Celebrating Boredom in Childhood

Celebrating Boredom in Childhood

This is a post about the importance of children being afforded the ‘luxury’ of boredom in their play time. Of course, I’m not advocating for a dull and weary childhood. Nor am I against playing a part in my child’s daily ‘entertainment’. I am, however, about to celebrate a little boredom in my son’s life, and suggest ways to include a healthy dose of boredom in childhood.

Celebrating Boredom in Childhood Pin

Children need unstructured time and space to explore and engage in play. If every minute of their waking life is scheduled, their time available for thinking and learning freely through play is reduced.

Just being at the park, left to their own devices, un-rushed, was enough for these kids to explore the play equipment, dig in the large sand pit, kick a football around, and then… best of all … discover a big pile of red dirt, to jump, dive, kick, and roll in, and laugh heartedly at each other’s crazy tricks!

Celebrating Boredom in Childhood- Kids Play Space - dirt pile

Children often identify that they are ‘bored’ at times of transition; when they have come to the end of one activity and are ready for the next.

Sometimes it is difficult for children to think of new activities or play ideas.

Leaving ‘play props’ or loose parts out, such as a box of coloured chalk, open and ready to capture someone’s interest might be all that is needed to spark a new play idea at one (of the many) play transition points (aka: ‘moments of boredom’) in a child’s day.

Celebrating Boredom in Childhood - Kids Play Space - Chalk

Children widen their repertoire of play ideas through experience. As the saying goes: “practise makes perfect”!

The more opportunities kids have to experience games and play ideas (even if they are just watching from the periphery) – the more possibilities are stored away in their memories to access in times of ‘boredom’.  Not only that, the more often that kids are given the ‘gift of boredom’, that feeling of not being sure of what to do next, the more easily, quickly and confidently they’ll be able to think about what to do next. They may be drawn to a whole new play idea, or perhaps even the possibility of extending the existing play idea by adding new elements and more complex play sequences.

It’s important to remember that most kids, including our young B, learn to occupy free, unstructured time through a variety of means. For example, busy, creative, beach play has been practised via sensory exploration (running, crawling, rolling, kicking, jumping, feeling the sand and water…), imaginative scenarios related to whatever his latest obsession is (cooking, puppy dogs, trains, planes, cars, pirates…), as well as visual examples (watching and joining us and others in constructing sand castles, digging and filling little pools of water, doing funny walks in the sand, collecting shells, jumping waves, …).
Celebrating Boredom in Childhood - Kids Play Space - beach

Sometimes children can experience feelings of anxiety, frustration, restlessness and upset from the uncertainty that comes with being ‘bored’. At these times, it can be helpful to just sit with them, acknowledge their difficulty and quietly follow their lead. It might simply involve waiting with them or even sympathising: “sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do next, isn’t it?”… “hmmm…” …And then waiting a little longer with them… Or, it might mean positively highlighting any steps they may take towards a new activity or direction, such as “oh! I see you’ve found your box of cars/dress ups/textas… I wonder if you are thinking about doing something with those!..”

B has recently taken to climbing trees. Whilst walking along the creek we’ve been plenty of times before, he approached a nice looking tree and stood analysing it.

“What are you thinking you’d like to do?” I asked innocently…

B: “I want to climb up and be a bird!”

“Great idea!… Hmm…how are you going to do that?” I prompted encouragingly, wondering where his problem solving was at.

B: “Maybe I can go here… but I think I need some help…”

Once he’d found a (relatively) comfortable spot to perch, he hung out there a while. Our walk was ‘interrupted’ indefinitely!! I don’t believe he was bored. I think he was firstly pretty proud of his climbing efforts, and secondly, possibly enjoying a little quiet time! After all, being ‘bored’ is an opportunity for mindfulness, reflection, and planning; time and space to think, wonder, create, dream…

Celebrating Boredom in Childhood - kids play space - tree climbing

Children hold the key to the creative, inventive, clever advancements of the future. Many of the career paths they will pursue as adults do not even exist today. We cannot even begin to imagine what they will be capable of or responsible for. This is why I feel so strongly that children must be given more open, unstructured, inquiry based, play experiences.

We must follow their lead, and support them just enough and in just the right ways, to ensure they feel comfortable and confident enough to move through moments of boredom. Who knows what problems may be solved or what dreams and ideas may be imagined by our children as a result of the many, many quiet, un pressured ‘bored’ moments they’ll experience throughout their lives!

If you’ve stuck with me until here, on my ramble about boredom that is truly close to my heart… I thank you!!

As always, I’d love for you to leave me a comment below if you would like …

Until soon,

Happy playing!

Anna 🙂 

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Comments
  1. Jane

    A theory and set of ideas close to my heart Anna, so I enjoyed reading about your professional thoughts and your experiences thus far with B! I’ve decided to go with this style of play, however, my baby is only 11 months old so it’s just a sense of the ideas really for now. For example, if he’s playing by himself on the floor, finishes what he’s doing and then grizzles (I swear you can just about hear the ‘I’m bored!’ cries !) I don’t intervene – I simply wait for him to notice another object or toy, and he makes his way there of his own accord. Sometimes I join in, other times I leave him to experiment and get lost in the moment. Do you have an opinion on when the ideal age and/or stage of development would be for introducing the luxurious ‘moments of boredom’? Many thanks again for a really interesting and engaging post 🙂

    • Anna

      Hi Jane!
      Thanks so much for your comment! Sounds like you are supporting your baby beautifully! I would think that little ‘passing’ grizzles in between play interests is perfectly fine – but moments of actual crying/panic/upset/distress/and as your baby grows older – frustration/restlessness… are signs that support would be helpful. This might be in the form of: cuddles, sitting with them, showing by example (you – or a little friend – engaging in a play idea – anything! rolling around the floor! dancing to the music! playing on a toy drum! cuddling the soft toys!…) They may just watch, or copy or join in. Or going around slowly, looking at available ‘toy’ options (anything to play with!) seeing if anything captures their interest… who knows, next time they may remember what helped them (or you!) in the past (and what they liked playing) and explore themselves. So I’m not sure I’ve answered your question! – I don’t think children are ever too young to explore these moments (with support), then it is just a matter of following your child’s lead and your instincts as to how skilled / confident they are to independently move on. Also, how tired, irritable, sensitive, seeking, energetic, sensory ‘overloaded’, or emotional children are at any given moment will affect their ability to manage these ‘bored’ moments – but that’s a whole other post in itself!!! Thanks again for your thoughtful comment! – and keep up the wonderful work supporting your child:-) Anna:-)

  2. Kate Lloyd

    Oh I love this post and completely agree with you so much. Thank you for sharing it. I can find myself feeling the need to ‘fill the time’ with structured activities and things, but understand how important it is to give children the opportunity to just be in the moment and play. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  3. Sue Lively

    Just found your blog and I really enjoyed reading this post. I couldn’t agree more with your ideas and think it’s so important for kids to learn to deal with “boredom.” I once read something about how allowing these moments leads to a more creative child – something that I value and that fits in well with your comment about our children’s futures and the importance of helping them grow up to be flexible, innovative thinkers. Best, Sue

    • Anna

      Hi Sue! You are so right! I too strongly believe in that link between moments of quiet (‘boredom’) leading to more creativity. Great point! Welcome to Kids Play Space! I hope you enjoy other posts too! Always lovely to have other like-minded people join in the fun here! Anna:-)

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