Much has already been written about children’s boredom as an opportunity for them to develop imagination and play. However, today I wanted to give this topic one more turn because I feel that boredom is always talked about in the positive and if we affirm that without further ado we become a little lame, by not looking or observing the whole context well.
The truth is that in a society like ours, full of stimuli, talking about boredom as something positive is fantastic. But if we defend the value of boredom in childhood out of hand, we may find ourselves in situations in which boredom is not so fruitful.
Is boredom always healthy? Or under what conditions must it occur to be a boredom that benefits children?
WHEN THERE IS NO TIME TO GET BORED …
It is true that today we live in a super stimulating society. We are entertained all day with a thousand tasks and when not with technology. It is certainly a change from the last few years.
Not two decades ago I had my first mobile … and of course, I did not do even 5% of the things that all these devices do today.
Now all parents often have in their hands that little gadget that is capable of displaying endless skills and that children quickly learn to handle perfectly. It is an easy resource that is used often in all moments of waiting.
In this way … those little moments of boredom, of having to wait, have largely disappeared … I think of the car journeys without screens in front, the waits at doctor’s appointments or anywhere else, the meals in restaurants … children were more used to those kinds of moments. Of course it was boring but I think that, in general, you were more used to dealing with them.
The tempos weren’t that frenzied either. More and more children are experiencing an endless escalation of activity: school, extracurricular activities of all kinds, weekends full of activities … How to face the moments of emptiness? Those in which suddenly there is nothing to do … Of course, it is not easy.
THE ENVIRONMENT OF BORING
But as I say … Although “getting bored” can be positive in the sense of learning to manage dead times and being able to entertain yourself, that does not mean that in any case or situation it is positive, fertile or productive.
How is the space in which the child develops?
Children are often bored because the environment is not suitable for starting their imagination or creativity. That is why it is interesting to review the materials that the child has at their fingertips and see if they are adequate to have a prolific game.
1. Too stimulating materials : Electronic or battery-operated toys, which capture the child’s full attention, “hijack” the mind for a time, usually short, but after that moment … The child gets bored (pun intended) of the material and abandons it.
They are toys that do not allow the child to do much, but they are the ones that display endless activities. It is normal that with these play materials the child ends up getting bored and not knowing what to do with them.
And it is difficult for a child accustomed to toys that display many activities later to start doing others by himself.
2. I also think about consoles and other electronic devices . These, unlike battery-powered games, do not usually cause the child to abandon them, although they do place the child at such a level of stimulation that when leaving them he is unable to slow down and find what to do. To put it very simply … If the mind is used to going to 1,000 … How to entertain yourself at 5 per hour? It is certainly not easy.
Fertile spaces in ideas
In a totally empty and white space … What can be done? It is clear that we can always stretch out on the floor and let our imaginations fly, but we must admit that it will take much more to entertain ourselves or find what to do.
Of course a white and barren space is an exaggeration but it is a way of emphasizing the importance of space.
For a child to be creative, display his game, his interests … it is necessary that the space be interesting. That he has access to it, that he can touch it … that he can manipulate its elements … That is why Simon Nicholson, who developed the “Theory of loose parts” defended that the degree of creativity of children was proportional to the number of variables that had in the environment.
That is, the more materials and elements there are in a space, which can be moved, grouped, separated, etc. the greater the inventiveness of the children.
Along the same lines, Loris Malaguzzi believed that if we started from a conception of the child as a creative, competent and capable being, we would create environments that reflected those capacities.
For this reason, when they are at home and they frequently say “I’m bored” let’s look at the space and make sure that it is an environment with which they can interact, that there are materials to manipulate, to build their worlds, their own stories …
Special mention to nature
I want to make special mention of nature because I feel that outdoor and more natural spaces are rich in “loose parts” and interesting things to discover and experience. That is why, out there, although at first they may get bored … they always find what to do.
I give you an example that we are living lately and it seems to me that it illustrates well what he means.
For days when finishing school, at noon, the children want to go to a nearby stream. They are completely devoted to what they discover there. There are a lot of stones, herbs and reeds. Even pieces of tiles and billet …
Every day they make up new stories there. Today they cooked with all this and they seemed prehistoric, each one with his little bonfire. Other times they play at sawing all those elements, they transport them from here to there …
I have a feeling that, at least for Earthman, this is the best time of day. A time when you can manipulate the environment and be creative with it.
The more free time spaces, paradoxically, there is less boredom
Contrary to what it might seem … less activities equals less boredom.
At least, in my experience, I have observed that the more activities children do and the less free time they have … it is more difficult for them later to be with themselves, their desires and needs and start playing, creating or doing some activity from their own will .
It is a bit what happens after looking at screens or technological devices … If our head does not stop and it goes very fast … it costs much more to settle in a slower time and find what to do.
On the other hand, if we seek quiet times, either at home with well-prepared spaces or in nature … connecting with oneself and giving free rein to the game, or to our own creations or to just sit down relaxed is usually much easier.
SO, BORING YES OR NO?
To conclude … I would like to end by remarking that when we talk about boredom in the positive, as a fertile land in the child’s life, from which great ideas and games can flourish, it is necessary that the environment is suitable and that the child has freedom to be able to get out of that situation.
On the contrary, as Heike Freire already remarks in his Praise of Laziness , if we are forcing children to attend to things that do not interest them at all or if they are in a space in which they cannot do anything at all … we will be facing a Terrible boredom situation that can demotivate you in many areas.
With all this, what I wanted to convey in this article is that we do not use the phrase “getting bored is good” so lightly. We are able to distinguish between fertile and creative boredom from situations that condemn the child to negative and infertile boredom.
Those of us who are accompanying children day by day, as parents and educators, let us ensure that they have spaces, materials and freedom to be able to face that boredom in a fruitful way. Let’s not deny that responsibility for the mere fact that “getting bored is healthy.”
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