Think back to when you were a kid. Remember going outside in the morning and staying there until the streetlights came on? Or your mom saying, “Run along and play?”
I do. I remember heading next door to Claudia’s house or down the street to Natasha’s to ask them to come out and play. We would build forts or play hide and seek (always a good excuse to hide from Natasha’s annoying little brother). Sometimes we’d head down to the creek and build dams or dig up clay to make funny little bowls and pots. We’d roller skate to the corner store and spend half an hour choosing exactly which penny candy to spend my allowance on (a whole quarter back then). On rainy days we’d watch leaves float down the gutter or go down into the basement and practice our dance routines.
If the other neighbourhood kids weren’t home, I’d read books in my yard, pet our rabbits, craft dollhouse furniture from old matchboxes and twigs, colour, rearrange my sticker collection, pick wild blackberries, teach myself card tricks, or make “perfume” out of flowers and leaves from the backyard. I didn’t dare tell my parents, “I’m bored,” because I knew from hard experience that I’d just be sent to clean my room.
Read more: 50 Fantastic Ways to Fight Summer Boredom
Times have changed. Now we spend vastly more time sitting inside watching screens than playing outside. Instead of a handful of TV channels, we have more entertainment options streaming on-demand than we could ever possibly watch. Hands off has turned into helicoptering, and our kids’ time is filled up with after school programs, clubs, classes, weekend sports, and prearranged play dates. Sometimes we behave as if boredom is this terrible, awful thing to be avoided at all costs. But boredom isn’t something to be dreaded or even something to be tolerated. Actually, boredom is a good thing.
I want my kids to be bored. Important things happen when they’re bored. There will be many times in their lives when they’ll be alone, and I want them to feel comfortable with solitude and comfortable in their own skin. I don’t mean to say that structure isn’t a good thing. Of course kids need expectations and structure. But they also need significant chunks of unstructured time too. How else will they learn how to manage their own time and entertain themselves? Boredom forces them to be creative and pushes them to practice being independent.
With summer vacation here, we have a ton of free time, but I’ve been resisting the urge to structure and plan all their time. Sure, it would be easier in the short-term to direct their play, sign them for camp all summer long, or just turn on the TV. When they complain about being bored, I could make suggestions and find things for them to do. There would be a lot less moaning and whining, that’s for sure!
But I won’t save my kids from boredom, because that’s when the best stuff happens. That’s when they’ll finally have the time and space to find an unexpected passion or uncover a new talent. That’s when they’ll practice figuring things out on their own and discover how rewarding it is to accomplish something just for themselves. So if they spend all afternoon following a ladybug across the back yard, reading comic books, or learning how to do the perfect cartwheel, I’m happy with it.
If your kids are really out of practice and need a little push, you can give them this list of 50 summer ideas to help them get started.