I once thought that the end of predictable naps from my preschooler was going to mean the end of my sanity. I thought I’d never get anything done again. I couldn’t imagine what I’d do with a child who stayed awake all day.
I realize it’s silly now, but when you spend the first year trying to get your baby to nap predictably, and then the next two years planning around that magical window of time where you can do anything you want in a blissfully quiet house, the end seems catastrophic.
But lo and behold, I’m still getting things done two years after my oldest stopped napping. One reason I’m able to continue to work part-time from home and preserve that mid-day, sanity-saving time for myself is the practice of Quiet Hour: a daily, mandatory hour of independent play for non-napping kids who are not yet in school all day.
I know the concept is familiar to many of you and certainly not my own invention, but I thought I’d share some of the ways we’ve made it work in our house.
Out of sight, out of mind.
I’m not sure why, but if my kids can see me working nearby, they assume I’m theirs for the taking. For this reason I stay in another area of the house during Quiet Hour.
Depending on how child-proofed your home is, and how prone to mischief your little one, this may not be practical – or even safe. But using a video monitor or staying close by (within earshot but just out of sight, for example) can help create the illusion that mom isn’t looking over their shoulder – and isn’t available to join in the play.
There is such a thing as “too quiet”
The downside to “out of sight, out of mind” is, as you can imagine, that sometimes it turns into “out of sight, out of control fabric marker body art”:
Yes, there is such a thing as “too quiet.” I’ve learned that if I can’t hear the sounds of narrated pretend play or wooden blocks clacking together, it might be time to sneak upstairs for a peek.
This would be the Great Toothpaste Incident of 2011:
We recently got a video monitor, which has made it so much easier to keep an eye on Quiet Hour while still giving my preschooler the “separateness” from me and space to play independently. I love that I can follow him around our loft and even zoom in to watch him struggle to fit train tracks together.
I admit I might have gotten less work done at first because it was so fun to have this little window into his make-believe world!
I see Quiet Hour as an exercise in independent play – not as a “rest.”
I’ve chosen not to enforce any kind of “rest time” during our Quiet Hour. In fact, our two older kids spend their Quiet Hour in our upstairs loft, which is their playroom – and not in their bedrooms at all. Despite what we call it, they aren’t restricted to books or “quiet” activities – though if Quiet Hour coincides with the baby’s nap I do try to get them to keep the noise level under control.
Playing alone is a skill that I think kids develop at different ages and stages depending on the child (and more on that in a minute), and I love that our daily Quiet Hour not only allows me to get my work done, but is also helping them hone and develop that skill.
The funny thing is? Once I stopped expecting her to nap, I’d sometimes find her like this at the end of Quiet Hour:
Independence is a learned skill.
In the early days of Quiet Hour I got a lot of calls for help: Help me button this doll’s dress! Help me find a missing puzzle piece! Help me find something to DOOOOO!
I think most young preschoolers need “help” learning to play independently. So while I wanted a true, full, uninterrupted Quiet Hour, it took time for my kids to get to that point. In the meantime I tried to set them up for success with toys and activities they could do alone, and be consistent with my reminders that “Quiet Hour is independent time for both you and for mommy.”
I love that the talk-back feature on the VTech monitor allows me to answer their calls without shouting from downstairs – and that the video feed lets me know whether the “help” call is of the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” variety or, more likely, something like “My block tower keeps falling down every time I throw a ball at it.”
Routine, expectations, and transitions
If you’ve ever met a three-year-old, you know this is almost universally true: They thrive on predictable routine, clear expectations (and consistent follow-through), and gentle transitions.
Quiet Hour is no exception. It is by far more successful when I keep in mind those three keys to meltdown-avoidance. Here’s what that looks like for us:
- Routine – We do Quiet Hour every day – including on the weekends. When it’s non-negotiable, I notice a lot less push-back. We also keep the pre-QH routine consistent, similar to a nap or bedtime routine: go potty, have a drink of water, and a quick story. This way I’m not interrupted a few minutes into the hour with a potty or drink request.
- Expectations – There aren’t a lot of “rules” to Quiet Hour, but the expectations are clear: it happens every day, it lasts an hour, and it’s independent time for both mom and child.
- Transitions – Sometimes when I’m on a deadline or eager to get to my own work, I rush the transition into Quiet Hour – and it always comes back to bite me. Easing in with the routine and connecting with a quick snuggle before we part ways makes for a much better hour for both of us. I think the transition out of Quiet Hour is important too, and I try to put away my work when we reunite, and take a minute to admire a picture he drew or tower he built during his time upstairs.
It’s just an hour – but it has an impact on our entire day.
You might be wondering how much I can possibly get done in one hour a day. I work 10-15 hours per week at home, so Quiet Hour doesn’t even come close to covering my work time. But it does give me predictable, protected, and focused time each day – which makes working with, near and around my kids the rest of the day much easier.
It’s also a really positive thing for my kids, I think. They get to flex their independent play muscles. They get a break from mom. They get to indulge their imaginations and explore without input. Just like the napping days of baby- and toddler-hood gave us a needed break from one another, I think Quiet Hour does the same in a very positive, enriching way.