I remember whining ‘I’m bored’ with some regularity when I was a child. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my mum’s indifference to the complaint and absence of response ultimately served me well. After some time wallowing in a sort of apathetic desperation, I would eventually be compelled to find something to quench the boredom. I think the resultant drive to escape this boredom made me both explorative and creative. (One of my favourite things to do was ‘insect island’: a stone in the middle of a bowl of water on which my brother and I put a variety of insects that we had hunted down in the garden, to observe how they behaved!) Allowing boredom to ‘fester’ also meant I didn’t constantly look for new stimulation and I would quite happily repeat activities that I liked or even those that would be considered mindfully dull by today’s standards such a bashing a Swingball back and forth for ages. But I think these activities might just be called ‘mindful’ now or certainly meditative, as even Swingball could produce a soothing trance!
Many articles I read about boredom seem to equate it with the feeling you might get when completing a mundane task. I guess I would call this ‘finding the empty head’ and I am quite sure Swingball did that for me. I see that feeling as highly beneficial as it’s when our mind is allowed to wander. A wandering mind is more likely to be creative and problem solve in my opinion. I think the version of boredom I had as a child was a combination of having an empty head and also an apathy for doing anything about it. Because I was left in that state for some time without an easy quick-fix, like a screen would have provided, I eventually had to sort out my boredom for myself and I became good at it.
Now I acknowledge that I sound completely like some old codger harking on about the ‘good old days’. My case won’t be helped by the point I am about to make: our screens’ endless channels of exploration, entertainment and information, that we can engage with so easily, seem like such an obvious alleviation for childhood (and adult) boredom. However, there is growing wisdom that this is not overly ‘good for us’. The driving force of the internet is to keep us hooked and it is exceptionally good at this. We do become addicted. Our incessant clicking means we have so much less time for ‘an empty’ head. (It also occurred to me recently how odd it is that we crave so much stimulation and information but often do little with it creating a brain full of things we do nothing with!) With much less opportunity to have an ‘empty head’ I think we probably not only become less creative, we also become more mentally agitated.
So if we want our children to be creative, solve their own problems and possibly be calmer, we might have to consider less time on screens. (I know many of us have already intuited this but it is easier said than done.) Let’s imagine we took screens out of the equation – not all the time – but more of the time. What might our children do? There would be complaints at first – of the type pre-internet children whined. We would have to be determined to ride that storm. We would have to resist the highly convenient ‘shut up’ of a screen. But would it be so bad for our children to experience ‘the empty head’? It doesn’t mean we are an inattentive parent, just a busy one. That empty head feeling is more soothing than the constantly stimulated one after all. And then there would be the wandering mind stage and eventually the self-made ideas for how to fill up the brain and alleviate boredom. And that is good for us.
So the next bit is where I try to be helpful. With less practice than the older generation had, our children might need a little help to set off in the right direction and this is where my boredom list comes in. I created this it as a prompt only – with the idea of it being a starting point to help children kick start their own ideas and creative solutions for preventing boredom. So next time you hear the words, ‘I’m bored’, instead of reaching for a screen, try presenting your child with this list. They can, of course, add to it as they think of more non-screen things to do.
The boredom list:
- Copy an illustration from a book
- Go into the garden and tidy something up
- Create different faces using objects in the house and photograph them
- Remake a label for the family’s shampoo – that will make everyone laugh
- Choose a topic – e.g. an animal, an invention, a country, a historical figure and try and list ten facts you know or discover about your chosen topic
- Find out more about the people in your family by creating a questionnaire and asking everyone to complete it
- Create a treasure hunt for another person to complete
- Secretly decorate a friend’s front garden e.g. with pom pom caterpillars you have made or pebbles with googly eyes.
- Try to stain a piece of paper lots of different colours without using pens, pencils or paint -perhaps colour a picture with stains
- Draw a map of your street with as much detail as possible
- Create a sandwich with a combination of things you have never tried before
- Tidy a drawer or a cupboard
- Find a recipe in a recipe book that you would love to try
- Draw a cartoon creature, name it, make up details about what it does.
- Set tests for your non-dominant hand and try to get better e.g. aiming to get a ball in a bucket, writing your name neatly etc
- Try to make a miniature version of something e.g. chair, book, tent!
- Learn a card game and teach someone how to play it
- Do a random act of kindness to everyone in the family and record their different responses (e.g. take them a drink, give them a compliment card, tidy up a mess they made without asking).
- Hide happy messages in places where members of your family will find them.
- Set yourself a challenge and create a chart to document your progress e.g. learning to juggle, doing one helpful thing a day.
- Made a ‘smell quiz’ – including some smells with two things mixed
- Create a puzzle – a crossword, a word search, a spot the difference
- Try writing a paragraph about yourself without using the letter ‘e’
- Create art from what you find outside only
- Make funny collages – try different heads on different bodies.
- Create some new fonts.
- Make some birthday cards for birthdays coming up in the next months.