I am of an age where if, as a child, you said you were bored the answer was likely to be, “Only boring people are bored,” and be left to find something to do. There was always something to do, go outside and throw a tennis ball against a wall, go out on your bike, do some colouring, play with the Lego, do a jigsaw OR if you really got bored do your homework or tidy your bedroom!
Nowadays it seems that the majority of children do not often seem to say that they are bored. They don’t often have to find their own entertainment, use their imagination or even have several hours at a time that are not pre-filled with activities. Parents (normally) want to do their best for their children. Charlie wants to do football – that’s 5:30 on Wednesday, Sammie wants to do ballet – that’s 4:00 on Thursday, extra maths, Judo, trampolining, swimming, cubs… the list goes on, frequently only limited by the time to fit the activities for 2/3/4 children into a week.
When these children are not at school, at one of their chosen activities, eating or sleeping there is frequently an electronic device close at hand. These instant babysitters seem to be loved by children of all ages. They offer a wide variety of activities (saves getting bored) from educational games through to films and TV programmes or even books, the children are occupied, the adults are happy. Is this lack of boredom good though?
When we were bored our minds would wander, out of, perhaps, desperation we would get out the Lego – what started as yet another house would get developed into a robot’s secret base which became a space station for aliens. It would often be politely suggested that it was too nice to be indoors and we should go outside. If our siblings were around then hide and seek, cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians were possibilities, games with no scripts, games that let us try different personas, games that were not predictable, games that included problem solving and co-operation. When we were fed up of these racing round games, grabbing a drink (and if you were lucky, and it wasn’t too close to tea time, an apple or a biscuit) you could lie and look at the clouds. Looking at the moving clouds started story telling – why was that dog eating a dragon that changed into a train?
As a teacher I frequently hear people saying that “all this autism and ADHD didn’t exist when we were young,” but as has also been said many times, Everest was there before someone climbed it. The children with autism, ADHD or similar disorders were around – there may not have been quite as many, they may not have been as prominent in society and certainly not as many had official diagnoses but they were there. Showing my age I can say that life was different then, these children had time to be themselves, to find ways to amuse themselves, follow their own interests and, yes, get bored. I wonder if in this boredom, this time where their brains could follow their own paths they were learning to self-regulate. Perhaps during the “I feel bored, I don’t know what to do, I can’t concentrate; I need to move/ escape/ curl up/ build something” internal conversations these children found ways to help themselves feel better? I don’t know, I don’t have autism or ADHD but I do know that if ever I was bored that books were a great place to go, I also learnt that running did nothing for me!
So perhaps we should give children longer opportunities to be bored (not just lunch time at school). I wonder what would happen if children had longer unstructured times with space and quiet, times when electronic devices didn’t feed information and amusement straight to them, times that weren’t filled with extra-curricular activities, time for thoughts to wander and half formed ideas to be developed and changed. Would this hurt the children of today? I don’t think so. Would it be harder on the parents? Perhaps, no-one wants an unhappy child and initially children who are used to entertainment on tap or their days all planned may be unhappy – and bored. Would we see the benefits in the long run? I think so.
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