I was reading an article by David Burkus the other day in the Harvard Business Review . (That probably makes me sound smarter than I really am, but the title caught my eye!) The title was “The Creative Benefits of Boredom” and the article referenced two research studies that showed how much more creative people become when they are bored. (It’s pretty interesting if you want to read it for yourself: https://hbr.org/2014/09/the-creative-benefits-of-boredom.) The application for this article was in the workplace, but it made me think of how that works with children.
I’m not a fan of electronics for kids. Now, I’m not saying that there is nothing to be learned from educational apps for kids or that there is anything wrong with a favorite television show in moderation. But when we rely on these things to keep our kids constantly entertained, we create kids who don’t know how to do anything else. Something in their brain gets rewired to need constant stimulation and creativity goes out the window.
In our Before and After School Program, we have one Wii game station that is used in spurts. There are entire days that it doesn’t get turned on at all. The rest of our play space is outfitted with sports equipment in our gym, art supplies, blocks and manipulatives, board games, dress up and grocery store items, and a whole center of dollhouses. It is a rare day that we hear anyone complain about being bored because these kids learn how to make their own fun. They have made creative homemade board games, they put on “shows” for their friends, they make up games in the gym and they play very elaborate games of house or grocery store.
I can also attest to the way this worked in my house when my boys were younger. I limited the amount of television they could watch and we didn’t really do video games. My rule was that if they were bored, I’d find them a job to do. It’s weird how infrequently that happened. Instead, they figured out ways to keep themselves busy which often led to some pretty creative endeavors. For instance, there was the time they took a giant rubber band that had come on a piece of cabinetry and fashioned a massive sling shot from it. That idea went wrong when they hooked it to the posts on the playset and then used that slingshot to shoot plums over the house into the street. That might have been a little TOO creative! Imagine driving down our street and having a small purple grenade being fired at your car! (To the lady in the blue Oldsmobile: if you’re reading this, I’m still really sorry.)
My point is that given a little time to be bored, kids will be inventive. Don’t feel like you need to schedule every minute of their day. Don’t hand them your phone to keep them entertained while you’re waiting for your food at the restaurant. Don’t feel bad about taking them with you to run errands because it won’t be any fun for them. A little white space in their heads is a good thing! It allows a place for ideas to blossom and thinking to occur. Keep paper and markers handy for them to draw or write. Let them bring a book along. My granddaughter can play for hours with a set of little Disney princesses that I keep on hand. She makes up all kinds of dramatic scenarios for them and it is precious to listen to her tiny 2 year old voice singing and playing.
As we approach the upcoming summer out of school, think about the possibility of going unplugged. The initial breakup with the remote will be hard, but just like with that junior high boyfriend who broke your heart, there is something better on the other end. Just watch out for any combination of rubber bands and boys. (Speaking from experience here.)