Educational coach offers a surprising response to a common complaint: “I’m bored.”
By Susan Cowan Morse
During the first several days of summer break, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, decompressing after long months of hard work and focus. After the first week or so, though, boredom sets in and frustration grows. As parents, it’s quite tempting to rely on a couple common strategies: either (a) fill your child’s summer days with activities, programs and camps or (b) succumb to the inevitable (and incessant) request for time on a computer, tablet or television — I call it “screen time.” Screen time is highly addictive; that blue glow sucks us in and, before we know it, hours have passed and we haven’t moved an inch or lifted our eyes from the screen.
This summer, I encourage children and parents to endure the boredom! “Why?!” you ask. “Are you crazy?” No, I’m not crazy. Summer is an opportune time for kids and grown-ups alike to let their minds wander. Let me explain.
The Inevitable “I’m bored”
A common summer day in any home with children: after breakfast, Ryan does as Mom suggests and heads outside to play. Within 15 minutes, he’s back. “I’m bored!” He exclaims that there is nothing —absolutely nothing — to do outside. “Why do I have to be outside? I just want to get on my computer and play Minecraft. Why won’t you let me? You are so mean. All of my friends are allowed to. Why can’t I?” After a barrage that leaves Mom feeling pecked to pieces, she relents and gives in. Ryan jumps on the computer. And the situation plays itself out over and over at various times of day with children of various ages in various homes throughout the summer.
Just Say “No”
Instead of playing out this scene in your own home, I challenge you to endure your child’s begging and say “no” to screen time. Eventually, most children will wander off and find something to do. When my children were young, after they tired of begging and pleading (which I often had to endure for 30 minutes or more), I would later find them building a fort in the woods, constructing a bike ramp, making things from cardboard boxes, or reading a book that had been sitting on the shelf for a year. Someone once said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Boredom with no quick fix (i.e. screen time) eventually drives a human being to invent entertaining and interesting activities.
A Journey from Gloom to Glee
Boredom is the doldrums one must break through in order to get to the zany, witty, splashy, colorful island of Creativity, where the ideas start flowing and the hands start moving and creating. Plenty of research has been conducted on this phenomenon by neuroscientists and creativity and productivity specialists, but I won’t bore you with the details. If you’re super interested, type “boredom benefits” into Google and see what comes up.
Truly “Free” Time
The human brain at every age needs time to wander. When it wanders, many important processes happen in the brain. Children need time to be creative. And I don’t mean time to do art projects. I mean time to invent, engineer, concoct, dream, experiment and more. Children of all ages need the time and space to find their inner artists, inventors, scientists, writers, engineers. That time and space must be free from rules set by adults, free of all — well, almost all — constraints. In days gone by, before television, computers and the Internet, this was when children were found playing in forts and treehouses or hanging out with friends, doing “nothing.”
Indeed, not all children are comfortable with unstructured time and space. It may take a little longer for some children, especially those outside their comfort zone. If you as the parent can grit your teeth and transcend your “bored” child’s complaints, he will find something creative to do. Holding your ground and allowing your children to find their way through the dark halls of boredom to the colorful world of their creative minds is perhaps the richest gift you can give your children this summer.
Be a Role Model
Grown-ups, too, are vulnerable to the mesmerizing blue glow of a smartphone or tablet. Consider how you spend your time and the behavior you model for your children. Is your smartphone or tablet always in your hand or nearby? Do you check it constantly? The more your children see you reading, writing, being creative and doing the sort of screen-free constructive things that you want them to do, the more likely it is that they will follow suit.
- Push — well, figuratively speaking — your child to play outside and require they stay outside.
- Gather a collection of reusable objects like toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, shoeboxes, shipping boxes, etc. Along with staples, tape, glue, and scissors, challenge them to build something.
- Keep a box of random Legos. Lego kits are great but do not encourage raw creativity. Most children who are offered a large collection of random Legos will dive right in.
- Spend time with your child in the kitchen. Many kids love to cook. Toss the recipes aside and let them go to town experimenting.
- Look for craft activities to do and keep supplies on hand.
- Plant a vegetable garden. Kids of all ages, even teens, get great satisfaction out of growing food. Gardens need care all summer so there will always be something to do outside: weed, thin, water, fertilize, pick. Short on space? Try container gardens.
- Find out what your child dreams of making, building, or creating. Then find the materials and tools and make them readily available at all times.
- Take your child to a Maker Space, where you can find all sorts of tools and workshops. Many local libraries offer Maker events and the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt., regularly schedules events. There’s also Generator in Burlington, Vt. and MakeIt Labs in Nashua, N.H.
- Visit your local library frequently and keep an assortment of books in reach for your child. Books, books, and more books! There’s no such thing as too many books!
Susan Cowan Morse is an educational coach and consultant in Wilmot, N.H. Her new microschool, Tap Your Brilliance Learning Studio, is going strong in its first year. Her school specializes in personalized learning for students in grades 6 to 12. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org