Boredom: The Spark for Summer Creativity and Learning

Being the daughter of a pilot, I have flown many times on all types and sizes of airplanes.

It’s amazing how the airline industry has kept up with technology and how, on almost any flight, you can now have access to Wifi, free in-flight entertainment and easy charging stations right at your seat. It’s become the new normal, which is why I was a little shocked as I walked onto my flight heading to Texas for a family wedding.

There was no personal TV in the seat in front of me, no charging options for my phone, and the offered Wi-Fi wasn’t working. They didn’t even have the small TV screen that folds down from the ceiling and plays one movie, even though it’s usually too many seats ahead of you or right above your head. Silly me, I’d assumed the plane would have had something to offer and so I was completely unprepared to entertain myself: no book, no phone battery, not even a pen to complete the puzzle in the back of the in-flight magazine! Boredom would be my companion for the next 3 hours.

As a kid, I didn’t enjoy boredom, but it was more familiar. Now, with Pinterest, Netflix, social media, and unlimited data, each moment of potential boredom can be prevented by stuffing every minute with a convenient distraction. Unfortunately, filling every second with mindless entertainment leaves little room for the amazing creativity that arises out of a settled mind: things like massive pillow forts, pickle baseball, or even time to doodle, or reflect in a journal. When allowed to flow uninterrupted, boredom always seemed to lead to curiosity, creativity, and space for a wild imagination to take flight.

With summer around the corner, I know many parents are dreading the inevitable complaint: “I’m bored!”  While you may be tempted to dismiss these complaints as luxuries of childhood, I want to share some insights sparked from my brief visit back to a youthful state of boredom. You see, when approached with the right perspective, summer brings the opportunity to cultivate skills that can arise in the type of boredom your child is often just too busy during the school year to experience.

Turns out that if we allow ourselves to lean in, instead of overstimulating our brains with external sources from technology and social media, boredom can be a good, if not positively transformative, asset. Boredom is often attributed to laziness, but research shows us the opposite: that boredom actually ignites greater productivity and creativity. This use of energy, during our quietest moments, is the perfect channel to allow for flow of engaging hobbies, personal interactions with others, and repurposing of our awareness and management of time.

Growth Opportunities in Boredom

1.)   Igniting Productivity and Creativity

Being bored gives a child the opportunity to explore their inner and outer worlds. This is where they learn to create, imagine, and invent scenarios, which they then reenact. Boredom sparks creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation and activity. Heather Lench, psychologist at Texas A&M University, says that “boredom becomes a seeking state because what you’re doing now is not satisfying. You are seeking, you are engaged.” This “seeking state” allows for someone to think outside of the box, which results in a safe space for creativity and innovation to occur. As children, we see this boredom spark creativity in the games we play with our siblings or friends, or the time we spend alone. It’s important to always keep in mind that an overstimulated brain leaves no room for creativity.

2.)   Engagement in New Hobbies or Interests

Boredom will inspire a child to expand their horizons and encourage their interest in new activities. Though a busy schedule can be a great thing, allowing unscheduled time for “boredom” can really let a child explore the passions that motivate them at their own pace.

Keeping a child busy with a packed schedule may inevitably result in someone who doesn’t understand how to respond to the tugging of their own heart. We want to encourage honing one’s intuition, as it will always lead to a sense of wholeness, whether that may lead to picking up a guitar, writing a song, making a movie, or simply studying the insects in the backyard. These calls from the heart are what lead us to those passions that make life meaningful and full of purpose as adults.

3.)  Personal Relationships

Our dependence on technology increases sharply with its capabilities, and we are most victim when we are bored. Unfortunately, this reliance on social media to alleviate a state of ennui causes many of us to miss opportunities to engage in our interpersonal relationships. Instead of seeking others’ out for conversation and comfort, we withdraw, creating larger gaps which inevitably distance us from those we care about. We must give children a genuine space to socialize with others so that they have a chance to cultivate meaningful relationships. Teamwork, or even play dates, can teach them how to share and collaborate, an essential life skill.

4.)   Increased Awareness of Time

Unstructured time is crucial for a child’s healthy development. As an adult and as a teenager, one of the biggest challenges is learning how to manage time well.

It is important that from a young age, children have the experience of being able to decide what and how exactly they are going to use their extra time. They should be allowed to determine their own priorities, and the rewards and consequences of properly allocating that time. Learning how to manage time brings an awareness with its reality and how much of it they can spend. Are they spending their time mindlessly scrolling, or sleeping? Would they prefer to paint or read or play soccer? Children need to encounter and engage with the reality of life in order to fully comprehend so they can ultimately repurpose their lives for their own betterment.

Despite research citing the contribution of boredom to a variety of positive outcomes for both adults and children, research alone is not convincing enough for most kids. You can combat this by prepping your home for those moments of summer stasis! That way when your child complains with a drawn out, “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!”, you can immediately present them with engaging ways for them to lean in to their boredom for a creative summer.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Have art materials such as paper, pens, art, glue, glitter etc. prepared and allow your child to choose how they would like to spend their time using the materials given.
  • Go outside. This could lead to climbing trees, playing different sports, or watching the butterflies and insects crawl.  
  • Phone a friend or a sibling. Allow your child to have a playdate with a trusted friend or with their siblings but limit screen time. This allows that very important personal interaction to lead to even more creative games like creating different characters or roles.
  • Take a mini field trip to a new location: the beach, the park, or even the neighborhood. A change of scenery can also spark the motivation to explore with creativity.
  • Have new books or games available that might interest your child or have them create a game or story with you.

As you can see, the benefits of boredom are plentiful! With an allotted space for unstructured time, you and your child will find greater productivity and creativity leading to innovation and imaginative ways to explore new interests, along with a thirst for more real-world engagement. Best of all, boredom will ultimately strengthen your relationships with others, and gift you with the space to consider your purpose and your use of time.

About the Author

Karina Fowble studied child development and psychology at Point Loma Nazarene University. This blog was inspired by her family, who would still pick spending time together, playing outside, or planning an adventure over screen time any day of the week. She and her husband live in Leucadia where they enjoy bike riding, local breweries, and the beach. As Program Coordinator at La Jolla LearningWorks, Karina spends her day connecting with families, listening to their stories, and helping them find personalized solutions to remove roadblocks to their children’s school success: “When I feel I have offered hope to a discouraged parent, it brings life to my day.”

Visit La Jolla LearningWorks online {https://ljlearningworks.com/get-started-form/} to connect with Karina and learn more about creative ways to ignite your child’s learning.
 

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