Days and Preschool Days, Too:
A treasury of anecdotes culled from my work
and play as a preschool worker and an elementary school after- school
NAP TIME: "THE SANDMAN COMETH"
At 1 pm a bell rings
on the preschool play yard. With all the whooping and cheering that
follows, you'd think you were witnessing some major planetary celebration.
In fact, the bell merely signals Napper and Rester Time, and surprisingly
sophisticated juvenile senses of humor, using extreme exaggeration for
sheer dramatic effect, are responsible for the din.
Room 5, a double-sized room, overflows
with cots, each one customized with an unique combination of blankets,
pillows, sheets, quilts, sleeping bags, dolls, stuffed animals, "binkies",
and here and there, a bottle, all provided by a child's loving family.
These accoutrements combine to create an atmosphere as quieting as it
The idea is for each child to feel safe,
secure, and among friends: Tinker Bell, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh,
or the whole family might be emblazoned on a blanket. A favorite doll
or stuffed animal lies right beside the pillow, convenient for hugging.
One little girl's cot has so many stuffed friends, one wonders where
she herself is going to fit!
At first, commotion prevails in the room.
Children sit on their beds and remove their shoes or wait till a teacher
who can help them happens by. Some go to get a last-minute glass of
water or use the potty. Settling down happens slowly.
Within five or ten minutes, everyone
is in place. It's then that the Battle begins: for while many, mostly
younger, children drift right off, grateful for rest after a strenuous
morning, there remain a cohort of boys and girls who would rather do
anything than slumber through an hour and a half of daylight! These
youngsters fight sleep with all the considerable power at their disposal.
Some of the habitually resistant children
have been strategically placed in corners, along the walls, or even,
in one or two cases, behind pieces of furniture. Eager little nappers
can't see them there and so they don't influence the general populace
to join them in wakefulness.
As most children fall asleep, binky or
bottle in mouth, animal or, in one case, a "silky", a favorite piece
of cloth, tightly held, some of our reluctant nappers stand on their
cots and bounce. Others begin a never-ending process of fluffing their
sheets and blankets in the air to straighten them.
One boy likes to disappear completely
inside his bright red sleeping bag and zip it from the inside. Then
he slithers and squirms, an amorphous, non-human-looking shape. Sometimes
he wriggles, horizontal and worm-like or spilling off the cot. Occasionally
stands up like someone-or-thing without a head.
Because such a circus will distract other
children, this boy often draws a teacher to him. If the four or five
nap room teachers are already occupied, however, our living sleeping
bag will go on twisting and rolling till someone finally does get free,
or until the boy tires of the spectacle and simply goes limp inside
The teachers are likely to already be
busy. In one corner, separated from the rest of the room by an overturned,
empty bookshelf, is the legendary Hal Brown. This audacious 3 year-old
has been known to flaunt himself by singing "Jingle Bells" while jumping
high enough on his cot for everyone in the room to see!
Other teachers are busy with very small
children who are still getting acclimated to school and need a companion
to feel secure enough to let go into slumber. The arsenal of the pro-sleep
forces, which might be referred to as "The Sandman Brigade", includes
the soft, soothing beddings, a tape of gentle music that's always playing
in the background, and our little "army" of four or five teachers
affectionately rubbing backs or heads in a gentle, rhythmic way.
The outcome of the mood in Room 5 hangs
in the balance for fifteen or twenty minutes. Gradually, more borderline
children succumb to the tiredness they've been resisting. Teachers are
freed to plug the leaks that remain in the room's sleep-proofing.
Even the most resistant child is likely
to sooner or later surrender all defenses and succumb to deep slumber
in response to an affectionate alternation of rubbing and patting between
the shoulder blades. Now and then, though, "benign neglect" is the best
policy for a small child needing to assert independence, who may play
or sit on a cot until there is simply nothing else to do but give in
to a nap.
By the time forty-five minutes have passed,
the room is like a nursery. One or two children may still lie quietly
awake, alone or with a teacher trying to help them relax. After an hour,
they are allowed to read or to be escorted to the Rester room where
there are stories and play. On a good day, everyone is fast asleep.
Several of the teachers, lying where they had helped their last client,
also take advantage of a few minutes rest, which indeed are hard to
resist in a room so filled with sleep.
Then, of course, teachers have to reawaken
all the slumbering babes they labored to hard to quiet down. At 2:30,
the whole room goes into Reverse! The lights go on, lively, bouncy music
replaces the dreamy stuff, and children are called, wooed, and finally,
gently shaken, if necessary, back into wakefulness, with lots of hugs,
The nap room is a sweet and intimate
place. Sitting on a small chair at the end of a day there, I can't help
but feel that as long as such innocents as these can rest so surrounded
by love, security and safety, there is yet hope for our world.
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