With the school year quickly approaching (although it will look very different this year), many of you are preparing to send your child to daycare for the first time, or back to daycare after an extended period of time away. For some of you this is super exciting, while others are nervous. And I know one area that’s making some of my current and former families nervous is how their child will sleep at daycare!
First of all, daycare sleep IS and WILL BE different. And there’s really no way around it! The room is no where near total darkness (the lights might even be on!) and there may not be any kind white noise, not to mention there will most likely be other kids around sleeping and/or playing when your child should be sleeping.
- What is the sleep environment like? And is there anything I can do to assist with the sleeping environment? Maybe there’s a crib in the corner that seems a little darker than the rest of the room. Maybe you can keep a portable white noise machine right at daycare. Or maybe you can keep a pack ‘n play and SlumberPod there (in-home daycares are often more flexible with this)!
- Can I bring comfort items for my child to sleep with? If your child sleeps in a sleep sack at home, I strongly encourage you to buy an extra sleep sack to keep at daycare for the week so your child has that extra piece of familiarity and routine to help register that sleep is happening. Similarly, if your child sleeps with a lovie at home (remember, lovies are only safe after 12 months old), consider buying a double and keeping one at daycare for sleep!
- What is your napping schedule? Do you have one? Most daycares have a set napping schedule for older kids (namely on one nap a day), but a much more fluid schedule for those who take multiple naps. If your child takes multiple naps, give your provider a schedule! Maybe that’s your child’s awake windows with a little explanation, or if she’s on a fixed schedule, give them that schedule.
- When do you typically feed kids? This is important for babies, especially. Some daycares will feed babies as they seem hungry. Others purposely feed babies at nap time because it’s often a sure-fire way to get them asleep. If your child is not used to having feedings around sleep, tell them!
- What are your routines and rules around sleep? Do they have time to read a quick book and/or sing a quick song before laying your child down? Do they rock children, feed them to sleep, or lay them down awake? (If your child is an independent sleeper, ask them not to rock or feed your child to sleep!) Are they okay with some crying?
- How do you communicate schedules? Some daycares use apps that track each child’s day, while others write notes (i.e. what they ate, how many ounces of milk they drank, diapers, naps, etc.); I have heard of other daycares that don’t provide any information unless requested. To make sure you can best support your child at home in the evenings, make sure you know when your child slept and for how long, so you know if an early bedtime is in store, or if you should drive around a little extra long to catch a quick car nap before coming home for dinner.
- Is it possible for my child to NOT take a nap?If your child is around the age of 3 and no longer napping, however the rest of her peers take a nap, ask if there’s another room where she can go during that time to stay awake! If not, can you pack a few quiet activities for your child to do while her peers are sleeping? If there’s no choice but to nap, or if your child falls asleep anyway, ask them to wake her after 30-45 minutes so it doesn’t affect bedtime too much!
- If my child takes a short nap, are you able to wait a few minutes before getting her up? Short naps are a very common struggle with daycare sleep, and it’s understandable! It’s not super dark and there may be a lot of background noise going on, and sometimes there’s not a whole lot that can be done to lengthen those naps. However, if your child has been napping for less than an hour, ask your provider if they’re okay waiting a few minutes before interacting with or getting your child after a short nap, to see if there’s any chance she will slip into another sleep cycle.
If bringing in a portable white machine and an extra sleep sack stresses you out, that’s okay! Babies and young children are much more flexible than we like to give them credit for. It usually takes about one month for kids to transition to sleeping at daycare, and even then it may not be the same as it is at home, and that’s okay! Kids also tend to have a “herd mentality” at daycare; although there’s no way your little one would stay in an open bed at your house, she naps on a little cot at daycare without a problem because that’s what everyone else is doing. It will all be okay!
At this point you may be thinking, “Um, Lauren, who am I to be asking all of these questions or making any requests? They’re the experts!” While your childcare providers are absolutely experts in child development and teaching, they’re not explicitly trained in baby and child sleep, so JUST ASK. So in all of this, I want you to remember that YOU ARE YOUR CHILD’S ADVOCATE! Your childcare providers are wonderful, love the kids they’re caring for, and absolutely want what’s best for everybody. It’s okay to share with them how you’ve worked on your child’s sleep and to ask that they help you continue that on, as much as it works with their structures, routines, and guidelines.