Make Time to Get Bored!

This may surprise you, but kids aren’t bored enough these days. Boredom is the breeding ground for creativity. If every single moment of a child’s life is scheduled, there’s no room for exploration, outside-of-the-box thinking, and just plain old free play.

It was against the rules at my house to utter the phrase, “I’m bored!” This phrase was a signal that I was unable to provide myself with an activity, so my mom would gladly do so. My sister and I learned pretty quickly what activities were high on my mom’s list of “Great tasks to alleviate boredom”: Vacuuming, dusting, doing the dishes…It didn’t take long for us to realize our OWN plans for avoiding boredom were much more desirable.

I grew up before video games and iPads. To top it off, we also didn’t have a television. We spent countless hours outside, pretending to be pioneers, business owners, or oil barons to name a few. The most exciting thing about these outdoor adventures was the creativity needed to actually pull it off. A sure sign of creativity in action is using an object for something other than its purpose. Your imagination makes a stick into a spoon, a bunch of weeds into a pretend salad, or a stump into a restaurant table. At times, our “game” would require some stellar architectural skills. We built a fort, teepee, pulley system, and even a full blown drum set out of tractor discs and barrels. Without a defined structure, hours of roleplaying, building, or running around not only developed our imaginations, but also improved our communication skills and allowed us to work out sticky situations which undoubtedly arose in any roleplaying game.

I specifically remember the time I decided to route my oil barrels (empty buckets) to a distant property (the backyard shed) which happened to cross my cousin’s land (road behind indicated shed). We met at a fancy restaurant (loft in the barn) to hash out the details of an agreement with, of course, some angsty conversation surrounding my intrusion on his property. And now we know why I have such highly developed negotiation skills!

The bottom line is unstructured play time for children is on the decline. In a monthly newsletter from the National Institute of Health, it was noted that children have lost an average of 8 hours per week of free play over the past two decades. Some of this attrition can be attributed to video games, no safe outdoor environments, and overscheduled lives. Many children have several hours of homework after an 8 hour day at school IN THE 4th GRADE! Or they attend a different extracurricular activity almost every night: chess club, dance class, softball, piano lesson, and swimming lessons. Each of these activities is so valuable in its own right, but all together on one child’s calendar often means no free play and very little time to master any of them.

As a violin teacher, I have noticed a consistent pattern in the students who are the most successful. They have one or maybe two different activities and an incredible level of commitment to them. My top student studies violin and takes swimming lessons. Violin is her main “thing” which encompasses several different activities: private lessons, touring ensemble, a chamber music group, and related summer camps. Because she has immersed herself in the violin, she has a wonderful peer group, continues to develop her leadership and communication skills through her ensemble participation, and is engaging in a wildly creative activity on a daily basis: making music.

I can’t say enough about the incredible value of studying an instrument: discipline, patience, right and left brain integration, emotional expression, teamwork, executive function, socialization, fun, and the list goes on. However, I would also encourage families to choose fewer activities and plan for unstructured play time. Create the space to get bored and watch the imagination ignite! Focus attention on mastery of a challenging activity like learning an instrument and watch the brain develop through an in-depth, consistent experience.

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