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.
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!
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.
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, …).
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…
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 …
Follow Anna @ Kids Play Space’s board Kids’ Play Space blog on Pinterest.