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Praise Of Boredom

by The Next Family August 20, 2012

By: Ann Brown

A parent dropped off a magazine article to me a few weeks ago, saying, “I thought you’d like this.”   I am always curious to see what kinds of things you think I’d be interested in because I know I kinda have a reputation for being a bit….well, offbeat. I remember a while back, a parent in my class brought me a book on parenting by the alignment of the stars, certain that I had already read it, perhaps even co-authored it. And I still have the article a parent gave me when I taught in LA, on how to raise your child without ever saying the word no; with a personal note attached: I bet you agree with this, huh?

I hope I don’t need to tell you that I most certainly do NOT agree with that idea. Although I do feel that we say no to our kids before we are committed to enforcing it, and that causes all sorts of problems.

But I digress…

Admittedly, I do embrace some of the more Bohemian ideas in life; however, I have not raised my kids by the alignment of the stars, never telling them no, hydroponically, speaking only Esperanto, in a Skinner Box, or by feeding them food that correlates to their inner temperaments. Okay, well, I did do the food–to-temperament thing but only because my son really did like the fruits that grow high on trees. (It’s a Waldorf thing.)

But this parent last week was right on target with me. I loved that article she gave me, titled, “The Benefits of Boredom”. It’s so refreshing to read something academic; something with scientific data that supports my soapbox pontificating. I knew from years of being a parent and more years of being a teacher that our kids do not get enough “off duty” time. I knew it in my intellect and I knew it in my heart, and here it was in black and white: “…some experts think that allowing kids to do nothing may be the most creativity-building activity of all.”

Pretty revolutionary words in this age of in-utero Baby Mozart.

There was an expression in the article that I particularly liked: unbroken days. That expression evoked in me visions of warm, sunny days, long summer afternoons and full relaxation. As parents, the first thing we relinquish to our new life is the promise of unbroken days. Who among us doesn’t long for an entire month, week, day, even an hour of uninterrupted time? To begin a project knowing that we don’t have to stop until we are done. To sit quietly with our thoughts. To be the master of our own time. To be free of the insidious alarm clock within us that finds us only half-enjoying our free time, never knowing when we will be called away, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Anyone with kids knows what I am talking about. We are so burdened with schedules, time limits, hurrying, doing, doing, doing.

And yet, we visit this burden upon our children. In our sincere and noble quest to enrich our children’s lives we might have forgotten the value of doing nothing. “The moment you start slotting things in and breaking up time, you’re breaking up the opportunity for discovery,” reads the article. It goes on to praise giving kids space to daydream. A first grade teacher remembers scolding one of her students for daydreaming during a lesson on the letter M, but when she asked the child what he was thinking about when he was supposed to be thinking about the letter M, he replied, “I was wondering… if people are flying in a jet that’s going faster than the speed of sound, would that change their conversation?” A daydream worthy of Einstein, to be sure.

Summer is here and with it comes the rite of modern society: summer activity sign-ups. The papers are filled with summer camp advertisements, classes, enrichment programs. It’s easy to get pulled along. It’s easy to think that your kids are missing out on important opportunities if they aren’t enrolled in Advanced Papier Mache class, or Conversational Sanskrit, or SAT for Tots. It’s easy to think that your child needs a handful of playdates during a week-long school break. It’s difficult to swim against the stream, to introduce your family to doing nothing. We all want to avoid hearing the dreaded, “I’m bored” when it’s only 10AM on the first Monday morning of a three-month summer vacation.

My sister and I used to perform “plays” for the neighborhood kids when we were young. These plays were conceived in long, boring, hot summer days when we had given up bugging my mom to take us to the beach, to take us to a friend’s house, to take us ANYWHERE. We flopped around on the backyard lawn for a few hours and then we started on that day’s play. Lucky for us, the rest of the neighborhood kids were as bored as we were, else they would have walked out on our daily musical extravaganzas, which consisted mainly of my sister putting various costumes on me while singing the “ya da da da ta da” theme from The Can-Can. But the point is, we didn’t need to be enrolled in a children’s’ theater class (though our critics might disagree) to inspire us; we simply needed the time and the absence of distraction.

I am not against all extracurricular activities. And spending a summer or a weekend at home, but glued to the tube or in front of the computer is also not what I am talking about. I am talking about giving our kids the gift of unbroken days. Letting them be bored. Letting them discover their thoughts, their inner quietude, letting them discover themselves.

And discovering who you are is a truly enriching activity.

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