Bring on the Boredom
The best cure for summer boredom? Take it easy.
“Only boring people get bored.”
After an action-packed school year full of agendas, homework and extra-curricular programs, we suddenly find ourselves in a summer lull. It’s not long before we hear those dreaded words, “Mom, I’m bored.” Kids (and parents) have become so accustomed to the stimulation of fully scheduled weeks – the always on, fast-paced daily timetable – they don’t remember how to stop.
Dad wasn’t much of a philosopher, but what he meant about getting bored is that boredom is a state of mind – it’s generated from the inside. So, before we devise this summer’s jumbo “to-do” list, consider taking a few deep breaths, and allowing some of your summer to just unfold.
What’s it all about?
Remember when summer vacation meant riding your bike or hanging out at the beach all day? The greatest challenge children face today is the change in the pattern of their leisure time. For so many reasons – safety, social and intellectual development, workplace demands – adults have co-opted kids’ free time, channeling them into lessons, programs, etc.
Sometimes, working parents with young children have few options. Our ongoing need for childcare translates into constant stimulation for our kids: they are seldom alone or un-programmed. This, together with their decidedly structured play using highly realistic toys, has all but robbed them of their imagination and their natural ability to amuse themselves. Children who are constantly stimulated will ultimately need to be constantly stimulated to feel satisfied. When stimulation stops, boredom strikes.
When our child complains, “There’s nothing to do!”, we may feel compelled to solve the crisis by getting him to do something, such as watch TV or play video games. This may simply exacerbate the problem. Instead, try getting to the root of the feeling, and fire up his imagination.
How to help
Though it’s tempting to jump in with solutions, a good response to our child’s boredom is empathy: “Hmmm, so you’re feeling bored, huh?” Then let them vent (‘the dog just wants to sleep’, ‘my best friend’s away’, ‘it’s boring here’, etc.). Sometimes your child may simply be looking for adult attention – a little time-in with mom or dad. Other times, the fuel in their imagination tank may have run dry.
After plenty of empathy (be patient), our best response is to model a willingness to be…still. It’s never too late to make our rigid schedule more flexible and slow the pace of our week. If you’ve resisted, or simply not given it any thought until now, consider that summer is an ideal time to consciously choose to plan less.
Take it easy
Resist the urge to become your child’s one-person entertainment committee. Instead, help fire up their imaginations – brainstorm with them to figure out what they’re most interested in, offer them a camp experience if finances permit, support the older ones in getting a part-time job or doing some community service, and provide ideas for play with some supplies (see sidebar). Once you’ve made an internal decision to slow down, you may find a lot of the pressure is off, leaving you and your children free to enjoy the summer together.
Ways to Play
Here are some ideas you may wish to post on the fridge for inspiration.
- With water: spray bottles, sprinklers, squirt guns, kiddy pool or hose in the backyard
- With dirt: gloves, shovels, a magnifying glass; dig in the garden; find bugs or rocks; plant seeds; make mudpies
- In sand: add buckets, cups, scoops; dig for treasure; build castles, roads, alien worlds
- In the yard: play tag, Frisbee, soccer, badminton, hide-and-seek, hula-hoop, catch; fly kites; cloud watch; build an obstacle course or fort; go on a scavenger hunt; set-up a tent; have a cookout, star gaze or go on a night safari
- On the sidewalk: chalk drawing; hopscotch; use a paintbrush with water to make disappearing art; rollerblade
- In your neighbourhood: use tennis courts, baseball diamonds, skate parks, the pool or the beach; put on a talent, pet or puppet show; have a garage sale
- With family: day trips – beach, park, conservation area, a festival, your friend’s house
- Build: a fort or tent out of sheets, towels, pillows, chairs; a castle with blocks or lego
- Pretend: dress up; use a story book or make up your own; put on a show; have a tea party
- Enjoy music: listen, sing, dance, play along or make your own
- Take pictures: build a portrait studio for pets, stuffed animals or figurines; make a film; experiment
- Make pictures: paint, draw, sketch, colour, collage, sculpt, carve; make paper airplanes; tie-dye
- Be creative: try a recipe; sew or knit; write a story; perform an experiment; make jewelry; invent something with junk
- Use your hands: make playdough; fingerpaint; use clay; make a photo album or scrapbook; play charades, cards, I Spy or a board game; play in the bath; do a puzzle
- Visit: the library, gallery, museum, community centre, theatre, or a friend
- Enjoy quiet time: read; daydream; bird watch; hang in the hammock; try Yoga; listen to summer