Possibly one of the biggest problems with having a mixed age group of children in a small space is nap/quiet time. Every day after lunch the younger children have a nap. School-age children and older preschoolers who do not nap have quiet time. The emphasis during this time is on ‘quiet‘ – being respectful of those who are trying to sleep in the adjacent room. When the older children are off school I arrange the dining room like this;
There is space for all the school-age children to do crafts, sit and read books, or play with quiet toys from one of the bins. There are blankets on the dividers to offer a little sound insulation but the children are still encouraged to whisper as they talk amongst themselves. These dividers are the only solid barrier between the nappers and the non-nappers.
Older preschoolers are usually first introduced to quiet time by shortening their nap time. They have a brief quiet reading time while I get the little ones to sleep and then they also have a short nap so (hopefully) everyone wakes up at about the same time. When there are no school-age children present I use the dividers to create a smaller quiet time area with just enough room for one or two older preschoolers;
At first reading books is the only activity choice available. Gradually their quiet time is lengthened and other activity choices such as the felt board may be added. Eventually their nap is completely eliminated and they are capable of independently engaging in quiet time activities for the entire time the little ones sleep.
Occasionally I have one or two toddlers who wake early. Now ‘quiet’ is not something the toddlers do well, at least not often. So, for this reason there are two activities that I allow only for those times when a toddler wakes early but the others still need to sleep longer. One toddler quiet time activity is puzzles;
I know some of you are now wondering why I would limit such a fantastic activity like puzzles to such a short, occasional period of time. Honestly, there are so many other activities that we like to do when everyone is awake that we don’t miss doing puzzles. In fact, even with only a few short opportunities to work on puzzle skills some of my two-year-olds have already mastered the easy puzzles and now need more challenging ones;
Although some toddlers find stickers to be a tedious, often frustrating activity there are others that will peel and stick stickers for hours on end. So, even though there are always some miscellaneous stickers in amongst the craft supplies I have a large secret stash of ‘just for quiet time’ stickers too. You never know when I might need a toddler to be quiet for just a little bit longer before nap time is over.