to the school every day to take your child during the time you've paid them to do their job. Surely this is not the first time they've had a 5-year-old who wouldn't take a two-hour nap. I've had two kids go through that stage of school and neither of them would nap at all.
posted by The World Famous at 2:56 PM on October 16, 2012 [39 favorites]

Can you cut down on his caffeine and sugar intake?
posted by spunweb at 3:04 PM on October 16, 2012

Also: if this is a pre-k I would say the two hour nap is normal, and probably designed in that way so that the younger kids needing longer naps aren't disturbed by older kids being loud. While I feel for the OP's frustration, I think reframing this less as an issue of enforced obedience and more as good citizenship/being a good community member would be more useful. Sneaking off to play or waking up other kids isn't something a good citizen of that classroom space would do.
posted by spunweb at 3:09 PM on October 16, 2012

Seconding Nomyte, books and games in my head were the only way I made it through preschool nap time. I actually wanted to be good and sleep and I couldn't do it. (And no parents weren't feeding caffeine or much sugar) It sucked, it was boring, and thankfully was only 45 minutes or something like that. I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one not sleeping, but people learned after the first bit that they had to stay on the cots. :-/

I'm sure there were plenty of conversations with my parents because one of the questions I recall getting often was did you take a nap today... Which I thought was weird and why should they care (at the time of course I see why now).

Does your son do reading or playing alone (quietly), other quiet activities that can be limited to a cot?

spunweb, does bring up one reason for a longer nap I guess, if the kids are all together pre-K rather than age separated more. Maybe you could try to find a place where the kids are more age separated? Bonus for development there too.
posted by Feantari at 3:10 PM on October 16, 2012

We have a four and a half year old non-napper. He does quiet activities, either looking at books on his own, or coloring, or some quiet project with a teacher. This was a non-issue at my son's school; they are fully aware that some kids don't nap anymore at this age. If the aide can rub his back to get him to sleep, why can't she just supervise some quiet activity? Maybe they can have a quiet time project they work on together while everyone else sleeps.

I'm finding the idea that they would kick him out for not napping to be quite shocking, actually.
posted by ambrosia at 3:17 PM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

I work at a school with a pre-K program. I know that in my state (NJ) nap time is required for certain programs - basically if you're considered a "daycare" rather than a school, is my understanding. You might want to check if the school is required to have nap time. That said, we also permit kids who are 5 and older (but not in kindergarten) to do quiet work instead do laying on their mats. I believe the magic age of 5 was also present in the regulations.

Is your kid in the after school program? Does he function differently on days with a nap vs. days without? What's his bedtime? When does he arrive at school? He may just not be tired at nap time.

Has the school explicitly refused to let him do quiet work (reading or coloring, for example) instead of napping?
posted by booksherpa at 3:19 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My daughter's pre-K has the same nap schedule, and I think it's just too long. She has been to three pre-schools in four years and none of them were willing to negotiate anything, especially something like nap time. The daycare experience was less than inspiring, I wonder if I had paid more than the 800-1,000/month more flexibility would have been available? I don't think it's just an issue of money, though, as the decent daycares, let alone exceptional ones, are always full so they don't have to worry to much about losing business.
Anyway, the only thing I would suggest, not knowing anything about your child mind you, is that you get him up in the morning a lot earlier if he is indeed getting up late, like after 7:30. Maybe he needs to be up at 6 or so?? And of course, early bed time, but that may be insulting you which I certainly have no intention of doing :)
posted by waving at 3:26 PM on October 16, 2012

Wow, lots of replies. Thanks, everyone.

We did ask if he could color or read quietly at his little bed and were told no; IIRC, it was because it wouldn't be fair to the other kids. We will definitely ask about this again.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough staff for him to be able to go to the library, play outside, etc.

Regarding his sugar and caffeine consumption: before nap is lunch (from home) that includes a protein, veggies, and fruit. Any sugar besides fruit would come from the 1-2 teaspoons of jelly he might get in his PBJ sandwich.
posted by Arthur Vandelay at 3:33 PM on October 16, 2012

But if he can't sleep, he can't sleep! Obedience doesn't have much to do with it, really. Laying down for two hours when your body/mind can't sleep would be not just unpleasant but miserable for me, and I'm an adult and not an energetic, curious five-year old. Some kids just aren't nappers--I certainly wasn't. I really don't see why he couldn't go off and do quiet work like read a book as booksherpa and others suggest... or are there multiple pre-K classes at the same center, and could he maybe go hang out with them for the 2-hours everyone else is supposed to "nap" ... ? If the aide is being changed around to try to accommodate, couldn't she or one of the other aides/teachers just supervise him while he--and maybe other children who aren't nappers, which surely there are--does quiet-time activities in the same or another room? Have you talked to any of the other parents about this?

If they are going to be bizarrely authoritarian and make this an issue (nap or GTFO???), it might be time to find a new pre-K. I also can't imagine it's good for his moral development to teach him to be obedient to things that don't make any sense in the slightest, even in the perspective of adults. That would probably have made me feel really frustrated and powerless as a young boy. There's a difference between [reasonable obedience/"being a good citizen"] and blind obedience, and this might be a teachable moment.
posted by Keter at 3:34 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

My dad taught me how to build things in my mind to try to help me with 'nap time', since I've always been an insomniac. His example was of a POW (military family, sorry) who had built a castle in his mind, stone by stone. It was quite nice by the time he got out apparently. That didn't work with me well so instead I tried to figure out how the various machines I'd seen work (stapler, radio, drill, alarm clock, etc.), and then we'd take them apart at home to see how close I was. Everything was in, except the TV (high voltage) and car (couldn't live without). For inaccessible things like torpedos and jets he got basic diagrams at work to bring home and show me, or would sketch them out for me. I still take things apart just to see how they work and brainstorm how else they could work.
posted by jwells at 3:34 PM on October 16, 2012 [9 favorites]

Two hours! My 3-year-old's program had a 20-40 minute nap period, and we had the same problem as you, except mine figured out that if he screamed at the top of his lungs, he could wake up "the other guys so they can play wif me." It was a DCFS requirement for their certification that the kids have "naptime" but kids WERE allowed to read quietly or play quietly on their cots or in their cribs. Anyway, make sure you understand if it's a state certification requirement or a program policy.

(Unfortunately, we never solved our problem, we always just had to pick him up early because they didn't have the facilities and staff to handle a child who just shouted "WAKE UP!" through the other kids' entire naptime. He only went one day a week, though.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:39 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is bizarre to me. My daughter stopped napping at 3. She sleeps from 8pm to 7am. That's plenty! I had her home in the afternoons so it wasn't an issue, but all of her friends parents complained to me about how the daycare "let them nap" which meant that they stayed up until 10pm on weeknights. Now, at age 4, there's not even a "quiet time" for her pre-K program much less a nap. I don't know a single other four year old in our wide circle of friends who naps other than the occasional partied-so-hard-at-the-beach day.

Honestly, if they aren't coming up with a better way of dealing with it than calling you, they aren't handling it very professionally. I would bet money this is not the first kid who refused to nap for them. Two hours is an especially long time, too. I could see 45 minutes of nap/quiet time, but those 2 hours must seem interminable to him.

I don't know how hard it is to find childcare where you are, but I would vote for either cutting back his hours to just the morning (and they should reduce your fees), or switch schools.
posted by tk at 3:39 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

At this point I would tell them that if they are expecting an unreasonable two hour quiet time for a five year old that it's on them to figure out how to keep him quiet, since YOU think it's totally unreasonable. Of course you will want to come up with a plan B if they do kick him out, but I see no other option besides taking him out as it is. Two hours is an eternity for a child that doesn't need the nap.

If you are able to go to a half day for him it might be best. If child care is still needed, maybe a babysitter could pick him up.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:44 PM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think your school is being entirely unreasonable about this. Expecting you to take him for 2 hours is ridiculous and makes me think that this is more about their convenience than providing a good experience for him or you. Both my sons have gone through daycare, and one had issues with napping at various points. Our daycare has had him try to nap, and if it seems like he can't nap then they would allow him to listen to a book on tape with headphones (when he was 5) and when he was a baby they allowed him to play quietly, in another room while we worked to get his naptimes better aligned with theirs. Personally I think you should look for new childcare, this does not sound like a good place.
posted by Joh at 4:30 PM on October 16, 2012

I agree that it makes little sense to force a kid to nap when they don't want or need to.

I like the idea of doing half days and going to some kind of after school care in the afternoon, but I think the school would still charge us full tuition for the half day. Will look into it.

We hadn't looked into other preschools yet because he's only been at this one for a few months and we didn't want to disrupt his life again. But you all are convincing us that the nap requirement is ridiculous and he may be better off at another school if they won't work with us.

I appreciate all the responses. Thank you!
posted by Arthur Vandelay at 4:30 PM on October 16, 2012

Perhaps he is ready for kindergarten. My daughter's birthday was 2 weeks after the cutoff, but she was totally ready for kindergarten. She was not napping, she was reading, she was as socially mature as a girl that age could be, etc. We ended up moving to another state that had a different cutoff date, but we found out that we could place her in a private school's kindergarten rather than wait the year for public school and then when she finished private school kindergarten she could go right to public school 1st grade. My point is, since you are paying for school (or pre-school) anyway, if he is ready for kindergarten, why not ditch the pre-school with the draconian nap policy and send him to kindergarten? Worst case, he repeats kindergarten at public school next year if he proves to not have been ready yet this year.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:51 PM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

When i was a camp counselor (for very little kids who'd just finished JK, at a day camp), we had kids with wildly different nap needs. We solved the problem by setting up a space divider/screen, and the non-nappers could sit on their cot/mat and do whatever, as long as it was SILENT. (Usually colouring, 'reading' books, or puzzles.) Perhaps a room divider would help?

Alternate suggestion: perhaps he can join the kindergarten class for that two hour period? (Which does seem insanely long to me.)
posted by Kololo at 5:02 PM on October 16, 2012

During nap time at school he will get off his little bed and try to sneak around the room, or if he does stay on his bed he's fidgety and noisy; either way, he disrupts the other kids' naps.

Yeah, this was me during naptime when I was that age. I don't recall being at all interested in naps back then. I like JohnnyGunn's answer.
posted by limeonaire at 5:05 PM on October 16, 2012

I'm late to the party, but I literally just got back from my son's preschool's open house.

He just turned 4; nap time in his class (3 and 4 year olds) is two hours, but the kids who don't sleep (about half of them) are encouraged to bring quiet toys from home to play with, or they can color or draw or read books. The teachers also play stories on audiocassette to give the ones who aren't sleeping something to listen to. The only rule is that they stay on their cots and not bother the kids who are trying to sleep. (Mine apparently likes to travel, which they overlook as long as he stays quiet.)

The next older class (4 and 5 year olds) has a much shorter nap time, I'm not sure exactly how long but the teacher mentioned that the noise from that room when they get up is sometimes distracting for the kids who still have an hour of quiet time left to go.

So the duration of the naptime isn't that surprising to me, but your school's apparent unwillingness to accommodate the childrens' individual needs is something I would find very troubling indeed; I would wonder how much that carries over into other things than naps.
posted by ook at 5:46 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

My son's pre k that was attached to the school ad state nap requirements. Their solutions for the non-nappers (including my son) was tat they had to lay down for 15 minutes and if they didn't fall asleep by then they could do quiet activities. I really think your preschool is out of their minds trying to get a non sleepy 5yo to lay still for two hours.
posted by Requiax at 5:52 PM on October 16, 2012

Yeah, your school is being ridiculous (this coming from someone who is having issues with her own son's school). My son is 3, and there are plenty of kids in his room that don't nap already and he has skipped naps there a couple times as well. They require the kid to "rest" for a bit, but then they can do a quiet activity like read or color I believe. They have to be quiet so as to not disturb other sleeping kids, but they don't make them lie down for 2 hours. 1.5 seems to be the standard nap time in my sons room, but some kids are more and some are less. Calling a parent to take their kid away during nap time (for 2 hours?) is just ridiculous.
posted by katers890 at 6:08 PM on October 16, 2012

But you all are convincing us that the nap requirement is ridiculous and he may be better off at another school if they won't work with us.

Yeah, I think it goes beyond unreasonable and seems ... well, mean. They must acknowledge that your child can't be forced to fall asleep if he's not tired. And if they are trying to make a child that age lie still for 2 hours without sleeping, then, wow, that is just awful of them. This seems like, I dunno, making them all eat the same amount, no matter how hungry, or not, they are. There's got to be a preschool near you that accounts better for individual variance.
posted by palliser at 6:23 PM on October 16, 2012

> We did ask if he could color or read quietly at his little bed and were told no; IIRC, it was because it wouldn't be fair to the other kids.

I don't think there is any power in the world that could have kept my WTF eyebrow from raising incredulously I'd heard that excuse.

How, and to whom is it unfair if your child is reading while other children are sleeping? They're unconscious. Your child isn't doing anything that affects them at all, as long as he doesn't wake them up. Now, based on his fidgety behavior, that they may not really trust him to be capable of being quiet. But giving it a try is waaay less work that chasing him down when he escapes, and if it works, the problem is totally solved.

The only thing that would be unfair to the other kids would be for your child to be an exception -- allowed to color or read quietly -- while other wide-awake children who do not need naps are intimidated into lying still and doing nothing except feigning sleep for two hours. But since the school is so concerned with fairness, this couldn't possibly be the case, right?
posted by desuetude at 11:40 PM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

You should definitely change schools. My daughter's Montessori school does a great job of accommodating children who need naps and those who don't. Any other system makes no sense because it's not in the best interest of the children. Go somewhere that has the best interests of the kids, not reducing costs, as their top priority.
posted by Dansaman at 11:55 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

One other point: I don't think laws that mandate nap time require all kids to nap. They just require that kids who want/need to nap have that opportunity. It's conceivable that some schools may either be misinterpreting such laws or taking advantage of those laws to stipulate naps for everyone in order to keep their own costs down (since presumably less staff are needed if all kids are napping).
posted by Dansaman at 12:00 AM on October 17, 2012

Maybe this is crazy (but it's the way to tackle things with a public school): Could you get his pediatrician to write a note saying that he should not nap more than 30 minutes/one hour, otherwise it adversely affects his sleep at night? It is tough to argue with doctor's orders, though I doubt it would endear you to the staff.
posted by whitewall at 3:59 AM on October 17, 2012

Just to add an anecdote - my daughter is 3 and is in the process of giving up the nap. She goes to preschool 3 days a week and usually does nap there. Their rules are that kids have to be on their nap mats for 45 minutes and if they are still awake after 45 minutes, they can get up and play/read quietly, or go to another room where the kids are awake, as there is a pre-K class there too and I imagine a lot of those kids don't nap. This seems very reasonable to me.

I hope you are able to find a solution that works better for you and your son.
posted by sutel at 4:02 AM on October 17, 2012

Look, I had this same issue with my daughter. Would not nap, they wanted some stupidly long period of naptime. We finally reached a compromise where she could read. Apparently this was the same compromise my own mother reached with my own preschool, when I finally talked to her about it.

If they're saying it's "not fair" for him to be able to color/read, then they must admit that the forced nap itself is not a thing that is good for the children.

I bet this has less to do with the other kids, and more to do with them wanting lunchtime/a break without having overlapping staff.
posted by corb at 5:46 AM on October 17, 2012

Agreeing with everyone else in that two hours is an absurd length of time to expect a young child to do absolutely nothing, especially right after lunch.

I was your kid when I was four, five, and six (the three years my school enforced napping). Actually I went to two schools during that time. The first absolutely refused to budge on the idea that I had to lie down and do nothing for X amount of time (I don't remember how long; probably only half an hour or an hour, but it felt like an eternity), and would not allow me to read quietly, leave the room, join another class, etc. I ended up being expelled for being utterly unable to lie still, and the new school I went to was much more lenient. Depending on who was supervising, I could read, go outside on the playground, or do some private lessons with the teacher on things I had learned before entering school, but that the curriculum had not yet reached.

Is your son's school understaffed? They may be trying to give all the staff a lunch break. If your son is well-behaved and will read quietly, color, etc if allowed to do so, try to negotiate with the teachers. Go to the principal, dean, [enter other higher-up here] if you meet resistance, but do it before that resistance becomes stubborn.

If they still won't budge... Honestly, I'd withdraw him from the school and find somewhere that allows kids to be active when they need to be. It would probably be the best thing for him. I know it was for me.
posted by Urban Winter at 7:35 AM on October 17, 2012

You may want to look into a situation where a stay at home parent watches children in their home. They tend to be much more flexible and individualized.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:08 PM on October 17, 2012

A 2 hour nap is completely nutty. Completely! Like others have suggested, I would try to find a different setting for your son because his needs are absolutely not being met in the current setting.
posted by sucre at 6:12 PM on October 17, 2012

Check out your state regulations for a guideline. Wisconsin says any child under 5 must have a 30 minute rest period. If they are not sleeping after 30 minutes they may get up and do quiet activities so the other children are not disturbed. If your day care policy is not working for you, it may be time to check out other day care centers.
posted by sybarite09 at 6:12 AM on October 18, 2012

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