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A Parent’s Praise of Boredom

August 7, 2013

Kids on lifeguard stand Aug 2013Something is happening to my kids this summer and it makes me smile.

We’ve been spending more time together as a family between hanging at the pool at home and heading down to the shore. We see our friends, but not quite as much as during the school year. We had a few weeks of camps and swim lessons, but our summer has been relatively relaxed without sports and other activities dictating our schedule.

The result is that my kids are free to be themselves in a stress-free environment.  Sure, we have the same hiccups as other families do:  whining, fighting with siblings, etc, but for the most part, they seem happy to just be allowed to be kids.

A mommy friend once asked me what I did to get my kids to behave so well.  I laughingly told her, “Oh, I just ignore them enough so they occupy themselves.”  She thought I was joking, but there is actually some truth to that.

I have read studies about how much we schedule our children with constant activities and toys that dictate how they should play, and how that is leading to a restless, never-satisfied generation who has trouble problem solving and thinking outside the box.  I often tell my kids that my favorite parenting moments seem to occur just moments after they complain of boredom.  They now know that if they tell me they are bored, I will find work for them to do.  But if they make it through their boredom on their own, they come up with the most amazing forms of independent play.

The kind of creative play that isn’t dictated by a mass manufacturer, TV show, or video game is what exercises kids’ brains to stretch and think through problems as they arise.  Critical reasoning skills are developed by working through obstacles that don’t have preset answers. Social skills like teamwork, brainstorming, and compromising are enhanced by kids’ interactions with each other. But, more than that, what I see as a parent is that my kids are smiling, laughing, and having fun together.  They are bonding as siblings who will grow closer from all of their shared experiences. They learn how far they are able to push boundaries, and how to care for each other under the guise of imagined characters and make-believe worlds.

While they play, I hear things like,

“Watch out!  He’s coming to steal your powers!”

“Not if I block him with this tower wall!”

“I’ll come protect you!!”

As they run around the yard, sidewalk, or beach with abandon, they are 100% focused on their imagined play. They laugh, scream, run, fall, and jump. Sometimes they tackle each other; sometimes they help each other up. At the end of the day, though, they are exhausted.  Nine times out of ten, after playing together all day, they collapse on the couch together, practically on top of one another. They don’t mind whose leg is touching whose.

My kids are growing closer to each other with each passing summer day.  Sure, the studies say that they’re learning critical thinking and problem solving skills while playing creatively.  But, as their mom, my greatest hope for them is that they’re learning to love and cherish their family.

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Links to studies on the value of critical thinking and problem solving as learned from creative play:

NPR “Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills”

Forbes “7 Signs That U.S. Education Decline Is Jeopardizing Its National Security”

Huffington Post “Over-Parenting Can Do More Harm Than Not Enough”

Washington Post “Here’s Why Other Countries Beat the U.S. in Reading and Math”

NY Times “Taking Play Seriously”

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