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Unlocking the power of sleep: The importance of adequate rest in young children

It can be easy to overlook the significance of rest in a child’s wellbeing.

Children play together on a climbing wall

Most days, it seems that babies, toddlers and preschool-aged children have an unlimited amount of energy and curiosity. The arrival of summer brings forth a world of adventures and opportunities, especially for Head Start students. Yet, it is imperative that educators, parents and guardians recognize that adequate rest plays a vital role in each child’s physical, mental and emotional development.

“Sleep is an essential component of a child’s growth and development,” Brittney Martin, Step Forward Head Start’s Health Coordinator, said. “It is during sleep that a child’s body and brain recharges, repairs and integrates the information gathered throughout the day.”

Summer often brings a shift in routines. Families take advantage of time off from school, taking trips, gathering with family, and staying outside longer into the evening. While it is natural for schedules to fluctuate, Step Forward’s Head Start Health Coordinator reminds families of the importance to incorporate restful periods into each child’s routine, regardless of age.

“You can embrace the spontaneity of the season while still maintaining a balance between activity and rest. Adapt your child’s sleep schedule to accommodate to special events, late nights or travel, ensuring they still receive the adequate amount of sleep.”

A child rests with her teacher

Studies have shown infants require up to 17 hours of sleep per day, which includes the sleep acquired during daytime naps. Establishing a consistent naptime and bedtime routine is key to ensuring the child gets the amount of rest they need. Such routines signal their bodies that it is time to wind down.

“When children are at Step Forward’s Early Head Start and Head Start sites, we create a calm and soothing environment by dimming the lights and providing calming music,” Martin said. “Sometimes, reading a book or engaging in a quiet activity beforehand also helps.”

Head Start Program Performance Standards require programs that operate for more than six hours to offer a rest time. To offer consistency, Step Forward’s Early Head Start and Head Start classrooms offer naptime at the same time each day, after lunch. Such consistency reinforces a child’s internal clock and helps them anticipate and embrace rest.

“Families may be ready to transition their child from two naps to one when they are between a year and 18 months old. Parents and guardians may consider doing so if they notice the child having difficulty falling asleep at naptime or bedtime,” Martin advised. “It’s important to keep in mind that as they a child ages, they still need ample rest to thrive. Toddlers benefit best from up to 14 hours of sleep per day. Preschool-aged children should sleep between 10 and 13 hours per day.”

A child reads a book during quiet time

Adequate sleep promotes healthy physical development, enhances memory consolidation and support emotional regulation. Families will likely find that a well-rested toddler is better equipped to handle the challenges of learning. Rest improves a child’s attention span, cognitive abilities and reduces the likelihood of behavioral issues.

“There is no doubt that preschool-aged children are busy bees,” Martin explained. “That is why we also believe that it’s important to strike a healthy balance between activity and rest. Engaging children in age-appropriate physical activities throughout the day helps burn off excess energy. Head Start teachers often take advantage of as much outdoor play as possible, structured activities, and interactive games.

When it comes to enjoying the summer outdoors with young children, there are several easy, low-cost and free activities available in Cuyahoga County:

  • Organize a nature scavenger hunt. Create a list of items for your child to find in your neighborhood, nearby park or natural area

  • Have a picnic outside, whether it’s in your backyard or local park

  • Take advantage of community events and festivals that often offer free admission and activities for families, such as outdoor concerts, art exhibitions or movie screenings

  • Have fun at the beach or area splash pads

  • Set up a backyard camping adventure with stargazing and storytelling

These activities not only provide valuable family time but also allow children to connect with nature, engage their senses and create lasting memories.

Step Forward helps ensure every child has the opportunity to begin an education right, is prepared to enter kindergarten and develops a love of learning from the start. Part of Head Start’s long-lasting legacy is that it will also help create a world where mental health is nurtured and that children will have the opportunity to grow into their fullest potential. The program serves preschoolers from ages three to five years old.

To apply for Head Start, click here.

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