I have thoroughly enjoyed the circulating social media quote “now no one will ever ask what a stay at home mom does!” Gets me every time, as I had personally made the shift to a home-based office over a year ago. I am a professional child sleep coach, and yet even for me, adjusting to being at home all day with my toddler was a new intimidating task. I found myself sometimes left me with an indescribable “mom brain fog.” I used to be sharp and alert at my work place? Toddlers naturally have high energy and I was constantly dealing with the tug-o-war of mom vs. work duties throughout the day. And add to that pressure, the wanting to be that “superhero creative mom” filled with an armload of Pinterest activities while also being scheduled for a client conference call at 3pm.
In time, I found one uncomplicated truth: it is simply a rhythm of play and sleep.
Play hard, in 2 time blocks, like a football game with an intermission.
With toddlers, expending energy in a morning block and an afternoon block helps build their sleep pressure. Think of sleep pressure as something needed in order to help you child be ready for sleep and stay asleep. This is all about physical activity – in any form. We can expend energy both indoors and laughing, noting that belly laughs also count as burning energy. Below are three silly, easy, no-cost ideas for burning toddler energy both in the house and in the yard:
Idea 1: Hopping. An everyday chalk hopscotch, hopping into sidewalk blocks during a neighborhood walk, hopping in puddles on a rainy day, or even simple hopping into a hula hoop in the yard. They are all basically the same thing – get feet elevated off the ground, get heart rate up, get laughing started.
Idea 2: A dancing scavenger hunt. Make a list of things in your house, in all rooms all over the place, and put on music. All collection must be done while dancing.
Idea 3: A sack race. Grab some old pillowcases, sleeping bags, trash bags - get creative. This can be done in your house, in the yard, in an alley, or in your street with alternating families coming outside.
Nap like it’s a scheduled Outlook Calendar event
This article is assuming you are a household like ours on a toddler one-nap-per-day schedule. Once the first half of the football game is over, make sure your intermission (aka nap) is always at the same time. The ideal nap window is between 12:00-3:00pm. Average nap length being between 1.5-2.5 hours providing adequate rest.
Anne’s Advice for a No-Plan, Plan
While toddlers are natural resisters, it is important to note that they inherently crave consistency and routine. As with any preschool, there must be a plan for the day, a set “base” time schedule. In our home, we thrive best with a general outline and light structure; I like to think of it as the no-plan, plan.
Below is a loose daily structure to help create more consistency in their day - even while at home and possibly still in their pajamas.
Our day goes something like this:
7:00 am – wake, couch cuddles and read books
7:30/8:00 am – breakfast
8:30/9am – free play (also my time to get some things done around the house)
9:30/10 – indoor building activities (i.e. Legos, blocks, magna-tiles) or outdoor activities (neighborhood walk, chalking, hopping as discussed). I like to choose something that gets that little mind thinking and that little body moving.
11:00 am – pre-nap lunch
12:00 pm – naptime
2:30 pm – wake from nap, post nap snack and/or maybe watch an episode of one of his favorite toddler shows.
3:00 pm – indoor arts & crafts (i.e. something messy like play-doh, paint, coloring). When toddlers are allowed to get messy and be creative, they learn. He loves this part of the day!
4:00 pm – get some fresh air and go on a first or second walk (this is where we typically go look for bugs, collect sticks, rocks or just run around for a bit).
5:00 pm – free play
5:30-6:00 pm – dinner time together
6:30 pm – bath and bedtime routine begins
7:00 pm – bedtime
All of my advice is based on being a professional sleep consultant, but understanding each household and each child is unique, I encourage you to sketch out your optimal no plan, plan. My hopes is to simply give you humor and tips to get parents though their days. I can’t stress enough to not put too much pressure on yourself, have patience with the chaos that being at home with a toddler brings, and take it day by day with your little ones.
Anne Del Valle