Boredom is Part of the Rhythm of Learning

Posted May 01, 2020

Encouraging your children when there is “nothing to do”

Wings unsplash-logoKelly Sikkema

In recent weeks, our children suddenly have a lot more time to fill and a lot less outside adventure. Parents who are home more might have to focus on work in a home space usually reserved for family. Perhaps your family is dealing with the added complexity of parents who are out every day as key workers during this pandemic.

Whatever your current dynamic, this isn’t a holiday or home time like your children know it. There are not day trips to the beach, play dates at friends houses and that first spring BBQ is for garden owners only. Even if your children do love lots of screen time, we’re into week six of lockdown and it’s probably not quite as fulfilling as it was in week one. So, how do you keep the momentum going when children are just getting bored?

Welcome boredom in

When my daughters tell me they are bored, I become enthusiastic. I tell them, excellent! Then we are about to learn a little more about you.

I’ll be honest, the first time I heard those words come out of my mouth my mental self rolled my eyes. My children didn’t. They got excited. They asked me what I meant and how I knew that?

Boredom sits under two main experiences; when you are repeating monotonous tasks or when you have the luxury of time.

Fortunately for our children, their type of boredom tends to fall into the latter. In this lockdown world, they have more time than they have interesting things to do.

Of course, that’s not what I told my then three-year-old. I told her that when she found the thing she wanted to do next, she would no longer be bored and she would understand a little more about how she likes to spend her time.

She started searching for it, like a treasure hunt, and I dare say, she was no longer bored. This had an added benefit too, as she does now actively thinks about whether she’s enjoying a task. She knows what she enjoys and recognises when she’s just tolerating something, which makes it easier for her to pick activities or projects she really does want to spend time and energy on.

Recognising interest

When there’s a lot of scheduled activities involved in a day, it can take a change of pace to recognise when children are choosing to focus on a personal interest, rather than doing an activity because of an obligation or lack of an alternative. Passionate, interest-led learning takes energy. If children are very busy, they might be using their time between tasks to relax, but not to discover new interests.

I’m not suggesting you pause all activities. Sometimes they keep everyone in the house going. Instead, take some time to remember a term break or leave a little unscheduled time in the upcoming weekend and see where that opportunity leads your children.

We had some time away from work and our daily routines, at home together this Easter and enjoyed a lot of family time. Here’s a list of a few of the things our eldest daughter sought out independently during this break too;

All but the last of these occurred in a pocket of time when we had not arranged any activity. There are two things you should know about this list. Firstly, all of these slotted in around other activities and family time. And crucially, our daughter is not naturally a very independent soul.

Our daughter will be five this month. As a baby and toddler, she only played when we played, much preferring to spend her time in adult company to playing alone. Her love language is acts of service from others. She enjoys spending time with people and seeks regular reassurance for independent tasks.

Despite all this, we now often see her developing, creating and working on projects independently, when she is given time to explore her own interests.

Don’t expect instant results

Even if children do indicate an interest, the response might not be immediate. It is worth playing the waiting game. My daughter chose a book all about customising clothes, from the adult section of the library last time we visited. For two weeks, she didn’t even flick through the pages, despite encouragement.

Then one day recently, I told her how lovely she looked in her outfit and she responded; “maybe if there were some gems here, and here.” One raid of the odds and ends box and a glue gun session later, she felt like an Empress.

Custom shoes

It’s okay to sit with boredom

There’s a lot of resources available at the moment, and our homes are holding so much daily life. You don’t need to fill all of the time at home with elaborate things to do. It’s nice every once in a while, like chocolate ice cream or whipped cream. But there’s treasure hiding in the quiet days filled with boredom too.

It’s okay to not have a plan for the afternoon. It’s okay to have nothing scheduled to do. Unscheduled time encourages our children to seek their passions. Boredom teaches our children more about how they want to spend their time, before their life is filled with all the adult things they have to do.