It’s exhausting being a toddler. There’s a whole world of things to explore and learn, and only so many hours in which to do it. Ask any mom and she’ll tell you: a tired toddler is a cranky toddler. Preschool teachers will agree, and add that tired toddlers are easily frustrated and have a hard time in the classroom. More than that, it’s not just their behavior that suffers — they don’t learn as well.
Research from the University of Colorado at Boulder reveals just how important rest is for the emotional well-being of toddlers and, interestingly, that those naps impact the ability of a toddler to learn.
Those children in the study who missed their midday naps showed less positive responses to problems, and increased frustration. Even more interesting, those children who had naps were more likely to express confusion when they encountered a problem they couldn’t sort out themselves – not a bad thing – as it shows that they recognized that they needed help and would seek out help from others to solve a given problem.
In other words, those little ones who napped were more likely to approach problems in a positive way, and were, therefore, more likely to find solutions to those problems. They didn’t only show increased capacity to learn, but their attitude about learning was notably better than that of their sleepy counterparts.
Naptime is Quality Time
I’ve spoken with a number of teachers of very young children, and the consensus is that most children between the ages of 1-3 in a preschool setting take naps after lunch. Of those parents whose children of the same age still napped at home, many also took naps, although generally later in the day.
Melissa Conway sees the benefit of daytime naps during preschool hours for very young children. “I work daily with 1-2 and 3-4 year olds at a daycare. Naptime is from roughly noon until 2 p.m. every day. Some of the children take a little longer to get to sleep, but they all are lying down during this time and very rarely do we have one that stays awake. It makes a huge difference at this age, especially in a daycare setting.”
Where it concerns problem solving skills, Conway notices a marked difference between those children who have had naps and those who haven’t. “With the younger kids, once they are tired, it is just over as far as any learning goes.”
When Schedules Collide
The truth of the matter is that, while all children possess different internal clocks, and families have their own schedules, the rules often change once toddlers are in a school environment. Young children who may never have needed a nap during the day may have difficulty solving problems and dealing with structure and routine. They may be unable to deal with the stimulation they encounter in a classroom environment. The sights, sounds, the rules and surroundings are so very different from those at home, very young children may benefit from having a nap during the day.
Their brains are batteries, and naptime allows them to recharge.