In Praise of Boredom
As the summer season begins, many families have registered their children for activities. Soccer, tennis, baseball, band, theater, running, music lessons, dance lessons, and many other activities are in full swing. Many parents and caregivers are beginning their days with hands in “the steering wheel position” as they ferry children to various supervised camps, clubs, and activities. For these children, their days are full of adult-directed activities. There is very little down time, very little child-driven activity, and very little time for creative boredom to set in. Is this a good thing, I wonder?
As I reflected on my childhood, many, many decades ago, I remembered my short acquaintance with the dreaded “b” word - bored. At our house, if one uttered the unmentionable word, mom had a list of jobs at the ready. She did not tolerate a lack of creativity or self-directed activity, and, in fact, rewarded these with hard, mom-chosen work. So we kids never uttered “the word,” and, truthfully, we were never bored. What a gift mom gave us! I fondly remember afternoons writing play scripts, negotiating with the neighborhood divas and divos for starring roles, spending hours creating costumes and crafting sets, designing playbills, and marketing. Weeks of activity were the prelude to a 20-minute production for the entire neighborhood. I remember baseball games with sketchy, ever-changing rules, and lots of kid-negotiations, complete with anger, tears, and reconciliations. I remember a week’s afternoons planning a pioneer wagon train, complete with rations, peanut butter and jelly sandwich vittles, pretend campfires, horses, and wagon-wheel disasters. I remember creating our own “girls only” language, arguing about which words were nouns, verbs, pronouns, and adverbs, and then taunting the neighborhood boys with our secret communication. Above all, though, I cannot ever remember being bored! And now I wonder - what is the relationship between boredom and creativity, and do kids these days get to experience both? If they do, great! And if they don’t, what are the consequences?
As I was pondering these questions, I began reading on the topic of boredom, and especially boredom in children. Most articles asserted that boredom can actually help kids develop skills, creativity, and self-esteem. Though kids might need some help coming up with things to do with unstructured time (at least initially), they soon learn. This is the cue for parents/caregivers to bow out and let the kids run with their imaginations and ideas. In this article, The Benefits of Boredom,
author Gia Miller quotes Jodi Musoff, an educational specialist at the Child Mind Institute, “Boredom also helps children develop planning strategies, problem-solving skills, flexibility and organizational skills – key abilities that children whose lives are usually highly structured may lack. It’s not the boredom itself that helps children acquire these skills — it’s what they do with the boredom. Typically, kids don’t plan their days, but when they work on a project to fill their time, they have to create a plan, organize their materials, and solve problems. Developing these skills helps children better manage a variety of academic tasks, such as planning for long term assignments, and flexibility when working on group projects and social skills. Additionally, boredom fosters creativity, self-esteem, and original thinking.”
So how do we encourage kids to manage their own boredom? This article in MetroParent entitled,
Boredom is Okay! Here Are 13 Ways for Your Kids to Embrace It
offers some great tips. Some of my favorites (along with my “spin”) include:
As this glorious summer unfolds, I hope that all of us, young and old, find many things that pique our curiosity, fulfill our interests, and help us grow. I also hope that boredom is the catalyst, and I’d love to hear about your “brushes with boredom.” This should definitely NOT be boring :) Send your thoughts to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share and respond. Go forth and embrace boredom!
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can also be found in our website blogs.)
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