Children in early childhood are learning how to develop relationships. They have passed the stage of ‘parallel play’, and are on their way to ‘associative play.’ They may even be entering ‘cooperative play’ stages. While some may argue otherwise, this age may be a great time to host a sleepover with preschoolers.
Yes, it can be hectic for parents. But the children might have a blast. And parents love seeing happy kids, right? Even if things go sour, a sleepover may be a useful experiment when teaching children about social awareness.
No doubt, hosting a sleepover with preschoolers will require a little more attention and planning than it would with school age kids or teens. But it can be done, with care. In this article, we’ll explain some tips for achieving a successful (early) night for your little tots and their little friends.
Preschool sleepover tip #1: start with one familiar friend, and their caregiver
While many articles on the internet will talk about communicating with parents, gathering allergy reports, and setting a time for pickup and drop off, we’d say: start small.
Yes, those administrative factors are pertinent if the parents will not be present.
But for a child’s first sleepover, especially if they are just 4 or 5, it may be too much to ask them to be without a familiar adult. It may also be far too wild to welcome any more than one special friend for a first-time sleepover. A crowd of rowdy kids can be a lot to take in for a little one.
So, if possible, see if a guest parent, or even a child’s beloved auntie or nanny will join for the first few times (that may be YOU, if you’re the guest!). This will get the kiddos used to sleeping in a new environment away from home. It will also be nice to have another ‘supervisor’ on board. Plus, it can give you some much-needed sanity with a mature conversationalist!
Now, if you regularly hire a nanny to handle your night shifts, this may be smooth sailing for your child. In that case, follow all the ‘golden rules’ for coordinating effectively with parents. Don’t forget the security blankets, emergency phone numbers, EpiPen®, pee pee mat, and all the rest.
Preschool sleepover tip #2: plan ‘backup’ activities, but let the children lead
As caregivers to young children, we may think we need to do a lot of prepwork to host an event like a sleepover. Perhaps it’s because parents expect that of birthday parties (you always want to impress the neighbourhood with your thematic efforts, right?). But we would say, don’t put that pressure on yourself, nor the kids, for a sleepover.
Children are wonderful at playing. Have you noticed? They are experts at it. Put two of them together, and they can usually figure out how to entertain themselves.
Childrens’ ability to supersede your play skills may not mesh with your well-planned evening of scheduled arts and crafts time, baking time, game time, and all the rest. Most likely, young children at this age will just laugh at each other for being silly, play with their regular toys, and try to figure each other out.
Remember, friendships are new to them at this stage. They are learning how to interact, how to go along, how to share, how to make suggestions, how to ask for a turn and so on. This is the point of the sleepover; they are building social skills. They don’t need a nighttime preschool lesson plan made by you.
BUT – and this is very valid – you should have some ‘backup’ activities ready. Things may go sideways, and you may find yourself with two ‘bored’ preschoolers trying to have a sleepover. What a long night that will be! That’s also when whining and complaining starts. Then, it’s no fun for anyone.
So, if the children look like they need a little help to stay happy and occupied, do get out those crafts, games and baking ingredients. While they’re participating in those activities with you, encourage them to socialize, notice each other, and talk to each other. If they make a mess and start laughing about it, go with the flow (minus letting harmful actions fly). The night doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ from your point of view.
Preschool sleepover tip #3: focus your planning on the actual sleeping arrangements
While it’s tempting to be preoccupied with what your preschoolers will be doing all evening, your main focus should be on how, when and where they will be sleeping.
On a fun note, even if your child has a ‘real’ bed to sleep in, give them something different to make the experience memorable for them. Like a living room campout. This is a great time to create a ‘magical’ tent with twinkle lights, flash lights and sleeping bags. Or, let the children build a ‘fort’ with couch cushions and pillows. Invite the stuffed animals and dolls. This will make for great photo ops, too, by the way. We wouldn’t be surprised if you wanted to sleep in the tent, too!
And hey, if the kids choose to stay in the ‘cool’ bedroom, or cuddle asleep on a twin bed, that’s ok too! Just move them to their designated mattresses when they’ve dozed off, to avoid ‘cliff falls’ off the bed.
On a practical note, remember that falling asleep is going to be another story altogether. Children in a new environment can get home sick, or feel anxious. They may also just be ‘wired up’ from all the newness around them. If they’ve had treats and junk food that evening, fatigue may also escape them. So you can’t rely on the thought that they’ll just wear out eventually. They will, but ‘eventually’ won’t come soon enough.
Above, we said not to force activity plans on them. That’s true. But one thing you may want to endorse is a bedtime routine. Give the preschoolers notice that it’s coming.
For example, “hey guys (or girlies), can I talk to you for a second? I’m so glad you’re having lots of fun. In 30 minutes, we’re going to put on pajamas, brush our teeth, and get ready for bed ok? Then I’m going to read a story to you. And you can hold your flashlights and listen to the story, it will be so cool!” Tell them again at 15 minutes, 10 minutes and 5 minutes. Then, expect a protest at zero hour. That will eat up another 30 minutes.
Another option for winding down would be to watch a movie. However, at ages 3 to 5, it may be hard to keep everyone focused on a screen for that long. They’d have to be really past their bedtime for that to work. In which case, they may fall asleep on the spot.
If you were brave enough to host a preschool sleepover without your guests’ caregiver present, this might also be the moment of suddenly wanting to go home. For that reason, make sure the parents know you are not babysitting. They should remain on-call in case a pickup is needed (thanks to Lisa Murphy on Today’s Parent for that tip!). According to education.com, this may also happen at 3 a.m. after a bad dream. So… be ready!
To conclude: a preschool sleepover is practice run for future slumber parties
You’ll notice that we haven’t given you a whole lot of tips for activities while hosting a preschool sleepover. That was intentional. Instead, we wanted to divert your attention to the idea of a child’s development during a momentous event like this. The question should really be: what do they need? How can this help their development (while also being super fun, of course)?
Having a friend over for that long, or being away from home for that long, can be a big step for a little one. They will be getting used to new personalities, new beds, new routines – it will be a lot to take in, of itself. It will also be new for you as the host! The bar will only get higher from here – which is why you should take it easy on your first round!
So, whether it goes off the rails, or it turns out to be the best night of their life (so far!), as a parent, we hope you keep in mind that this is going to be ‘practice run’ for preschoolers. They’ll have more and more sleepovers as they get older. The more adaptable they are, the more they can look forward to these events, and make it through them with ease.