Sleep, we all love it, especially when we wake up from having had a great night's sleep. As adults, we know the important role sleep plays in helping us to “recharge our batteries.” But did you know that a growing body of scientific research supports the crucial role of naps in effective learning for preschoolers?
Yet, with science helping to design so much great learning curriculum in the field of early education, you may wonder whether preschoolers should spend time napping in classrooms each day. The answer is YES, and newly-published research backs it up.
A study conducted by Rebecca Spencer, a PhD neuroscientist in the Psychology department at UMass Amherst, directly involved children in Square One classrooms in Springfield and Holyoke. Dr. Spencer’s study took a year and a half and her paper was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was then picked up by science and education media and news outlets across the US and around the world.
Dr. Spencer says, “The whole preschool day is so well thought out, it’s taken for granted that there is science behind what goes on in a classroom. It took science to prove the value of the nap.”
The study revealed that a daily nap does in fact help preschoolers get more out of their day’s learning experience. Dr. Spencer’s research also found that naps aren’t as effective at home as in a preschool classroom. She found that homes are not providing the right environment for sleep in the middle of the day.
“Parents may have a busy schedule or they can’t sit still in the middle of the day to allow for a sufficient nap for their preschoolers because they have to go shopping or pick up their other kids. Kids in preschool also have the advantage of the pack mentality, where they see other kids sleeping and go along. They understand when it’s time to wind down and take a nap, and a well-managed preschool classroom provides that kind of structure. The result is a nap environment that is very difficult to create at home during the day.”
At Square One, afternoon naps take on extra importance. That’s because for many of our children, their afternoon nap is the only uninterrupted sleep they can count on. They live in neighborhoods where night time is punctuated by police sirens, busy city streets and the noises of people living in close quarters. At Square One a nap is truly quiet time. The children feel safe to nap when it’s part of a predictable routine. And remember what Rebecca noted about the pack mentality. It’s true, our children nap cooperatively because they see all the other children napping, too.
As you would expect with good science, Dr. Spencer’s study not only answered questions. It raised new questions and she and her fellow researchers are continuing their study. If you want to read about her findings in more detail, and I recommend you do, simply search the web for Rebecca Spencer Sleep Study. It’s fascinating reading that won’t put you to sleep!
As well-educated persons, we can appreciate that naps in preschool have the backing of science. Yes, a nap is a state requirement in Massachusetts, and the body of research is providing more evidence that this is smart policy.
Square One works to keep current on research on early education, so it’s no surprise we are thrilled to have participated in Rebecca Spencer’s important new sleep study. Her findings about naps support the long-term teaching outcomes that Square One works so hard to achieve.