I hear comments like these, all of the time…
Kids need to be busy to stay out of trouble.
I don’t want her just sitting around all day.
If he doesn’t have constant activities planned, he gets bored.
But what if boredom isn’t actually a bad thing?
What if, in fact, boredom is a gift?
Parents have been indoctrinated with the idea that children must follow ambitious academic and extracurricular schedules at all costs. We’ve been told that sacrificing adequate sleep and relaxation time for “productivity” is necessary for a bright future. And so we end up with days that are full to overflowing.
Many of us have bought into the idea that we must have every second of every hour of every day planned.
And although we have more flexibility as homeschoolers, we’re still not immune to the risks of overscheduling.
If we make sure our children stay busy, they won’t get bored. And if they don’t get bored, they won’t get into trouble. So if we can structure their schedules enough and account for every minute, all of our worries will subside.
Or so the story goes.
Why are we so afraid of free time and even, (gasp) boredom?
I have one word for you.
It’s so easy to let the fear of not keeping up become the boss of us. It’s challenging to drown out the voices that keep telling us that if our children aren’t productive enough, they will surely be left behind.
So all too often, we throw in sports, music, art, and foreign language because we’re told that it’s what we should be doing. And often the tradeoff is sacrificing family relationships, necessary sleep, and free time.
And we convince ourselves that the tradeoff is worth it because we can avoid that uncomfortable thing called boredom.
Except that we’re missing something very important.
Boredom is a gift.
Boredom is often the gateway to imagination and creativity.
Think back to when you were a kid. I’m going to assume you had plenty of times during your childhood when you were bored. So what did you do during these times of boredom?
Did you climb a tree, ride your bike, throw on a pair of skates, or practice double dutch? Did you build something with Legos, make a fort in the living room with blankets, or play a board game?
Maybe there was that time you begrudgingly grabbed some blank paper and markers, only to find yourself completely absorbed in your artwork a few hours later.
Or perhaps you sat in the kitchen, half-heartedly flipping through recipes, and before you knew it you were engrossed in baking homemade bread.
Maybe it was boredom that allowed the time necessary for you to write your first story. Or discover you love painting. Or create a new recipe.
Boredom allows for the time and space to daydream, contemplate, and explore.
This same time and space enable us to use our imagination and exercise our creativity.
And we learn how to be alone with ourselves. With our thoughts and questions, with our hopes and our dreams. Instead of constantly needing to be entertained, we discover what a rich inner world already exists inside of us. And we learn how to entertain ourselves by using our imagination and creativity.
Boredom is often the place where empathy begins as well.
As we read about characters and places in various books, and create our own stories, pictures, structures, musical compositions, and recipes, we develop a variety of perspectives and imagined experiences. And this opportunity to dabble with putting ourselves in the shoes of another, well, this is the beginning of empathy.
I’m not suggesting that you abandon all of the extracurricular activities that are currently a part of your life. Nor am I implying that seasons of busyness and full schedules are negative. But what I am doing is simply encouraging you to take inventory of your daily life. Are there things your children are participating in that require sacrificing family relationships, adequate sleep, and free time, among other things?
If so, it’s time to get honest with yourself and assess how you feel about boredom. Is there a way to free up some time in your schedule to allow for more unstructured time?
Imagination. Creativity. Empathy.
What incredible gifts!
Gifts that are often developed through the freedom that begins with boredom.
Boredom truly is a gift.