Nap Time is Learning Time for Preschoolers

Nap time is an essential component of the pre-k curriculum, according to a research study funded by the National Science Foundation. 


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Cognitive researchers Rebecca Spencer of University of Massachusetts Amherst and Tracy Riggins of the University of Maryland found that variations in children’s nap patterns are related to the rapid growth of the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps regulate emotions, learning and memory. 

This is particularly important for preschoolers, since children between the ages of 4 and 6 make huge progress in their ability to remember details and context. Spencer and Riggins found that children in that age group who still need to nap several times a week show less mature activity in the hippocampus and the other areas of the brain to which it connects, such as those associated with critical thinking. These children benefit from 60-90 minute naps, when rapid bursts of electrical activity occur as the brain consolidates what has just been learned into long-term memory. 

As part of their research, Spencer and Riggins asked children at six preschools to play a memory game in the morning, before their normally scheduled naps. After they had successfully completed the game, some children were encouraged to nap, while others were prevented from napping. By the next day, those children who had been kept awake during their normal nap time forgot 12-15 percent more than the students who had napped. For the children who were still “habitual nappers”, sleeping four or more days a week, follow-up experiments showed that missing a nap significantly reduced memory in a variety of areas crucial for early learning, including motor-skill development and emotional regulation.

The need for naps and the process of transitioning from regular nap times is unique to each child.  A sleep study by Marc Weissbluth, a pediatric sleep specialist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, found that at age 4, nearly 60 percent of children still nap at least once per day. That drops to fewer than 1 in 3 daily nappers at age 5, and 1 in 10 at age 6.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 3-5-year-olds get 10 to 13 hours of sleep, including naps, every 24 hours.

Source: Education Week, December 12th, 2018: Nap Time Boosts Learning, Studies Say.

Sleeping to Learn and Learning for Sleep

An innovative program being tested at Head Start programs in New York is helping children get the sleep they need. This short article and video might also be helpful to some parents of children in your program.

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