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Making Time for Boredom: How unstructured downtime allows for the growth of creativity

Making Time for Boredom:  How unstructured downtime allows for the growth of creativity

Written by: by Judith Pack, excerpted from Community Playthings

When a parent complains that her child is bored in a classroom, teachers should ask, “What is the parent really saying or feeling?” Take time to consider the context of families lives today, the pressures families experience with the constant barrage of misinformation they receive from the media, and the attitude changes about childhood that have taken place over the years.

Changes in Attitude, Expectations, and Environment of Childhood
It's not clear whether children complain more today than they used to about being bored, but we do know that childhood has changed considerably during the past 30 years. This is not because young children have fundamentally changed, but because of the environment in which they find themselves and the expectations placed on them have changed. Perhaps, today, there is a tendency for adults to believe they must alleviate a child’s boredom, compared to a time when parents did not feel it was their responsibility. A parent of 30 years ago might say, “You’re bored? Figure out something to do!”
Listed below are a few factors that reveal how childhood has changed and influenced our attitude about time and boredom.

More structured lives. Most young children spend full days in childcare settings and after school programs and then find themselves in structured activities during the weekends. These children simply do not have any practice in boredom and, therefore, do not know what to do when it occurs.

Play. Adults once assumed that play was the work and natural occupation of children. By definition, play means that children are engaged in self-initiated activities, alone or with other children. For young children, play encompasses fantasy, use of their senses, being active, and using their bodies to understand the world around them. Children who play often become master players and do not need much outside guidance. When bored, children invent things to do because they regulate the play. Has that changed?

Entertainment. There seems to be a sense that children must be entertained to keep them from being bored. This might explain the highly orchestrated children’s parties, and the many structured, adult-led activities and sports in which young children are now participating. Children are rarely left to their own devices and time is scheduled rather than experienced.

Technology. Technology offers children a constant array of stimulating virtual activities for which there is no need for a pause or interruption, a friend, or an idea to blossom. There is no opportunity to be bored in a “good” way.

Anxiety. Parents express anxiety about their children not making the grade in school and in life. They worry about their child’s future and believe that play or “doing nothing” is a waste of precious time and instead choose time spent on skill building or academic programs that keep their child occupied.

 When left to their own devices, children will naturally invent things to do when they are bored.

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