Updated: Jul 15
Before we started homeschooling, Gideon went to a brick-and-mortar preschool program two days a week. He attended the morning session, from 9:00-11:30am. At the time, Phoebe (a new 2) took one nap at 12:30pm. Thankfully, her nap wasn't affected by preschool pickup as we were still able to get home and have lunch before her nap.
However, Ezra (then 7 months) was taking two naps, one at 9:30am and another at 2:00pm. As you can imagine, our preschool mornings were crazy! There was so much overlap; it was hard to fit in everyone's naps at the normal timings on these days. So, we adjusted. Here are my tips for arranging naps around school pickup (or a scheduled class or event).
Total Nap Time
The easiest thing to do is to rearrange baby's naps while keeping the total nap time the same. Let's look at Ezra's naps again. His first nap was from 9:30-11:00am, which is 1.5 hours. His second nap was from 2:00-3:30, again 1.5 hours. So, his total nap duration was 3 hours each day.
When Gideon started preschool, I wasn't able to let Ezra nap until 11:00 and still be in line ready to pick up Gideon by 11:15. Ezra was on an eat, wake, sleep schedule. He needed to eat before I expected him to sit in his car seat for at least 30 minutes. So, I started waking him at 10:30am. I'd have everything ready to go to feed him, and then we'd head out to pick up Gideon. He only got a 1-hour nap from 9:30-10:30am. Therefore, I put him down earlier in the afternoon and let him sleep longer. He'd nap from 1:30-3:30, a full 2 hours. He was still getting his normal 3 hours total each day, we just spread it out differently.
The real issue was when he fell asleep in the car to drop Gideon off. Thankfully, we could start dropping them off at 8:50. Even so, with naptime at 9:30am, not getting home until 9:15am was very risky! He didn't always fall asleep in the car, but it did happen here and there. Honestly, those days were when I'd hit up a coffee drive-thru and drive around looking at houses for a little while so he could get at least 30-45 minutes of a nap. He'd be napping, Phoebe was happy to look out the window or play with a toy, and Mama got coffee and browsing. I love looking at different houses, just for fun. Win, win, win! Then, I'd put Ezra down for his afternoon nap even earlier those days!
On a side note, check out Tips to Keep Babies Awake in the Car to avoid this. Car naps can also be a strategy, however, it's hard to rely on them. Not all babies sleep well in the car, especially if it's not right at their nap time. If you do have one that always falls asleep in the car, you can take the "long way" home and count this as a nap. But, if it's not consistent, I'd recommend trying to avoid him sleeping in the car so you can let him nap when back at home.
If your baby is on 3 or more naps, then you're just following wake windows. Therefore, if your baby falls asleep in the car on the way to or from school pickup, or you need to wake him early on certain days, just count that as his nap and start his wake window from when he wakes up. However, I recommend switching to a set clock schedule once your baby transitions down to 2 naps. This normally happens between 6-8 months. See Navigating Nap Transitions
So, once your child goes down to a set schedule, you don't really want it to be one schedule 2-3 days a week and then another schedule the other 4-5 days. If you are able to find an adjustment like the one above that works, then I'd recommend just switching to that all days of the week. For example, I started waking Ezra after only an hour nap in the morning every morning and then letting him take a long 2-hour nap every afternoon, even though Gideon only went to preschool 2 days a week. It might not have been his natural schedule, but it was still very age-appropriate and worked with our family situation. So, we set it in stone all week long!
If you aren't able to find an age-appropriate adjustment for school/activity days, then they would just be considered "off" days. In this case, just do your best to still get your baby the age-appropriate amount of total sleep. A baby could even have an extra cat nap on those days, or just a really early bedtime.
If you have any help, consider having them come on these days. My mom tries to come at least one day a week to help me out with the kids. While Gideon was in preschool, she would try to come on one of his preschool days. That way, Ezra could stay home and nap! Things got especially hard once he got closer to a year and his naptime got pushed later, to 10:00, then eventually 10:30am. So, it was nice when my mom was able to come so we could stick to schedule. Otherwise, he'd just get a really short nap in the morning, and we'd have to adjust in the afternoon and at bedtime.
The thing with an off day is that you need to have realistic expectations. For example, if your baby doesn't get the same total amount of sleep for the day, he will be overtired. This can cause him to have trouble falling asleep and sleeping as deeply during the night. An off day can easily cause an off night. Realizing this can help keep you from getting discouraged when you do have one of these days. Just get back to a better schedule and the right amount of sleep the next day and things should bounce back!
It can be hard to work around school or activity schedules, but it's definitely possible! Try to hit your child's same total nap time for the day, between adjusted naps and/or an earlier bedtime. If you find an adjustment that works well, stick to that all week! If not, consider those off days and get back to normal the following day.
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant