From Nap time to Quiet Time-How to Help Your 3 Year Old Rest Independently


Your daycare child used to nap, now they don’t need a nap but they do need some sort of rest.  What is a caregiver to do? Try establishing a quiet time when they play independently.  This will allow their bodies and minds to get the rest they need to make it through the afternoon happy and balanced.  Easier said then done, right?

Three year olds who aren’t used to playing independently at quiet time usually last about…….3 minutes!  It’s a challenge keeping a preschooler quiet when you have younger children in the house who are sleeping.  Plus, wouldn’t it be nice if YOU were able to have a few minutes to re-charge your batteries in the middle of the day?

A quick side note about an obvious easy solution. Why don’t we just turn on the TV or give them a hand held device? The market is flooded with apps and games for toddlers and preschoolers.  Yet, experts recommend limiting screen time as much as possible for young children.  I believe the reason children today have trouble playing independently is because we don’t give them a chance to discover solitary play, we just plug them in.  They know how to sit back and be entertained but do they know how to really ‘play’? Generations of children played before iPads were invented, this IS possible.

Most three year olds have the ability to rest for an hour quietly.  It will take some work on your part, lots of guidance, and a mountain of patience but in a few months quiet time will be an established part of the day.

For now, let’s focus on helping a preschooler play independently while their body rests.  When you introduce rest time be clear in your expectations.  Tell them they need to keep their bodies in a designed space.  Make the physical boundaries very obvious.  For example, we have an area rug where one of the children plays at rest time.  The area rug is big enough they can move around and play their imaginative games without encouraging running or jumping.

Will your three year old stay in a designated area without direct supervision? Consider reading my post ‘Behaviour Management- An Inspiring Idea’ if this might be an issue.  Let’s remember they have only been on the planet for three years, so they might need to test the boundaries of this new routine.  Be consistent, use few words to direct them back when they leave their quiet time spot, “It’s quiet time, please stay on the area rug”. The first week or so will require your mountain of patience.  You can do it! It will be worth it in the end.

Keep quiet time to 15 minutes at the beginning. Wait until they have ‘settled’ into a game and then as the game is ending, announce that quiet time is over.  You want them to experience lots of success at first.  They need to know they can amuse themselves.  Eventually you can draw quiet time out to an hour once they get used to solitary imaginative play.  Extend quiet time slowly by 5 or 10 minutes until you reach an hour.

You will need to be close by to monitor (and redirect them back to their quiet spot) during the first few weeks.  Be close enough to hear and peek in at them but not right beside them.  We want them to discover they have great ideas and they can create fantasy games in their own safe world at quiet time.

Sometimes a timer or restful music can help distract a child from thinking about the length of time they need to rest. Your goal is to get the child to focus on playing instead of waiting for quiet time to end. Using some captivating toys will help you establish quiet time as a positive experience.

What are the child’s favourite types of toys or activities? Here are some suggestions that work well for quiet play.

-building with lego or blocks

-reading (looking) at books

-colouring and drawing

-small vehicles


-small play sets  (pirate ship with pirates, dentist office with people, farm set with animals, etc)

-beads, lacing cards

-playing cards

-marble runs

-puzzles and games

Once you have identified a type of toy the child enjoys, put it away and bring it out only at quiet time.  This favoured toy will help you establish the new quiet time routine.  The child will look forward to playing with the toy at quiet time. Make sure you put it away when quiet time is over.  This will keep the toy fresh for tomorrow.  You won’t need to always provide a favourite activity but it will help you in the beginning when you introduce quiet time as an enjoyable solitary activity rather than a punishment.

Three year olds who are new to playing independently will benefit from you ‘setting the stage’ for their games.  Pull out a few pieces of fabric you have around the house.  Maybe an old table cloth or some old shirts.  Set up a little landscape for your daycare child’s toys.  This will help fuel their imagination. Consider adding a few levels to the landscape by placing books or blocks under the fabric.

Sometimes children need you to show them how to set up an imaginary game. Here is a tree I made using a wet felting technique.  I used some finger puppets to tell a story about the animals getting ready for winter.  In the story, I demonstrated how the animals hid in some  flaps and pouches in the felted tree.

At quiet time, I let one of the children play with the tree and finger puppets. They acted out the story again and then extended it with their own ideas.  You could do the same using fabric and puppets or toys you have on hand.

Hopefully some of these ideas sparked your imagination and helped you think of a great way to engage your preschooler in quiet independent play at rest time. May a peaceful quiet time be right around the corner for you and your daycare children.





  1. I’ve had a lot of success transitioning 3 year olds to quiet time using pop-up beach tents. Based on the same principles in your post, these tents help define the space, provide some seclusion (although the sides are netting), and provide a sense of freedom to move. The children have books and a choice of quiet toys to take into the tent with them. The tent sets the limits well and I don’t close the door so they have the freedom to use the bathroom etc.
    Best of all, the tents fold easily and store in a closet during playtime.

    • HowToDaycare says

      Thanks for the great idea Carol! This is a wonderful suggestion for many providers who are low on extra storage and the nap space is clearly defined while being very cosy.