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Letting kids be bored

My son said to me the other day, “Mom, I’m bored.” He’d been reading all morning (yeah!) and wasn’t really bored. He just wanted to do something different. I gave him a number of suggestions. He went back to reading his book, this time out in the hammock. Later he came in and did some drawing, then sat down and made an elaborate Playmobil setup with his sister.

Boy reading book outside

I couldn’t help but be a little pleased at the day. I’ve been pretty conscious about not scheduling my kids too much during the summer, and I want them to have the freedom to read or draw or create
Playmobil scenes as they feel it – or any of a number of activities, both indoors and outdoors, and none of which include screens. The school year is scheduled enough with the actual school day,
scouts, homework, and a couple of other extracurriculars – and that’s after I take things out to prevent over-scheduling. Summer is time for chilling out and relaxing and exploring.


I also noted that it was five weeks from the end of school until I heard that phrase uttered. It had taken that long for all the intensity to release and his energy level to slow down to a more
open and relaxed level. Until then, my son had been a buzzing bee, zooming from one thing to the next. Yes, he’d read several books this summer already, but he hadn’t really savored them – he’d
rushed through them like he was getting them out of the way like he did with his homework during the school year.

I think my son would look at me funny if I told him I was glad he was bored that day. But I think the brain needs down time – real, serious downtime – to be able to make essential connection,
cognitive leaps and creative juxtapositions. And to be ready to learn again when the time comes. I feel like my real son emerges a little bit more each summer, breaking the bounds of the structure
of school to show me what makes him tick, his still emerging self. He’s silly and fun and light in the summer, and it’s fun to reconnect with that. He’s relaxed.

A good kind of boredom

It may sound like we have no structure in the summer, but that’s not quite true. We have enough structure to our days to let the household run (mostly) smoothly, and so that the boredom is really
constructive. It’s not the mind numbing utter boredom of absolutely nothing to do. It’s having plenty to choose from, and the freedom to make the choices. And as my kids get older, I find they need
this downtime more and more. They need mental as well as physical freedom from the school year. They need time to watch the bees flying among the flowers, devise inventions for catching the snake
that lives under the front steps without actually moving the front steps, wiggle their toes in the sand at the beach and wander the stacks in the local library and check out those books just
because the cover is interesting.

A little bit of irony

The kind of funny thing about all this is the work it takes to give this kind of summer to my kids. I have to really plan for it – in stark opposition to their unplanned days. The amount of
juggling and planning that I do between my own work, my husband’s schedule, and giving them just enough in terms of activities is actually rather exhausting. At the end of the summer, I need to
rest – or my own version of such a summer. But I never quite swing that, and that’s okay. Mostly I feel fortunate that I can do this for my kids and regularly look for ways to give them a little
more downtime during the school year.

Nobody can go full-on 24/7/365. Everyone needs downtime, and especially kids. I know that the “boredom” my son is sometimes expressing is really a gift from me to him. When summer is over he’s
going to be really ready to go back to school and have a great year.

For more on kids summer activities:

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