Productive Free Time (aka: Older Kids’ “Naptime”)
Last time, we talked about the importance of naps.
But at some point (which, as I mentioned, with our own children typically happens around four years of age), your child will pass the stage for daily naps. Occasional naps may still be needed, but this child has mastered her own attitudes and isn’t crying out (literally) for naps each day. This child is able to control himself, and obey consistently, without tantrums, until bedtime.
So when a child reaches the age where they no longer take naps each afternoon, that child still can have a time of quiet rest and mental recharging.
For us, what that typically FIRST looks like is quietly hanging out with a huge stack of books. For the child who is learning to be quiet and content in the afternoon withOUT a nap, I’ll find a spot somewhere in the house (sometimes on our bed, sometimes on the couch, sometimes at the table on the balcony, sometimes in a cozy corner), and he will read quietly for at least an hour. (Yes, this means “look at books” because our kids don’t yet read at age 4/5.)
As the child develops a pattern of consistent awake rest and quiet time, I’ll sometimes open up that daily time to include quiet toys (by himself), coloring, or drawing in a notebook. In my experience, it seems that a child of this age needs (at least) several months of learning to discipline himself in this way, before having his options open up to include more alternatives for how to use this time.
This initial training period *does* take work on my part, but yields a “harvest of peace” because the child learns that we really do STAY quiet and consider others (the little ones & mama & introverts who need mid-day quiet rest) as more important than ourselves during these quiet afternoon hours.
The point is that naptime is still a time of rest… a quiet, peaceful couple of hours for everyone in the middle of each day. (In our home this happens from 2-5.)
EXPAND THIS PRINCIPLE AS THE CHILDREN GROW
As our children grow older, naptime becomes a time of quiet reading, research, playing learning games, journaling, painting/artwork, gardening, caring for animals, building quietly with Legos , or going for a walk.
We call it “productive free time.”
PRODUCTIVE FREE TIME
They’re “free” to choose what they want to do, but it has to be productive. (I adapted the idea/structure from this book.)
The basic rules?
- Stay quiet
- No electronics
- Only productive, not destructive
- Clean up any messes you make, immediately
- Read for learning, not fiction/silly books
- Child is free to choose their own activity (from a pre-approved list), as long as they don’t complain. (If they complain, it becomes mom’s choice how they spend the afternoon… usually starting with some chores, then transitioning to reading or some other activity picked by mom.)
As they approach adulthood, this transitions to a time of purposeful work– working on a joint project with dad, personal research in areas of interest, cooking, building something in the garage or backyard, baking, growing in a skill, doing chores, home maintenance, or wrapping up any remaining schoolwork.
For the homeschooling family, continuing the quiet time reinforces naps for the little ones (if there are any) and allows older children to accomplish the heavier “brainwork” of school, or gives them some mental “down time” after a busy morning.
This allows mom to simply enjoy 2-3 hours of quiet time to use how she pleases. For the pregnant or postpartum mom, this principle gives HER the opportunity to nap mid-day if she needs it, as her children will all be in the habit of regular rest for those two to three hours each day.
In our home, we have Productive Free Time from 2-5pm every school day. Our family has benefitted greatly from embracing not only non-optional nap time for our little people, but also afternoons of “productive free time” for our older children.
Whatever the myriad ways it could play out in varying families, building a habit of a daily rest time into your family life could be a real blessing, for you and your children.
IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE:
- Do you do something similar?
- What do your older children do while your younger children are napping?
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