The Beauty Of Boredom

by Destri on October 7, 2011

How often do you let your kids be bored?  If you would have asked me that question a few months ago I would have said “all the time”.  When really the answer was – they are bored all the time, and I then find them something to do.

Then one day I had the chance to be bored (aka a moment I couldn’t think of anything pressing to do), and I forgot how nice it was.  I think it’s important to be comfortable with just being.  Just having some solitary time when nothing much occupies your mind, with little around to distract it.  Good things come from that kind of time, you pull from your creative thoughts and start to imagine.  Too many people are uncomfortable with idle time and I am left to wonder if it starts at a very young age?  I am no expert, but I am a mom, and a mom that perhaps provided a little too much “distraction” for my kids. 

I believe kids are born with a powerful imagination, and often the things we introduce into their little lives slowly strip them of that.  Television, video games, toys that do all the work.  I have been guilty of relying on every single one of these to “fill the gap” when my kids come to me and say “mom, I’m bored” until the time I can keep them busy myself.  I started a trend of occupying their idle time for them, rather than letting them be creative and use their imagination to think of something to do.

The Challenge

I decided three months ago to make a conscious effort not to do that anymore.  Just to see what happened, it shouldn’t kill them after all.  I decided two hours a day for me to work right after lunch would be our “Free Time”.  Momma does what she wants, kids do what they want – with the exception of movies, video games or anything electronic. The clincher – they had to come up with it on their own.  I wasn’t going to supply them with idea after idea.  Here is what I learned:

It’s Tougher Than I Thought

Turns out, it was to keep my sanity and not my kids that I worked so hard to keep them busy!  The first few weeks they drove me nuts, and I couldn’t really blame them, I was the one that started the whole mess.  There was crying, full on fits, and moments when I nearly gave in – but slowly after every one of their “I’m bored” statements followed with my “Oh that’s great!” response, they figured it out.  Mom isn’t going to do anything about it.

It’s Hard For Me To Butt Out

They eventually would make their way outside, just sitting there, looking all sorts of bored; sitting in the grass, pulling it out blade by blade; picking at the paint chipping on our deck. But still, they were content.  No one crying, no one throwing a fit, and no one pestering me for something to do.  So what did I do?  Open the door and say “You guys are doing so good!  Why don’t you pretend like your pirates, and this is your ship, and this is your wheel, yada, yada, yada”. Not a good idea friends! They are instantly onto you, and they sniff out your weakness faster than you can blink.  It isn’t easy to see them bored, but give them time, they might surprise you.  

You Might Have To Make Things Easier For Them

Through this I learned that I kept a lot of stuff out of my kids reach to bring out for them when they were bored.  I moved them all to a place where they could reach and pull out on their own accord during free time.  Coloring pencils, coloring books, stickers, puzzles, little people, play dough, and certain games are all free game.  But I immediately enforced a “you get it out, you clean it up” policy, and have stuck to it from day one.

It’s Okay To Help A Little

After the initial shock of “our mother no longer loves us, and lets us be bored” wore off, they genuinely started to use their imaginations to entertain themselves.  One thing they started were puppet shows.  Which is funny, because we don’t have any puppets.  But they just use what they can find.  They ask me to help them set up a stage (sheet over chairs), and I have no problem helping them with stuff like that.  One problem, I found myself then trying to tell them how to do it, “Why don’t you use this as a castle, and this as a horse”.  I had to remind myself, this is their time.  Let them figure it out.

The Results

The two hours a day of “Free Time” has been a success, and has spilled over into the entire day.  To be honest it has more to do with with what I learned, and breaking my habits, rather than what they learned.  I think they always had it in them, they just needed their momma to leave them alone so they could tap into it.

By me allowing them to be bored they learned how to be comfortable with idle time.  In that idle time, it gave them a chance to think of something to do – use their imaginations.  Once they were in this habit, the need for other sources of entertainment has dwindled.

So What Do I See My Kids Doing In Their Free Time?

I still see a lot of just sitting, which bothered me at first – until I realized they were thinking, their little wheels were turning.  Or maybe, they were content with just being.  Happy with just having a meditative moment.  I don’t think they ever had a chance for that before.  I would always “save them” from such times.

But after three months they really have no problem thinking of something to do now.  I often find…

them playing puzzles….

reading books to baby dolls…

and occasionally my little girl just decides to take a nap.

But my most favorite was a scene from yesterday.  We had just finished lunch outside, and I told them it was free time.  I left the blanket there, and went inside.  A little while later I went to check on them, and found my 4 year-old boy just laying on the blanket.  That might be normal for some 4 year-olds, but not mine.

It was a cool 73° degrees outside with a breeze in the leaves, and he was just laying there enjoying it.  Then mom had to come along and take a picture and ruin the moment.  When will I learn?!

So, moral of my story? Let them be bored.  Their creativity will flourish, their imaginations will expand, and their ability to be comfortable with idle time might just surprise you.  That is if you don’t lose your mind in the first few weeks :)

I would love for you to give me your input.  My story is exclusive to an almost 3 year-old and 4½ year-old, maybe you can share your experiences with littler and older ones?  Maybe you have an only child? I would love to hear!

ps after I wrote this article I jumped over to pinterest to find a good boredom quote, I couldn’t find one, but I found two more great articles on boredom.  Definitely worth a read…I just knew I was onto something ;).  Gift of Boredom and Scott Adams On The Benefits Of Boredom

Print Friendly
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Kari October 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm

What a lovely post – and what a great idea of just letting kids be kids and see where it goes.
I’ll be trying this with my 4 year old when my little ones are napping. Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Heidi October 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm

I loved your thoughts and experiences on this topic. This past year I have really been working on this as well. It is hard not to rescue and help direct their play. I still have trouble with that.
Another thing I think is important is to have my kids enjoy outdoor time especially when its nice. Our oldest used to just sit outside in our lawnchair biding his time. It drove me insane. I assumed he was stewing, but maybe he was just contemplating the cosmos and enjoying some quiet time. Still there are times all three of them had their noses pressed up against the window asking how much more time until they could come in. Anyway, great topic to address. Motherhood sure is a learing process.

Reply

kate October 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm

ah, b-o-r-e-d?! I quite often just leave my boys to their own devices… not in the house alone I hasten to add… I have just come downstairs to find they have lined up the chairs to make a game… I have no idea what the game involves and couldn’t even pronounced the word they gave the game….my youngest is happy to flick through magazines, play with cars or dolls whatever is close…my eldest has a slightly higher level of needs and wants to be busy.
We have games and books and our entire basement given up for them to be children, to let their imaginations run wild…..I hate the mess…. they are not so good with the ‘you get it out you put it back’ some toys have even ended in the bin. But there you go……it’s a lesson for us all. Managing down time can be harder than you think and the irony is it takes patience!
smiles and hugs to you and yours
xox

Reply

Clover October 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Boredom is a funny thing. My kids are 2 and 4 so we are still home alot and the day constantly fluctuates between boring and crazy. I know the more I let my kids self direct their play the more they continue to play and be creative. I am the one who is not good at being bored. In our world of instant continuous information I am easily distracted.

Reply

Nicolette October 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm

I so enjoyed this post – it’s a topic I’ve been mulling over lately as well : being vs doing. You raise a valid point – I think being comfortable with idle time is definitely something which needs to be developed in our children.
Growing up, my Mom never encouraged “down time”. In fact, she hated seeing us doing nothing and would always instruct us to “do something useful”. Looking back, I can see the effect this had on me. As an adult I drove myself to breaking point, believing that all my time needed to be spent constructively. I was 30 years old the first time I sat under a tree and read a magazine, without guilt or feeling that I should be doing something else!
I am conscious of not doing the same with my own children. (ages 8; 6 and 4) and love your idea of “Free Time” as well as putting their things somewhere they can access it themselves.
Thank you for a lovely postxx

Reply

Jileen October 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Wonderful, wonderful! I am loving the post and all the comments. I think you hit on something big, Destri! And I couldn’t agree more with everything. I think my favorite part is when your kids said they were bored and you said, “Oh, that’s great!” Love it!

Reply

Jessica October 8, 2011 at 1:50 am

“Mom, I’m boring.”

“Yes, you certainly are,” my mother would reply to my little brother, who had trouble figuring out the difference between bored and boring.

But that response pretty much summed up my mother’s philosophy on boredom. If you were “bored,” well the problem was that you yourself were boring, that you could not think, meditate, observe, commune, create, play, ruminate in the “down” times of the day.

And I can honestly say, that I’ve never been “bored” a day in my life. There are always stories to tell myself, people to observe, a Creator to commune with, nature to inspire and awe, problems to ponder, a self to evaluate. So, I’ve been grounded in “boredom” since my own childhood and recognize that its integral to my well-being. Naturally, I attempt to give my children the same “boring” foundation, as my mother gave me — to not be afraid to go into themselves, to ask questions and ponder, to notice life’s wondrous minutiae, to imagine worlds and wonder and wander. And the best way to teach them this is by my own example. I was outside one day, just sitting on a rock and contemplating this and that, and when my 3-year-old asked me what I was doing, I did not respond, “Nothing.” I said, “Thinking.” And now I catch him sometimes sitting on rocks in our yard, thinking. And when I take time to listen to the birds and notice the migrating ants, well, my children are much more apt to do so as well.

There’s a quote about boredom from a Canadian children’s author, Catherine Anthony Clark, from her book, The Sun Horse (1950), which I loved as a child and was equally enamoured with as a much more critical reading adult:

” Now don’t be afraid of being bored, young man. The dull times are meant to help you look into things that are all about you every day and then you notice and enjoy more than you ever saw before.”

Boredom is a challenge, since we don’t always want to look into things (ourselves, our relationships, our circumstances, our surroundings) — it requires personal energy and effort, as opposed to the effortless stimulation of computers and TVs — but the peace, insight and groundedness it ultimately provides can only enrich one’s life.

So, thanks for the article — got me thinking and putting words to a concept that I hadn’t really openly formulated before.

Reply

Ihilani October 10, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Amazing insights! Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Barbara October 8, 2011 at 7:40 am

This is an excellent idea. It’s good for kids to learn to structure their free time. My kids are grown now, but they learned not to share their boredom with me. If I heard that “I’m bored” complaint, they got assigned a chore to do! And if they forgot the consequences of that particular whine, I reminded them by asking if they needed me to find them something to do. They never did.

Reply

Judy October 8, 2011 at 10:49 am

What a great read! My older two (4 and 3) generally do a pretty good job of playing on their own, and sometimes I think I should be doing things with them. But you know, there’s something to be said for letting them use their own imaginations in play! The 4-yo doesn’t nap anymore, but he does get 45 minutes of quiet time when he is on his own. Maybe I should extend that a bit longer to fill up the rest of the others’ nap time. Thanks for the inspiration.

Reply

Lyndsey October 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm

What a wonderful way to begin my Sunday morning. You are so right about trying to ‘save’ our kids from their boredom. I can’t wait to see what my girls come up with on their own!! Thank you so much for this!

Reply

Fionna October 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Whenever my kids came to me and told me they were bored I gave them an unpleasant task to do. They quickly learned to occupy their free time on their own. Perhaps there were a few more arguments between kids as they learned to cooperate and play together without mother interference but it brought joy to my heart watching them play, explore, and imagine together. My husband cringed when I let the kids make movies with our expensive video camera but I told him I would rather have it break with kids using it and and get some really interesting home movies rather than the standard Christmas/birthday?trip, movies. I am so glad I did, when we watch them now I get a sense of their real personalities and what they really were like on a day to day basis.

Reply

Amy October 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Before I had kids I worked in a small afterschool program (about 7-10 kids at the most). I started out keeping it really structured. With these kids being in school all day, it was too much. It was like being in school from 8 AM until 6 PM–not good. So I just kept it as a time of “free play” and encouraged them in their play. I was amazed by all the things they came up with–building forts with tables, blankets, and pillows. They used legos to make their own basketball hoops. The little girls would always re-enact fairy tales. They played school, grocery store, house. Sometimes they needed a little guidance and discipline, but for the most it was better than structured activities all afternoon.

Reply

Rose October 10, 2011 at 8:22 am

My children are grown now but I remember friends asking me how I got my children to play outside. My response was “Tell me how to get them back inside!” We had a swing set, sand box and small play house in our back yard and from the time my children awoke until I forced them inside at night they were outside. Even when there was rain or snow they found lot of things to do. Of course there were fewer electronic play things but I decided that my children really didn’t need them. They got to watch some tv but they really prefered to be outside. They wore out the chain on our swing set. I don’t remember them saying they were bored. We moved to the country when they were 8 and 12 so they had 24 acres and a pond to play in. Our house was always full of there friends and was dubbed the fun place to be and all related to being outside. I never planned things I just let them do their thing.

Both my children are grow and have children of their own and have passed on to their children the love of being outside and just playing. No schedules to meet. They both live in the country and their children spend hours outside playing.

If you give your children the freedom to just be kids they will figure it out on their own. Just give them alittle support and you will be suprised what they will do.

Reply

samantha October 10, 2011 at 9:28 am

I am in the Fiona camp. “I think you need to go clean your room, then.” is my standard response. I did not have a TV growing up. My academic parents believed it “rotted the brain.” So it never occurred to me not to entertain myself. Now I have found a direct correlation between amount of electronic gadget use and number of temper tantrums in my 3 year old. We don’t have a TV, we use Netflixs on our large screened computer. Though I strictly limit watching that even. I also have the messiest house in the ‘hood, toys everywhere. But it is worth it to have a child high on imagination, low (most days) on bad attitude.

Reply

anne | flax & twine October 10, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Destri – this is a wonderful post. I’ve been dealing with the I’m bored comments a TON lately and end up offering so many suggestions, and NO you can’t use the computer. I keep wondering when they’ll figure out that you can read yourself out of all sorts of boredom. (That’s what I find myself harping on – why don’t you read a book? Why don’t you read?????) I’m going to be more conscious of this going forward . . . let them be bored, I say, let them be bored . . . I love the shots you captured with the results. great post!

Reply

Ihilani October 10, 2011 at 10:44 pm

So I’ve basically been raising my 2 nieces over the last few months (long story) and the older one (7) equates time/money spent on her as love. She CONSTANTLY asks for me to play with her even though I have a ton of other stuff to do (like raise my own kid). She’s extremely needy. Today she told me she doesn’t know how to have fun without me (which is a lie). And she will absolutely DIE without the TV (which I think might be true sometimes:). I think her parents sat her in front of it from a young age because they didn’t want to deal with her. I get so irritated when she’s constantly in my face “Aunty! Aunty! Aunty!” She even called her mom “Aunty” when she saw her because she’s so used to saying it. Then I feel guilty for not being more patient. My feelings aside, I really think she needs to learn how to be alone for a little while and left to her own devices. After reading this, I think I’m going to make more of an effort to encourage them to use their imagination, problem solve (which my niece doesn’t do too well) and experiment. Thanks for the post!

Reply

Suzanne October 11, 2011 at 9:59 am

Great post Destri, sounds like how I was raised and one of my favorite things to do as a kid was just lay on the grass outside and look at the sky and think. I sometimes wish I was still a kid to just lay around in the grass thinking.

Reply

Kristy October 14, 2011 at 7:30 am

This is great. I think as adults we have a responsiblity to set the example of down time. In this world, it is hard to let the mind wander, but that is when the magic happens!

Reply

Leslie October 18, 2011 at 6:53 pm

You are much more creative than I was. I did expect my kids to be able to play by themselves without my input. At that point in my parenting career I didn’t understand the value of the time spent actively playing with my children. Since I learned early on not to tell my mother I was bored (“I have 2 bathrooms, go clean them” was the usual response), I thought my kids were supposed to be able to play by themselves all the time. How wonderful that you have found a way to give your kids both gifts, the gift of their imagination and the gift of your time and imagination. Way to go!

Reply

Tina October 19, 2011 at 8:02 am

This is my mostest favorite article everrrr! :) I find the more I let go and just free the day, the more joy fills my house. It’s hard for me to butt out…I am always thinking of some kind of play activity or skill or something we should do together. But those days when we just get bored and do what we want? they are the best!
love it Des!
Best,
Tina
P.S. You make cute munchkins.

Reply

Laura October 21, 2011 at 10:56 pm

I love this! Doing this with a toddler is a little more difficult I have to say, but I have been trying to find ways to get my toddler to engage in play on her own. You know…without me setting it up or setting things out. (Or giving her something to do every 10 minutes.) It has given me some insight into some of the things that she is interested in and helped me realize how I can change things so that she can reach things herself. I see skills that need developing and see that I need to back off a bit and not interfere or “help” her so much. (However, she also likes to have a buddy to play with, so I am that for her a lot of the time!) It has also helped me to encourage her to work out her own “frustrations” when she “can’t” do something that I know she has the skills to do.

Reply

Rebecca October 22, 2011 at 8:02 pm

This is outstanding! But seriously? You did this with 3 and 4 year olds? For two hours a day? Really? I think the principle is outstanding though and as my daughter gets a little older, I’d sure like to try it!

Reply

Destri January 30, 2012 at 6:52 am

Hi Rebecca,
So sorry for the delayed reply. I kept this comment in the que so I wouldn’t forget to reply to it, and then I forgot to check the que :)
Anyhoo, probably for the best anyways, things have changed a bit. When I wrote this post we lived in a house with a fenced on back yard, and lots of room to spread out.
We sold our house and moved into a little apartment awaiting a pending relocation.
Not having the yard has made this MUCH harder! I still try to make sure we have at least an hour of this a day, but without all that room to roam they tend to get a little stir crazy. Definitely put a fenced in yard on my must have list for our next house :)
So I have to say it depends on your situation and determination. Like I said in the post – they had a hard time with this for the first couple weeks, and then one day it just clicked.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Reply

Helen February 25, 2012 at 6:57 pm

‘only boring people are bored’ :) I love that quote!

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: