The Joys of Naptime

by SarahRook

Nap time. The words have such an implication:  children, asleep, quiet and calm.

Does it actually work out like that?  Not so much.  I am teaching little ones – the threes, the fours, and the fives.  I know that we learned about child development in Intro Ed, in Dev Psych, in various bits and pieces in other education and psychology classes.  What those classes didn’t quite prepare me for was the huge gap in developmental levels, just in these two years.  When I put up my birthday board, I lined it up by age so that I could see where my children actually were.  I was amazed at the variety:  I had young threes and old fives and everything in between. 

It was interesting:  the youngest students, my threes, were the ones that I had to talk to every single moment about paying attention, and not hitting the other students in the class, and which times were okay to have toys from home out, and to stop messing with their neighbors while we were reading a story.  The six of them were always “acting out,” always in trouble.  The fours were all just about in the same level.  There were one or two who knew much more than I expected them to, and one or two who knew much less than I expected them to, but overall they were right about in the middle.  The fives wanted to talk.  All the time.  They were pretty good academically, and knew it.

Given that set of characters, throw me, a novice teacher, into the room with 21 of them.  During most of the day, I have a wonderful assistant.  (Both wonderful in that she’s a lovely person, and that she’s been with these children all summer long, and so they listen to her.)  She and I tried to cater to each student, figure out a way to help them to play nicely and also start to get some of the academic skills they’ll need.  Holding pencils, using scissors, coloring.

However, at nap time, both I and my assistant get a break for lunch, and we cover for each other.  With a single adult in the classroom, things tend to get a bit crazy.  They don’t have to go to sleep.  Some have parents who weaned them off of nap time several years ago.  We just ask that they are quiet.  They may have a book, a stuffed animal, a blanket and a pillow.  Some look at pictures and tell themselves stories, some play with their shoelaces, and some go right to sleep.  However.

Some days it is the boys.  One refuses to lay down unless a teacher is sitting in a chair next to him.  One pulls small toys off the shelves and throws them at the others.  One calls another a “bit,” meaning something a bit stronger but unable to properly pronounce the “tch” at the end of the word.  This sets off three or four others, each wanting to tattle:  “Ooooooh, Miss Allison, Julian said this!”  One gets up to chase another one, and they sprint around the classroom, doing laps until I catch them, redeposit them on their cots, and glower at them.  The rest of the class watches, and laughs, and the effort to quiet down the whole class kills the notion of nap time being calm.

Some days, however, the boys curl up on their cots and go right to sleep.  Those days, it is the girls.  Now, my girls certainly have ‘sugar and spice’ enough, but sometimes the ‘everything nice’ is not easily accessed.  Take Jade, for instance.  She’s bright, but uses her intelligence to antagonize.  She and two of my other girls get into whispered (and spoken, and sometimes yelled) arguments during nap time, the key point usually being “so-and-so’s a baby.”  So-and-so gets angry, retaliates in kind, and it escalates.   Sometimes it escalates to cursing out the other student.  Sometimes to stealing their shoes and throwing them in the toilet.

As the new teacher, the young teacher, the teacher who the class saw as unthreatening and nice and a bit of a pushover, this got problematic.  Management is one of those things that I am continually working on, but I would much prefer to stick to academics and not have to waste time on it.  I watched how my assistant dealt with the class during nap time, tried to see how the other teachers at my center dealt with it:  there’s a lot of bribery, but more threatening.  I struggle with both.

I don’t want to lie to my students.  Ever.  So I’m not going to tell them that they don’t get snack if they don’t take a nap – because it’s not true.  I will call their parents; that I can tell them.  I will move their cot away from other distracting people, I will take their blankets or books or pillows or stuffed animals until they can lie still.  I will write a note home.  I will bribe the class as a whole (pizza party, yay!) but not any individual.  It felt like I was holding a big stick but a small carrot, and it was frustrating.  As difficult as the rest of my day could be, nap time was the most exhausting part.

We’ve recently been able to move the threes to another room during nap time and some of the rest of the day, given the addition of a new teacher.  Things have been running smoother for us, as the developmental chasm can be breached between the 4s and 5s in ways that they could not between all three ages.  We’ve been doing more small group work, now that we don’t have to chase the kids all over the room.  Nap time, in both rooms, is getting calmer.  There’s still talking, there are still minor altercations, but sometimes, you can hear nothing but the sound of heavy breathing in my classroom.

(It is a thing of beauty.)

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4 Comments to “The Joys of Naptime”

  1. Hi Allison! I liked your from-the-trenches post. In my own limited teaching experience, classroom management or getting the students to focus on learning or whatever you want to call it has been of the hardest but most fascinating challenges. A couple of questions, which maybe you’ll get at in future posts: you mentioned that you try to get your students to “play nicely.” What does “playing nicely” look like? Also, you said that you prefer to avoid classroom management and “stick to academics.” Does this mean academics are the main type of activity for your students? What about play? What do you mean by academics?

  2. Ben – These are a couple of things that I’d like to examine in a later post – but in general “playing nicely” means that nobody ends up crying, and if someone does make someone else cry, they apologize to that person.

    Play = learning, at these ages. We do some sit-down work, but a lot of our days are spent playing. I think classroom management is hard, as I dislike saying “no” a million times a day – I want my students to be able to play, to learn, to explore and learn. I want to say “yes” as many times a day as I say “no” currently.

    (Does that help?)

  3. Allison – It is wonderful to hear your voice again talking about teaching! Not surprisingly, you are already deeply thoughtful about individuals, groups, and the larger class – I really appreciated your reflections. We didn’t read anything by Vivian Paley in Curriculum and Methods, but your thoughts here make me think of her writing- maybe in particular her book, You can’t say you can’t play. Not that you probably have time to read, but maybe over winter break?! Thanks for blogging so I can see what you are up to. Lisa

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