Free time means boredom. And boredom, properly managed, can lead to creativity. These boredom busters can help pave the path from irritated to creative.
As we delve deep into summer vacation, unscheduled free time is the norm in my house. The plus side is that studies have shown (or can be found in many a shared article on Facebook) that kids need unstructured time. And my kids, who have structure aplenty during the school year, crave the downtime that is summer. That means no camps for them. But it does mean that, coupled with limited screen time, they sometimes get bored.
I am never bored. Don’t believe me? The picture above is what I accomplished during a recent walk. Yes, these are the cracks in the sidewalk that caught my attention during a recent walk, and after a little photo editing, I created art.
My biggest frustration as a parent is that my kids don’t know the wonders of boredom. Or, at least, they don’t know how to creatively work their way out of it.
Math as Boredom Buster
When they were younger, I would help my kids work through their boredom with math. We’re waiting in line, or in a doctor’s office, and I challenge them with math questions. Or have them calculate the number of tiles on the ceiling (without simply counting them out). Or teach them about the Fibonacci sequence or some other math topic. See, they were always math-inclined, so I engaged them to other topics through math. Like when cooking, I ask my kids to scale quantities for me, then have them measure things out, convert from teaspoons to tablespoons, things like that. Now, they will raise their own math questions. For fun, my 10-year-old will take out a scrap sheet of paper and do calculations. Just because.
Alphabet as Boredom Buster
I’ve been playing the alphabet game since I was little, so I taught that boredom buster to my boys. But they’ve graduated past simply finding the alphabet in order (and then in reverse order), on to finding the letters of a designated word, to finding words that end in each letter of the alphabet. The variations are endless. Other options include finding things that start with each letter (and yes, “air” counts), and finding the shapes of letters. These days, this only works for my kids on particularly long road trips, but occasionally it can also work with a magazine in a waiting room.
Music as Boredom Buster
Be it taking turns picking the next song or playing some song game (sing two lines of a song, next person must then sing a song that starts with the last letter of the previous song) or a sing-along of camp favorites (no, I refuse to name any for fear of having them stuck in my head), music is a great way to fill time, especially when it leads to creativity. Every year in February, my kids and I come up with alternative lyrics to a favorite song for them to perform for my husband for his birthday. It’s become a family tradition. The benefits are countless; for starters, they learn to memorize new lyrics in a short period of time (we’re real procrastinators), they’re learning meter and rhyme, and they learn to harmonize.
Games as Boredom Buster
The goal, of course, in introducing all these Boredom Buster activities, is to give kids the tools to fight boredom on their own. In a productive matter that’s more socially acceptable (and less aggravating) than picking fights with siblings. That’s the void that phones fill, right? Sometimes, we just want them not to fight. Tabletop games are great, and there are plenty to choose from, but I’m talking about when the kids decide that there are no good games in the house, or you’re out and about with no games available.
- I Spy is a great opener anytime, although it’s usually how I open game time (on the highway–“I spy something green.” “Is it the grass?” “Yep.”) Then, the desire to stop playing I Spy takes over, and the kids come up with another game.
- At a restaurant, utensils can form a tic-tac-toe board, sugar vs. artificial sweetener packets become your Xs and Os.
- Taking turns telling riddles/puzzles can work for a short bit, especially if they’re in the right mood. But often they’re telling the same jokes over and over, and argue over whose joke it is. I’m part of a pun mailing list, and ask the kids to help me solve the riddles. This does involve pulling out my phone, which is why it’s so far down on the list, because that just opens the latch on Pandora’s Box, and usually I prefer not to even go down that path.
- Haiku Challenge – I’ve written about this before. Have an entire conversation where you must speak only in haiku
- Rhyme Challenge – Come up with as many words as possible that rhyme with a given word. If you can’t, you’re out. Keep going until only one person remains. That person picks the word for the next round.
- Decision Trees – Have the kids form a decision tree for something, anything. Not only does it take time, it helps them think through all steps of a process, something that can help them long-term. It can be about something actually useful, or you can turn it into a choose-your-own-adventure type of game.
The Benefits of Boredom
Ideally, introducing these games encourages brain functioning in different areas of their brains, and studies could be done as to which parts of their brains are activated during which game. And I could cite research to vouch for the long-term benefits of learning to work through boredom. But I don’t care about that. Honestly, I just want my kids to stop bickering, and to do so without feeling compelled to turn to a screen. All. The. Time.
That’s not entirely true. I want my kids to notice the wonderful world around them, to marvel at the mundane, to wonder why. My mind is crowded, with thoughts running to and fro at so frantic a pace that it’s often hard to get a hold of any particular one for long enough to notice. Story ideas scurry around in my brain, jostled and shoved aside by tasks that need completing, appointments to be made, meals that need planning and cooking, arguments that need settling. But when there’s nothing to do, nobody talking, quiet, I can clear the streets and let the ideas come to me. Or I can make my way to them.
Silence is a friend. Solitude your ticket. Boredom is a comfortable carriage to transport you to the wonderful world of your imagination. My hope is that, as long as they don’t get distracted by the creative works of others (which is my problem with sating pangs of boredom by consuming screen time), my kids can learn to make the journey into their own imagined worlds, one boredom ride at a time.