I love the concept that a bored child, if left alone, eventually finds his or her way to creativity. Whenever I read about this, as a mom I am filled with renewed hope and energy.
“I’m going to let the kids be bored! I can do this. By the end of today, great things will have taken place!”
But at our house, this is what usually happens, even on those hopeful days:
After entering the land of Boredom, my child walks through the valley of Moping and Fussing. Then as she continues on her way, she happens upon the village of Annoying Behaviors where bickering and sibling rivalry are commonplace. This is usually the point where I can’t stand it any longer and step in. My child can’t even come close to finding that lovely, shaded path leading to Creativity, no matter how many times I’ve told her it exists. It must be well camouflaged.
The Long Summer
This past summer, however, things turned out differently. We’d planned a fairly pricey vacation for August, and thus didn’t put any money toward summer camps. Our oldest ended up getting his first job, doing trail maintenance which was perfect for a 14 year-old boy. Our 13-year-old was accepted into a 5-week (free) science camp, and our youngest, 10 year-old Annie, continued with her new love of gymnastics. Unfortunately, Annie’s gym time didn’t begin until 5 pm so her daytime hours were wide open.
Very quickly Annie got bored. Most of her friends were on vacations or at day camps. Because we weren’t going to throw money at this problem, we toughed it out.
The first week was hard – full of crankiness, whininess, and annoying behaviors. I remember feeling pretty desperate and panicky, and wondering if we’d made a big mistake.
I’d recently begun my summertime yard sale visits, though, and randomly found an American Girl series book which Annie didn’t have: A Smart Girl’s Guide to Money: How to Make It, Give It, and Spend It. I put it on Annie’s beanbag chair when she was out. I often place books in plain sight in my kids’ rooms for them to discover. Sometimes they take and sometimes they don’t.
A Light Bulb Goes On
During the second week of summer, I saw Annie reading this book. Later that day she excitedly informed me she was starting a mother’s helper business, an idea the book had helped generate. She’d heard that two of our neighbors had created a “Mom camp” for the summer, caring for each other’s kids every other day. Annie planned to offer her services to them. First, however, she spent time creating a name and logo for her business at the book’s suggestion.
Next Annie brainstormed what kinds of things she knew the neighbor kids enjoyed. When she “pitched” her mother’s helper idea to one of the moms, she offered to bring along specific toys and games for her kids. Our neighbor agreed to try out Annie’s mother’s helper business and soon she was up and running, working 2 hour stints 2-3 times a week.
The part of this experience that stood out most for me was how passionate and confident Annie was about her new venture. Whereas in her state of boredom she’d been more passive and helpless, a week later in this creative space she was active, energetic, and more mature. She’d entered that “flow” state we all love.
One Experience Leads to Another
About three weeks into her mother’s helper work, Annie informed me she had another goal for the summer. As you may remember, the idea of summer goals has not always been successful at my house, so I was pretty excited merely hearing her use this phrase.
Annie sat me down and told me she really and truly wanted to volunteer with the cats at our local Humane Society. She knew I’d heard from other parents that this was quite a commitment as training had to be undertaken with a parent, then a regular volunteer schedule put in place (again with a parent).
Last year Annie’s 3rd grade teacher taught the class persuasive writing techniques, and I sensed that Annie was using these in our discussion about volunteering with cats. She’d thought through the various concerns she knew I’d have, and offered solutions. In addition to the time commitments, Annie knew our family was trying to drive as little as possible during the summer, so on her own she’d looked up the local bus schedules and found a way to get to the Humane Society without driving. I think this may have been the part that convinced me, actually.
Developing Her Identity
That same American Girl book suggested readers think about their passions in order to decide what they might turn into a money-making venture. Annie had done this and realized she wanted to be someone who reached out to animals in need, in this case on a volunteer basis. It was the first time I’d seen my daughter begin to develop her identity in this way. (Observing this, I just couldn’t say no, even though I kind of dreaded the trainings.)
So Annie and I logged 2 hours of training. Then another 2 hours of training. Finally we paid $50 for the privilege of giving 2 hours of our time weekly for the next 6 months. Is volunteering this hard in other towns?
All through the process, Annie’s commitment never wavered. She took notes during the trainings, and later reminded me of various rules to uphold at the Humane Society. Luckily our first real volunteering stints occurred during kitten month, with kittens aplenty. That helped with my, at times, flagging motivation.
Toward the end of the summer, word of mouth about Annie’s mother’s helper business traveled through our neighborhood and her client base grew. During this school year she has added “homework helper” to her list of services at the request of one parent.
Annie and I still faithfully volunteer at the Humane Society every Friday from 4-6. Most of the cats get adopted rather quickly, thankfully. Recently we’ve been spending our time socializing feral kittens, and brushing the cats who remain there for longer periods.
Annie truly enjoys the work she does with the cats. What I enjoy is watching my daughter. During her volunteering and mother’s helper work, I get a view of the person she may be as she grows older.
I also get one more reminder that it’s okay to let my kids be bored – as long as I subtly help them discover paths out of the land of Boredom.
How do you handle your child’s boredom? Leave a comment below. And if you like this post, please pass it on to others!
I love this post! So wonderful. I am always amazed at what happens in our house when we turn off the electronics for the day. (Because, unfortunately, those can be such easy go-to boredom busters for kids.) At first, everyone is cranky (as you mentioned happened in the beginning of the summer), but soon all three girls are building something with Legos or making a “restaurant” or outside in the “Town” in our backyard. A good reminder that having nothing to do can be a great blessing!
Glad you liked the post. I love that you have towns in your backyard! That’s such a great image.
Great story, and good ideas. Really enjoyed reading your humorous description of what boredom does to kids.
Admiring the time and energy you put into your blog and in depth information you provide.
It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material.
Wonderful read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds
to my Google account.
We have two little ones under 5, and one on the way. My oldest is highly active, and needs lots of outdoor time to burn off her energy with biking, swinging, running (she laps our house endlessly), bouncing balls, climbing trees. Inside (on horribly wet rainy days), she gets bored easily and starts to degrade to destructive unhelpful behaviours like fighting with her sister. I find a little direction goes a long way. I often say “find an activity to do, or you can help me clean…” or “you can play with these three options, or have a time out (because she was simply fighting with her sister). I’m often surprised that she chooses to help me clean or organize, but she is her mother’s daughter. I hope as she gets older she will need less direction to fill her time, as well as more hobby skills like sewing, painting, gardening, music, cooking/baking that can be a great life skill for years to come. Sometimes boredom is an opportunity to learn something new, and I like to pounce on those teachable moments.