Below you will find a deliciously in-depth list of before-bedtime activities, chalk full of ideas that are customizable for any age. They are also backed-up by scientific facts/recent case studies taken, all to create the best results for you.
Now I'll get into what I mean by "input" activities, which are the types of activities you'll find in this post.
I'll explain more about that in a moment. However if you know that you're looking for something a bit different such as energy burning and exciting activities, go to my blog post on that topic here.
These "input" activities are designed to be implemented after the "output" ones, before bed time, and essentially transitioning from the day to the night.
Input - meaning: an input of energy. Some people call it recharging.
The most up-to-date case studies on this subject outline the roll that mental stimulation plays when it comes to allowing a healthier onset of sleep, and when to implement it.
What I focus on in this article is creating space for unwinding the mind, processing the day, and avoiding deliberate mental stimulation.
I do elaborate more on when the best time to apply these activities in my e-book on "Upgrade Your Value as A Babysitter" which you can get through my shop here. It has exclusive insights into how to expand, and even triple your income as a childcare provider, assistant, caretaker, etc.
However, if you're a parent or you're in a different type of situation then I hope you find just as much value in the list below.
It turns out that physical activity actually plays a very small roll in sleep onset, while mental stimulus is the key factor in being able to fall asleep easily!
It may seem odd, because if I told you to do 30 jumping-jacks then lay down to sleep, you may have a harder time than if you didn't do any at all. The trick to this, as many case-studies eventually land on: is the goal oriented satisfaction that the brain produces. Rather than doing a set of jumping-jacks each night on your own accord, therefore not causing a mental surge.
Anyhow, feel free to read the other article to grab some more information on this. Let's get into the reason you came here, examples!
At the end of this list I'll explain the best way to transition from one of the activities to actually getting the kids to fall asleep (for real)!
Active Story - "Beyond Reaching": This activity is intended to get some stretching in. Again, as I covered above, physical activity can be paired with bedtime and still create a soothing onset to sleep. Whilst something like an exciting movie or stimulating conversation will disrupt sleep somehow. Stretching can be a wonderful and yet... very seemingly boring thing to do with kids! Mix story with movement in this exercise, and find that your kids minds wind-down faster than you realized they could.
Relax - "Your Inner Power": This is an activity I did as a small child and never forgot. I found it so interesting and if the adults were trying to trick us into calming down, they sure succeeded! What made this a fun and enticing introduction for me as a child was that I was invited to use my stuffed animal in this activity. If the kids you're working with don't use stuffed animals, invite them to choose something small (the size of their hand or smaller). If they are not at this level of understanding, you can guide them along the activity by doing each step with them, and try to have them copy you. First: Have them each find a place on the floor, or a soft surface if you'd like (but the floor can seem more interesting) and make a space to lay down. I suggest soft music and dim lights. Ask the kids to put their item on their belly, then rest their head but remain looking at the toy. Tell them to breathe in, and out. Next, encourage them to breathe in to their belly first and try to get the toy to lift up as high as possible, then as low as you can by releasing as much breath as possible. This activity can be expanded on in many directions, but the main idea is to start with this then have them close their eyes, and imagine breathing the stuffed animal as high as the ceiling and lower than the floor. It can turn into a 25 minute meditation without them knowing what you're doing!
Talk It Out - "What Happened?": This activity is essentially talking through your day together. If the little one isn't a big talker, you can do the talking (about the time you've spent together) and it should have a very similar effect. This creates a natural processing and unwinding for the mind and is a wise practice for any person to make habit, whether it be through thought, writing, talking or another method. If you'll be putting them to bed, I recommend letting them know that this activity has to be done in bed. To start out, use some prompts like "Explain the day from when you woke up this morning."; "What were your 3 highlights of the day?"; "Tell me about each meal you ate today, and then, what you would've preferred to eat!" Feel free to jot down notes in a journal for them, and do your best to avoid challenging questions that will get them more stimulated.
1...2...3... - "Keep Going If You Can": Oh, the simplicity and fun of counting! Now, we're not counting sheep here. Also, we still want to keep in mind that having a "goal" can keep the mind engaged more than we want. With very little ones, you will be doing the counting for them. Perhaps something on the wall, ceiling, spots on a stuffed animal, freckles, pieces of hair... the concept being that there is no end to the counting. This should relax the mind to a large degree.
Sensory Material - "Choose Your Thing": What can you find that has a sensory-intriguing effect? Any of these things will do: Cotton ball or fill a sock full; a feather; stuffed animal, tinfoil ball, squishy toy, sealed item filled with water, foam/slime/moon sand in a bag (activity from earlier), a small ball, yarn ball, a stone, etc. If you pick or create 2-3 together, it can be something that they bring to bed or put to sleep beside their bed. To make the activity longer, ask questions about how it feels and what name they would give to the item, or how what they would change about it.
Warm Cozy - "Cozy, Cushy or Comfy?": My mom always heated up milk and made me a special glass before bed with some extra ingredients to make it just right. However... I didn't wake up when I had to use the toilet till I was in my double-digits. She eventually helped me transition to a hot water bottle which I'd use if I was under the weather, and it'd give me extra comfort. So from my bias a hot water bottle is the best for this, however, you could just as successfully use a special soft blanket (maybe even throw it in the hot dryer quickly), obviously - a heating pad, or a rice bag (even though I am not a fan of microwaves) this can also be a good activity to create with the kids earlier in the day - a sock filled with rice then sealed with a band, and heated up in the zapper.
Shadow Play - "Shadoze": Back to building on the basics - shadow play! The title is meant to be a play on words - what you see is not always so. In this photo are a some shadow hand ideas to try out and make a story from. I'd recommend encouraging the kids to try and make their own, and to incorporate a story that ends with the subject laying down and falling asleep. As well, to remind them prior that this activity has to be done from bed.
Story Method 2.0 - "Stretch Your Mind": "Can you tell me a story?" This technique seems simple but do not underestimate it's power! First, I suggest this be done in a particular way... Letting the child know that they will be telling you a story but with a special spin. Like most of these, it must be done from bed and in pyjamas. If the child is younger, you can do the story-telling and make sure to explain the process. First, the story has to be set at night time; Second, it has to have one truth and one lie; Third, there has to be something bad and something good; Last, it has to include something that happened to you that day. *By doing this it will create a story that is interesting, and yet predictable and satisfying. It can work well to put the mind at ease by working together with it's natural wind-down process.
Bath / Water - "Dripping Drops": I'm hesitant to add this as a suggestion due to it being a predictable activity - however it can be customized to work every single time. Bath time can be crazy! It can be the opposite of what you had planned. First off, if you're a parent - there is more time to figure this out with your little one. As a childcare provider, not so much. The main goal is to use water in a soothing way, depending on the child, that will always look slightly different. I mention in the output activities (#10 on the list) how to do this in a very stimulating and fun way. Now we're focused on a non-eventful type of bath or water-play. Not with an intention, not to wash hair or wash-up. It can be a bath just filled a couple inches (add epsom salts or lavender for a sleepy time boost). Make sure to explain that this is a relaxing time and the water is for soothing and helping to make sleep more rejuvenating! Another way is using a dish with floating items or sponges to create an activity with no end goal in mind, just to experiment and find ways to keep them engaged in this while their mind unwinds.
Music - "Open Your Ears": Classical music and conversation...humming along to soft Disney tracks (familiar or favourites), Native American flute music, LoFi, music with specific Hertz and frequency to stimulate relaxation, Celtic melodies... Those are some highlights for allowing the mind to calm down and flow into sleep-mode more easily. Invite them to close their eyes while you put on the next song, and explain what instruments they hear. This is such a great way to slide into sleep.
Introduce ASMR - "Crunching Squishy Sounds": This has it's own category due to the uniqueness of it. I heard about ASMR in 2017 and didn't realize that it was actually popular in any type of way. Whether you're aware of what it is or not, it has a pretty neat scientific backup. It is "autonomous sensory meridian response" (ASMR) and is done by creating a physiologically relaxing/pleasant response in the body using sounds. Whether or not the kids understand this, find an audio (download it if you can!) - and when they're pyjama'd up and under the sheets tell them to shut their eyes, listen, and explain how they feel if they want. If you use YouTube, here is a suggestion - but, for the life of me please understand that the BLUE LIGHT WILL EFFECT THE PROGRESSION OF SLEEP! Not in a positive way! Keep it out of sight to the absolute very best of your ability and keep the brightness on your device at it's lowest and reddest. I find ASMR a bit off-putting, but it is very relaxing for many people.
Appreciation - "Word Hugs": This one can be fun. It is important to do it with the intent of creating soothing and comfortable feelings. In order to make this activity last longer, go ahead and explain that if you go to bed feeling a certain way that you're more than likely to wake up feeling that same way. Angry to sleep, angry to wake. Create some stories or examples of this and take your time leading into this, and making sure they're understanding how wonderful it can be to do this. To start, let them know you're going to start off! Mention what made you feel good during the time you spent together and get into a detailed rant. This will encourage them to follow-suit and really get into it.
When all the activities are complete and it is sleep time...
The most effective processes I've used in order to transition from winding down for the night into actual sleep (with full cooperation) are made up of a simple recipe.
Make sure to give the kids a heads-up on timing frequently. For example, before the transition activity and when it will be done. No need to try and trick them, be transparent, be authentic. They'll feel it.
Dim the lights early on - even after the last meal, begin to turn off unnecessary lights and keep in mind low-lighting and less stimulating spaces.
When you're nearing the end of the activity, give another time check. Something such as "We have time for one more before we start sleep-time".
Avoid any condescending language! Even if it isn't on purpose, be aware of how you're talking and what you're saying. Things like - "I already let you go overtime for 5 minutes", "You don't seem tired at all", "No more", "I said no" - will possibly KILL your progress. Things like that can hurt the trust and comfort that will assist with sleeping.
If the child understands what you're saying, they're smart enough to know that they are challenging you. I suggest allowing yourself to let go of frustration by practicing what you may have felt like in a similar situation as a child.
Instead you could try:
"I already let you go overtime for 5 minutes" = "I'm glad you had fun, I wonder if you'll dream about this activity!"
"You don't seem tired at all"= "It would be fun if could play all night. I bet you'll sleep well and next time we can give ourselves more time."
"No more" = "Let's try that next time, I'll leave a note on the fridge so that we remember."
"I said no" = "Do you want me to write down a reminder so we play this again next time?"
While the underlying issue isn't the language, changing it does help to guide the situation.
So there it is! I'm wishing you a very peaceful, early bed-time and a soothing night's sleep.