Productive Free Time (aka: Older Kids’ “Naptime”)

Productive Free Time (aka Older Kids' Naptime) //

Last time, we talked about the importance of naps.

img_5937But 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.)


img_5721As 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.”


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.

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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.

img_3363This 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.



  • Do you do something similar?
  • What do your older children do while your younger children are napping?


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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast ( I write and wrangle kids.

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15 Responses

  1. Erin says:

    We do something very similar. We have always had the “quiet hour” which meant naps for those still taking them and book time for older kids. Even now that none of my kids take naps and are all school age, we still have quiet hour. This falls after lunch and a little “recess” time (We usually have a couple hours of school in the morning, then lunch/recess, then quiet hour, then a couple more hours of school.) They usually have to stay in their rooms (unless they have asked for a specific reason – my daughter likes to use YouTube to make crafts during this time and we don’t allow computers in the bedroom). This is also required reading time (at least 15 minutes during quiet hour). Two of my kids love to read for pleasure. Two don’t. So I make them keep a reading log. They each have a “goal minutes” for the month and if they read that much they get a small prize at the end of the month. My two avid readers have no problem reaching their goal as they read all throughout the day, but this helps my reluctant readers. The rest of the quiet hour is usually spent on Legos or something similar for the boys and crafts or art for the girl. The best part of the quiet hour is that I get an hour of quiet. Sometimes I take a shower if I didn’t get up early that day, sometimes I read a book, sometimes I prep dinner or prep school work. Sometimes I lie in my bed and do nothing. :-)

  2. Katie says:

    I have triplets who are 5 years old, and it’s only been in the last few months that they’ve ceased needing daily naps. I’ve found since then that it was necessary to separate them each afternoon during their brother’s nap time, as they’re not yet mature enough to do something quietly together. But they love to read and draw and work puzzles, and those are all approved activities for the afternoon.

  3. Britt says:

    We have “quiet time” at our house too so that the little ones can still nap in peace (and an introverted mama of many can get some mental space). Do you have any kind of “Don’t interrupt me” rule? I feel like I need that time to regroup mentally, but my extroverts look for every opportunity to come ask me or show me things during quiet time. Is it selfish to ask them not to pepper me with questions or requests during that time? I’m tucking away the idea of productive free time for when my older ones get a little older and can do more independently.

    • Jess Connell says:

      No I don’t think that’s selfish. I *do* think younger children are going to need more reminders… and that is probably going to look more like 2-4 months of training period where they learn to respect your space and not bother you. Once they learn that, it can be more reasonable to expect it… but at first, you will need to train for it.

      So, it takes work on the front end, to get the enjoyment of quiet on the backend, once they’re trained.

  4. Jess Connell says:

    Emily asked:
    “Thanks – this is so helpful!! With my 4.5 y/o not napping and our 3 y/olds only napping inconsistently, I feel like I’m totally worn down by 5:00. I used to have a really “strict” rest time for my oldest, but have loosened up quite a bit in the last 6 months (which I now regret!). Questions: how should I handle a very extroverted child who can barely resist talking to me (questions, potty needs, snack requests, anything he can muster up)? I don’t want him to feel swept under the rug, but I can also get really irritated when I just need some silence to regroup and the interruptions never stop. How do you decide what are valid interruptions and how do you explain that to your little ones? Also, would you recommend that if someone is trying to start this type of thing all over again, you just explain it and then set a timer / build up to it – or just go for an hour the first time? So many follow up questions ? but we are right in the throws of this right now!!!”

    Here’s my answer:

    I would just restart and go fully for it. Tell him: go potty, get a water, and go sit for an hour. A 4-year-old can totally do that. But if you feel like you need to set a timer and amp it up daily, that works too.

    I’m actually convinced that our very extroverted children are the ones who MOST need to learn this. They need to learn to be considerate of others and give others space and quiet to just BE without constantly talking-talking-talking noise-noise-noise. Later, this will bless their professors, bosses, wives, children, co-workers, etc.

    I think you’re irritated when he talks-talks-talks cause you’re ignoring your mommy radar (remember that?) :) —->

    But I would, initially, get them set up with having gone potty, and already having a water nearby, and then they can interrupt for NOTHING. Later, once they’ve done this well, and understand the concept of being quiet and NOT being a constant talking, needing, etc., little person, then they can begin to ask the occasional (valid) question… but for us, training them for self-control comes first… later they learn to discern what is actually appropriate for asking, etc. Same idea for staying in bed at night.

    With our oldest (a crazy strong extrovert), at first, I would have him go potty, and get a drink, and then set him up with “bags of books” (cloth bags filled with dozens of interesting books like this: (afflink) (Those “Giant Book of…” are awesome & soooooo interesting!) and tell him he had to read for an hour. Then I would have him either help me with things, or he could play quietly, etc. Eventually, once he was actually reading, it stretched out to nearly 2 hours of reading.

    Now, we’ve opened it up to be more options, but it started out with just one little extroverted boy, sitting on the couch, “reading” (looking at pictures and quietly telling himself about them) for an hour. With no interruptions or talking. :) They really can do it! And it is for their good AND your sanity. :)

  5. Jess Connell says:

    Carolina asked:
    “This is amazing. We do quiet hour but it never turns out that quiet, because I just let the older 2 who don’t nap play and it usually descends into madness. Just one question, will your 4-6 year olds just look at books for the whole 2 hours???”

    Here’s my answer:

    No, typically, it’s about 60-90 minutes, with me nearby. That lasts for anywhere from 4-12 months, depending on how well they do. I really want to see them develop self-control and an awareness of what the time is for– rest and quiet. Once they accept and live by that, then I am willing to open up their options.

    For kids who “descend into madness” (it has happened here too, many times!), they lose their opportunity to play and are either (1) given chores to do, or (2) told to grab a book/books and plant themselves on the couch for the rest of the afternoon.

  6. Brandy says:

    How much of that time do you use to connect with your older kids about school? I have 7 kids pretty much the same ages as yours and I love to have some focused time to connect with my bigger kids while the littles are resting, but I do much better if I have some time alone in the afternoon too.

    • Jess Connell says:

      I try to be really discerning about how I use that time. If I need the quiet/alone time, I use it (without apology and without guilt) to rest, recharge, get some quiet, have a bath, do some reading, etc. When I’m feeling particularly energetic and have extra to give, that is a timeslot I offer to ladies at church, (when they have issues to discuss, or want some counseling/discipleship/time together) that they can come by between 2-5.

      But. Sometimes I use it as a time of connecting with my kids. From time to time we’ll play a game. Or (like in the top picture), do some outside work together. Or snuggle side-by-side while we independently read. Or cook something together.

      I only do that when I can give that time freely (without complaining in my heart). If I feel like I need a nap, or just need some quiet, I just say so, and I see to my own needs the same way I see to a baby’s need for a nap or a student’s need for a math lesson. One day their husband or wife may feel the need for some quiet or downtime… and that’s OK. It’s OK for us to be human and weak. Jesus pulled away by himself to lonely places, fairly often, for naps, for prayer, for quiet time.

      So I don’t use this time primarily as a connecting time. I use it as a recharging time, for EVERYONE (including me!). Our mornings are spent together. Our lunches are spent together. Our evenings are mostly spent as a family.

      For me to have an afternoon, most weekdays, to myself (or to use how I please) is not an act of selfishness, and is not an act of putting them off… it is actually an act of self-stewardship and refueling so that I can go the distance and be the mom they need for the long-haul. It is acknowledging that I am weak and needy and not able to fill every empty spot or meet every desire they have.

      I think it’s good for all of us when I take time to soberly see myself as a person with valid needs.

  7. Diana says:

    Jess, this is an awesome article. Thank you! I have bookmarked it to re-read when I need it.

    We currently do two hours of quiet time – first hour is rest for everyone, second hour is continued rest for the littles and school time for myself and the older children. My main challenge is our 4yo, who continually bounces out of his room wanting to come out early. I need to work on this.

    Thanks for this two-part series – it was very encouraging! Sometimes it’s discouraging when one is surrounded by two-children families who dispose of nap time as quickly as they can so that they can stay busy all day long. I can’t do that and stay sane longer than 24 hours! It’s nice to hear of other families who maintain a quiet time successfully.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Great, I’m glad it was helpful.

      You’re right that it’s a completely different ballgame when you keep having children, from when you are only in each season (diapers, naps, preschool, elementary, middle, high school) for a few years at most. It definitely takes a purposeful approach to making sure everyone gets what they needs, when you’ve got babies all the way to high schoolers.

  8. Jenn says:

    This article was a big help this week. Our kids are starting to “age out” of naps and just started sharing a room so the afternoons were getting crazy. I appreciated your encouragement that quiet time is something you have to train for and that starting with 1 thing (reading books) is helpful for teaching self control. I tried it yesterday and today and the afternoons have been so much more pleasant. Thanks for your practical ideas and examples.

  1. November 30, 2016

    […] Productive Free Time (aka, Older Kids’ Naptime)— As our children outgrow nap time, afternoons become a time of quiet reading, research, playing learning games, journaling, painting/artwork, building quietly with Legos, or going for a walk. We call it “productive free time.” Here’s how it works. […]

  2. March 17, 2017

    […] a big-picture strategy like productive free time and decide how to implement […]

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