Everyone experiences boredom at some point in their lives. But have you wondered what boredom really means? Boredom has many synonyms: bore, boring, ennui, tedium, apathy, unconcern, restlessness, dissatisfaction, dull, monotony, lethargy, languor, blahs, doldrums, etc. There are many definitions of boredom depending on what psychologist or doctor you talk with. The dictionary definition is just “the state of being bored.” However, one psychological definition of boredom is “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable to engage in satisfying activity.” And, based on psychological research there are 5 types of boredom:
- Indifferent – calm but not part of the world around them
- Calibrating – wandering thoughts
- Searching – consciously thinking of other activities, leisure, or work
- Reactant – need to escape and can be restless and aggressive
- Apathetic – feeling of helplessness and depression
There are even psychological tools to measure levels of boredom (Boredom Proneness Scale, Multidimensional State Boredom Scale, Leisure Boredom Scale, Boredom Susceptibility Scale, etc.). Boredom is different from depression and apathy even though those terms are sometimes used. Boredom can be good and bad. It basically is an unpleasant mental or emotional state that people seek relief from.
For our son, public school was a case of bad boredom during much of kindergarten and first grade. Instead of misbehavior like some students can do. Mine was quiet and passive. He wrote notes to us and to his teachers. Every day was a complaint about something: what he repeated, errors the staff may have made between column and rows, errors in the order of adding, displeasure that he couldn’t do multiplication or division in class, mad that he had to wait for the others to complete their work, school was too easy, when will he get to do real work, older grade teachers complaining about him taking the upper-grade reading rewards, being given easy readers, being given forced topics of writing, etc. The list could go on. School boredom was crushing our son’s desire to learn. The school did let him do lots of online programs and his teachers tried to find some harder level material. We also did after school programs online through Northwestern University’s GLL and Stanford University’s EPGY. Those programs thrilled our son. Those programs combined with the school staff suggesting us to either homeschool or grade skip led us to choose to leave public school for homeschooling. We no longer get boredom complaints about academics. We do sometimes get boredom complaints when not doing learning activities or when he has lost access to devices. But even those complaints of boredom are seldom compared to when he was in public school.
However, for the kids in a traditional school setting and who are bored daily, parents need to be proactive in finding solutions. Homeschooling may not be an option. Boredom in the schools needs to be addressed because students who are not taught at their zone of proximal development may not learn adequate study skills. If school work is too easy, there is no challenge, no frustration to overcome, and no learning of study skills or time management. Boredom in the schools is not a good thing. There may be periods of boredom during a school day, but the majority of a school day should not be filled with boredom. If there is, like there was with our son, there is not a fit between the child and the level of instruction they are receiving.
Now, boredom outside of school is a whole different discussion. Some amount of boredom is good. Kids do not need every minute of their day scheduled. Having down time or free time is a good thing. And, some of that time is prime for developing creativity. Unscheduled time is perfect free time. And, kids need to learn how to enjoy down time or free time.
Don’t let your kids use a screen when they are bored, instead try these ideas:
- Water – sink, bucket, or hose; water play of any kind and with just about anything (old sprinkler heads, water balloons, water toys, straws, old preschool toys, etc.); etc.
- Outdoors – Nature therapy; exploring; magnifying glass to bugs, bark, plants; playing with nature; etc.
- “Take apart” – taking apart anything that is not needed (toys, appliances, electronics, etc.) but may need an adult to supervise or assist
- Construction – building with any materials (Legos, K’Nex, tinker toys, lincoln logs, sticks, straws, blocks, etc.) and no rules or instructions
- Art – use of any materials (clay, paints, markers, crayons, felt, ribbons, etc.) and creating anything
- Read – reading anything be it books, magazines, comics, manuals, etc.
- Music – playing any instrument, making any instrument, or even using non-instruments to make music; listening to music (not videos)
- Clean – Doing chores or organizing of a room. If a child of any age really can’t come up with something to do with from the above choices then maybe they do need to clean up a room as sometimes when cleaning they will suddenly find a toy they forgot about. I had a friend who would rotate through boxes of toys and games. Once a kid said they were bored, they were told to box up stuff and an old box would come out. To their young child, it was as if “new” toys appeared.
Remember, you aren’t planning what they are doing with the above ideas. Instead, you just give them choices and they will find or think of something to do. Sometimes they just need to hear an idea or get permission to do some of the ideas I mentioned. In the case of our son, sometimes he is the most creative when he is in his “parts room” just “playing.” And, I know he could kill an hour easily when I tell him to just go outside and let him play with the hose. Screen breaks are needed and so is unstructured play on their terms in order to be creative out of good boredom.
Here are some additional readings on Boredom:
- There are 5 Types of Boredom. Which are you feeling? by Jessica Leber
- Boredom is Good for You by Jude Stewart
- Why Boredom is Anything but Boring by Maggie Koerth-Baker
- The Health Benefits of Going Outside by James Hamblin and Katherine Wells
- Why This Mom Plans to Do “Literally Nothing” with Her Kids This Summer by Sarah Cottrel
- Boredom is not a problem to be solved. It’s the last privilege of a free mind by Gayatri Devi
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on “Balancing Boredom and Burnout.” I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.
Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see the other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants, or cut and paste this URL into your browser: