The benefits of boredom
Setting: Beautiful summer afternoon in July. Temperature in the upper 70's, sky is sunny.
Heard in background... a low perpetual whine: "I don't know what to do." "Can we watch a movie?" "I want to go somewhere." "What should I do?", etc.
Mother (to older child): Please go upstairs and find that book on forts.
Older child: Why?
Mother: Because when I lock everyone outside to play, they might need some ideas about what to do.
While I didn't actually resort to locking the door, the masses clearly heard the seriousness in my voice and skedaddled outside, fort book in hand. They all spent the better part of the afternoon outside, and here is what they created:
TM's fort. I like the pathway leading up to it.
P.'s fort which she claims is roomier than it looks.
And D.'s fort. He was clearly going for the camouflage look.
Here he is inside.
So many parents today seem to be adverse to their children being bored. They work so hard to fill every moment of their children's time with activities. I believe that fear is one of the root causes of this phenomenon. Fear of not providing every available experience. Fear of looking like a negligent parent. Fear of having bored children.
But this fear is misplaced. A child at loose ends learns so many things. First, free time inspired creativity. Creativity takes time. A lot of it. Unstructured time. Time that is unfilled so that ideas can be thought about. Second, a child learns self-reliance. They learn that entertainment and fulfilling occupation do not need to come from outside sources, but can come from within. Third, a child learns self-awareness. How can you get to know someone who is always off and doing something? This is what happens to over-scheduled children. Without any quiet, free time, there is never a chance to really think and get to know one's self.
Let your children experience boredom and don't rush to rescue them from it. If a child tells me they don't know what to do, I usually offer to find some useful occupation for them. Often this is along the lines of cleaning places that seldom get attention. It is the rare time I am taken up on my offer. More often than not, the loose-ended children quickly discover other activities.
Some of our favorite books which encourage outdoor creative play:
and... my older children insist that I add the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips.