Naptime – so much more than we thought

Naptime is an almost mystical part of kindergarten life. It is characterised many complex routines, and it involves far more than just sleep.



Lunch is over, and the youngest children in the toddlers’ unit called “Mosquitoes” are about to rest. They take out their sleeping mats, blankets and soft toys.

When many children are going to nap in the same room, finding their places can be a bit chaotic. However, once everyone finally falls asleep, the silence is fascinating.

‘Everyone knows what naptime is, but no one talks about it.’


What actually happens at naptime? How is it possible to get so many children to fall asleep in the same room, when there is so much going on? Many parents have no doubt wondered about this. Given that it takes nothing short of a miracle to get little Anna to nap at home, in a quiet room, how can she possibly fall asleep when she is surrounded by 20 other children?

Researcher Sofia Grunditz was curious about this. Armed with her camcorder and watchful eyes, she visited the toddlers’ unit of a very ordinary preschool in Sweden.

‘I wanted to study why naptime is taken for granted. Everyone knows what naptime is, but no one ever talks about it.

‘There were no previous studies about what takes place in the middle of the day in preschool, even though naptime accounts for a large part of the preschool day for the youngest children,’ says the researcher.


By holding her camcorder at child level, about 80 cm from the floor, Grunditz discovered many things that she had never noticed when working in a preschool, for example, the level of sophistication involved in cooperation between children and adults.

In the toddlers’ unit (Mosquitoes), the initiative for naptime is generally taken by the children or they join in when somebody else suggests it. This is not something the adults decide on their own. The adults depend on the little ones helping each other for this to work.

Naptime consists of a myriad of little routines. The researcher found it fascinating to see that even the tiniest tots, those who were no more than 18 months old and who had only been in preschool for a couple weeks, knew exactly what they were supposed to do at naptime.

‘It was important to them to show that they knew what was going to happen, and where their place was.

‘Even though naptime is a group activity, each child has its own individual nap routines and favourite cuddly toy or the like. Having downtime allows them to carve out a private space, at the same time as being part of a group’, explains Grunditz.


Naptime promotes a culture of friendship. Certain children always sleep beside each other. “Nobody is allowed to take my friend’s place, because we plan to lie here and play together before we fall asleep” seems to be an unspoken rule among the tiny tots.

The children have a life on their sleeping mats, where they can make their own decisions. They lie there, whispering to each other and playing a little while they wait. First, they all wait for the adult to come over and tuck their blankets around them snugly, then they wait to get tired enough to fall asleep.

‘It is positive that they can use this waiting time for their own, physically close, private time with other children. This culture of friendship largely revolves around controlling their own lives’, elaborates the researcher.


When Grunditz was ready to start analysing her data from the preschool, she was in for a surprise.

‘As I sat in the room filming them, it seemed very quiet there. But when I listened to the recordings I had made, I realised that it was actually rather noisy in the room.

‘Yet the children did not seem disturbed by the noise. Everyone fell asleep eventually.

‘Even if it took quite some time before everyone slept, all the children had a common goal: to sleep.

‘Although falling asleep is the goal, naptime is far more than that’, remarks the researcher. ‘It also involves taking part in the preschool’s communal actions. The children learn social interaction with others, how to wait their turn, what is allowed and what is not allowed, and how to find their very own place in the group.

‘What the toddlers learn at naptime is a skill that will often come in handy in many different situations later in life’, she adds.