Viva Boredom! Let Your Kids Get Bored

Bethe Almeras, aka. The Grass Stain Guru, tweeted me today, “I look forward to today’s kids getting bored! They are so over-scheduled & adult-led. Viva boredom! :o”  Thank you, Bethe, for my blog post title because today I want to elaborate on the benefits of boredom and why it should be a summer goal.

Encouraging Boredom

1. No television.

2. No video games either.

That should about do it.

Seriously, no television. Television is the opiate of the masses and it isn’t making any of us, especially our children, any smarter.

I took a fast from television for over a year and it felt great not to fill my head with the gossip, news, or violent story lines –they never contributed to my personal growth as a human being anyway. Television just made me dull, and I got less sleep because I stayed up too late, zoned out.

Now I admit that I’m back on some — in moderation. But, I am an adult, not a child who needs to learn and grow. (Although one could argue that it is like a drug and we all are junkies.) Be that as it may, it’s that much more important that we don’t allow our children to be dulled by the television drug.

I’m telling you, the boredom plan is beneficial! Because if you can tough it out long enough, you’ll see amazing thinking, imagining, and playing happen.

Benefits of Boredom

Why is it that we adults hate being bored? In my case, I’m constantly busy, as if I’m running away from boredom. If I’m not working, then I’m cleaning, checking my to do list, reading a book, working out, I’m squeezing something into every moment — boredom doesn’t enter into my life ever.

But it should. For me and for my kids.

And we don’t just try to prevent our own boredom, we do it for our kids. We provide too many toys, too many options, too many scheduled activities, and when all else fails, we turn on the t.v.

Yesterday, after many days of whining for the television, JJ played in her room independently –for hours. I heard music, singing, dancing. Apparently a fairy kingdom was created, too.

When our kids are bored, wonderful things can happen. Like finding a good book and curling up into a cozy chair to read. Like inventing a magical fairy kingdom on your bed. Like playing Hogwarts and developing new scenes in Harry Potter.

Relearning What to Do When You’re Bored

Make a “What to Do When You’re Bored” list. It probably won’t get used much but it will stop the whining and force your child to think of something even better than what’s on the list. Print out mine or try the Boredom Buster Jar list from Wendy at Kidlutions. And, maybe it will work. Or will be a good starting point.

Sample conversation:

Kid: “I’m bored.”

Parent: “Pick something from the list.”

Kid: “But, I don’t like the list.”

Parent: “So, figure out something else to do.”

Kid walks off, furiously thinking how parents just don’t understand.

. . .

If we can get our kids to be bored, surely we can find some time to be bored ourselves. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

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    • Brenda

      Great article! I totally agree that it wouldn’t take too long to start seeing creative play. If you don’t want to rid of the TV, then perhaps start slow and just use the TV for family movies, but keep it off at other times. This works well for teens also! I have 3 teens and we are 6 months into having no cable. We are challenged some days, but busy most days.

      • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

        Good for you!! I would love to hear more so if you ever have any interest in guest posting, email me!

  • http://goexplorenature.blogspot.com Debi

    Couldn’t agree with you more on this one! Last summer I felt I’d failed my then 5 yo because I didn’t hear the words “I’m bored” all summer. I got over it when I realized it was because we were having too much fun playing & adventuring together – not spending time inside on screens. I wish more parents would hear this message! :)

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      Wow, how great is that!

  • http://WriteMindOpenHeart.com Lori Lavender Luz

    Love the idea of the list, and I think my kids will, too. Right now when they say they’re bored I tell them to go pull weeds. At least your way they’d have a variety of chores to do.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      I’m sure there’s no way that works for all kids so do whatever works for your children! :)

  • http://www.learnthat.org/vocabulary/ Dexter Cañete

    I agree. Constant stimulation and being busy don’t necessarily mean that the mind is working. That’s probably why the most common advice to heartbroken friends is to “keep busy”.

    Boredom. Daydreaming. Idleness. They’re great not only for creativity, but also for reflection and introspection.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      Right! And, taking long showers. I don’t think the showers where the kids are pounding on the door count but I yearn for long, mind wandering moments like a long shower.

  • http://robinmerrill.blogspot.com Robin Merrill

    I LOVE this post! My daughter (3) keeps whining, “Mom, what can I do?” And I say, “Not my job!” She’s got books and toys and crayons and an imagination — what more does she need?

  • http://www.mom-blog.com ginabad

    My daughter acted out IMMEDIATELY after school yesterday, which prompted punishment-by-denial: no TV, no Wii. What happened after that? An easy homework session, more than an hour outdoors exploring the grass for bugs and worms, dress up games later on…and LOTS of peace. It was HEAVEN, viva la boredom!!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      amazing things happen . . . what a perfect example! Thanks!

  • Hank

    Well done, Soup-ers! The “wealth” of available electromechanical distractions is like some sort of mind-numbing drug. We’re in the midst of raising generations that will only know how to watch, but never create what they’re watching. It’s an up-hill battle. Near vertical, if you ask me. I miss my wood blocks. I really do.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      and legos that didn’t come in sets with directions. . . I miss that.

      Thanks for the comment, Hank. :)

  • Aline Pereira

    This is a great reminder about the importance of creative play in children’s lives. Last year I put together an issue on “How Children Play Around the World” for PaperTigers.org that includes some interesting features on the topic, including a reading list of children’s books in which creative play features prominently, and an interview and an article about how a number of multicultural children’s book authors and illustrators used to play, when they were kids. Here’s the link to the issue, in case you’re interested: http://www.papertigers.org/homepage_archive/index_Jun10.html

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      I love the book list you published – some of the books were new to me, thanks! And, Paper Tigers is a blog I love and subscribe to. :)

  • Robin

    So true, so true…boredom lets to many exciting things in our lives that are often overlooked. I remind my parents at Back to School not that overscheduling kids does not always make their lives enriched. It often leads to burnt-out kids! Sometimes I take my class outside to just look at the clouds. When questioned by an administrator about this, I simply replied that we were preplanning our writing lesson for that day by looking at the world and using our imagination! The kids I teach never do this and I had to build some background knowledge for them. Now when asked what they would like for a reward for an important accomplishment they ask to go look at the clouds!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      you’re such a great teacher, Robin! I love the cloud watching idea.

  • http://PragmaticMom.com PragmaticMom

    I am going to try to allow my kids to be bored without having it drive me crazy as in “I’m bored” incessant complaining. I would love it if they would just stomp off, usually they hang around me while I’m trying to get stuff done to complain. The jar of ideas is a great idea. Maybe I can combine with your previous idea for chores and give them $ for doing stuff in jar. You are a genius!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      hardly, but thanks. I grew up without television and lived in a world of imagination and books so I hope that my kids will have the same opportunities to thrive in imaginary worlds as me. Maybe you have a consequence for pestering like room time? I don’t know, just a suggestion.

  • Cynthia

    Lovely post! Just in time to allow full enjoyment of playing, hangin’ and just ‘being’ during summer. I will be making a few reminder ‘notes to self’ to enjoy this too!

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  • http://ihaveeatentheplums.wordpress.com/ Natalie

    I think that not constantly entertaining my toddler is what has helped her to learn to play by herself. If she wants me to play with her, I do, but there are times where she just wanders around the living room until she finds what captures her interest. These are the times that she plays the longest and seems to have the most fun. I also think that it helps that we severely limit television for her. She isn’t used to the magic entertainment box doing all the work for her, she is used to working to entertain herself.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      that sounds fabulous – thanks for sharing, Natalie!

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  • http://bangerlm.blogspot.com Laura

    In theory I agree, but my problem is when the kids get bored they start fighting and being horribly mean to each other. :( It is really frustrating.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      I hear you – you just want to make them stop! I wish there were an easy answer for you. When I figure it out, I’m going to invent a hotline staffed with experts 24/7.

  • http://www.shapingyouth.org Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

    Ironically, I just exchanged texts w/my teen en route back east in an airport to ‘embrace her boredom’ as it’s the quiet time that lends itself to finding out who you really are. All this busy, busy, cacophony of noise and social media can drown out the necessary processing time for all those big ol’ ‘who am I REALLY?’ internal dialogues that need to take place during adolescence, and move kids from ‘the shallow end to the deep end’ of the life pool so to speak. Her response, “ok, true dat, mom.” ;-) lol.

  • http://www.kidlutionsppa.blogspot.com Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD

    Thanks for sharing the link to our Boredom Busting Jar! I vividly remember chanting those words to my mom, “I’m BORED!” My mom showed little sympathy for my plight. It forced me to THINK, DREAM, CREATE and just BE! We’re so busy doing that we often are not just “being”. Up with some periods of boredom and up with teaching kids to learn how to creatively entertain themselves…or as Amy says, to “embrace” their boredom!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      Exactly! Thanks for all you do, Wendy!

  • http://betweentalk.com Barb

    I completely agree with letting your kids get bored. Kids are usually so overscheduled that they don’t have time to learn how to just BE.

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  • http://everyeveryminute.wordpress.com Bobby Clubbs

    We are trying a “no screens when the sun is shining” rule this summer… after a few initial protests, it’s working pretty well!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      I love that!

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  • http://littlehomeschoolblessings.blogspot.com Bethany

    They are never really bored for long are they. This is so true!

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  • http://www.edufuntoys.com/ D Morris

    I couldn’t agree more. My children used to spend way too much time watching television or playing video games, and not enough time outdoors. My husband and I then decided to put our foot down. The kids had to play inside or out for at least two hours for every hour of television they watch. Funny thing is, now we can’t get them inside :)

  • Jessica

    Great post and a great reminder for all ages – adults need to be bored, too! Our firstborn is only 9 months old but I still think the issue of boredom applies, albeit the expression and management of it is different since he isn’t as independent as an older child. Reading this post, I see that we’re on the right path. From the beginning he’s had some type of ‘independent play’, as a newborn this was 5-10 mins on the blanket or in the bouncer where I could see him but was out of his way. Now he plays in his play yard for 30-45 mins once a day, happy as a clam. I had read that provided too many toys to choose from can be overwhelming so I tried to give him a few at a type to master and rotate them every few days. Right now he just loves containers of any sort. Doesn’t care for the toys inside, just give him the box!

    Lastly, on the topic of TV, I read in Jim Trealese’s (sp?) Read-Aloud Handbook how he and his wife applied the no TV rule during the week when his kids were already in school. It didn’t go over well, obviously, but eventually the kids adjusted. So we decided (and hopefully will stick to it!) to save TV time until after he’s in bed at night. That way, by the time he’s in school it should be normal for him to not watch anything during the week. We’ll see… the best intentions of mice and men, right? ;) But this has already made a positive impact in my day to day happenings. I get more done during the day and have more quality time with my son, and then in the evening as a family, than I would if the TV was on.

    I’m thrilled to have found this blog. What a great resource!

  • Nadeem

    Is this one of the reasons why Saturday morning cartoons have diminished significantly all because some concerned parent(s) or members of the FCC feel that a multitude(if you will) of cartoons can interfere with parents’ preferences to spend quality time with their kids on the weekend, it may even prevent kids from exercising their imagination or engaging in other activities? Besides in the U.S. there is what is called the Cartoon Network which broadcast cartoons 24/7 while in Canada(my country) we have what is called Teletoon and Teletoon Retro (both English & French versions.) Teletoon Retro,incidentally, broadcasts some cartoons as far back as the ’50s and or ’60s.

    When I was just a kid I only viewed specific or at least the most favorite Saturday morning cartoons and I didn’t particularly like it when I missed some cartoons for swimming lessons (even though it payed off in the long run) and took Tae Kwon Do lessons when I was 9-10 years of age. But since I’m an adult I obviously have found other ways to keep myself occupied on Saturdays.

  • Vanessa

    For years I have been imposing ‘fasting’ on my kids from TV and computers. It works!! Friends think I am crazy and a mean Mum but they’re the ones not doing it or reaping the rewards. The greatest benefits I have observed are imagination play, improved negotiation skills, cooperation, problem solving, fun, laughter, relationship building, sibling friendship…..the list goes on. Those board games and other toys we spend a heap of $$ on at Christmas ACTUALLY get played with – fancy that!

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