Hello from North Haven!
Somewhere in the transition from the hectic end of the school year to the differently hectic start of an island summer, I started to hear “I’m BORED” an awful lot from my four-year-old daughter.
The poor kid has to tag along to lots of meetings and rehearsals. In fact, she once asked my husband and I if that was all adults do, go to meetings and rehearsals. And I couldn’t truthfully tell her no. She’s allowed to bring a snack, a book, and something quiet and analog to play with (Magnatiles, art supplies, etc – we love watching television, but I don’t believe in the iPad as solo entertainment unless we’re in a terrible sky tube.)
Sometimes she plays with what she brings, sometimes she sits and stares into space. Sometimes she listens or watches intently. But no matter how she occupies herself (and she is, I have to say, very very patient), she often intones that same old refrain: “I’m boooooored. That was booooooring.”
And to that I say, that’s fine.
The relentless need for entertainment is something we’ve manufactured fairly recently as a society, probably concurrent with the evolution of cell phones from giant portable telephones to tiny pocket computers. Because we can HAVE entertainment, we think we SHOULD or even NEED to have it every second. I don’t have a phone, but I’m very guilty of compulsive iPad checking when it’s accessible.
But allowing for boredom is really important, for two reasons that I can see.
First, some things in life are boring. Meetings are often very boring, but they’re times when decisions are made, or information is imparted, so they’re something that just has to be endured. Sometimes a concert or a lecture might be boring, but we’ve decided to go to support a friend, and so we sit, clapping politely, letting the mind wander. Being able to be bored and still be respectful and just wait it out is a life skill.
Second, boredom leaves room for creative thought. I used to listen to music while running, but stopped for various reasons (and to be perfectly honest I don’t run that often these days but when I do, it’s without entertainment), and I do a lot of songwriting or essay writing in my head that way. Ditto for stacking wood. I’ve also noticed that the less I do to try to entertain Penrose as she patiently watches rehearsals, meetings or music lessons, the more she retains and incorporates into her creative play later. Left to her own devices, she’ll also adeptly find ways to entertain herself, even if it’s just rolling around in a pile of pillows stolen from the couch.
Kids (and adults!) also have a lot of imposed structure in their lives, so some time away from structure can be a blessing. In between work, school, extracurricular activities, cooking meals, bedtime routines, homework, exercise, and all of the other things we cram into our lives, it’s ok to leave space for unfilled, unstructured boredom when it happens.
There are experts backing this idea up, too, and much has been written about it lately. And as summer hits, the “I’m boooored” chorus moves out of the classroom and into the home, and can get annoying quickly. But by practicing saying “Ok. You’re bored,” and letting kids ride the boredom wave, they gain an opportunity to be alone with themselves and see what happens.