The October issue of “Parent & Child” magazine featured a great article encouraging parents to allow more free, unstructured playtime for their children. The article, “Breaking Free”, spoke of the importance of play as being “fundamental to every kind of learning.” Included in the list of “Things Parents Can Do” to encourage more play was “Let her Get Bored.”
When my older daughter was about nine or ten years old, she came to me complaining one day that she was bored. I promptly responded with something like: “Well, great! Now you know what bored feels like! Enjoy it!” She rolled her eyes, gave her wacky mother “the look” and walked off to find something to do.
As an only child for the first ten years of my life, I spent a lot of time entertaining myself. We lived in a typical small town and our house was next to The Woods – a mysterious land that I explored almost daily. I climbed trees, searched for minnows in the creek (ditch), and learned the names of all the flora and fauna. Indoors, I read a lot. My parents let me join The Weekly Readers book club and when the featured book arrived, I devoured it immediately then had to wait another four weeks for the next one. I designed homes out of cardboard boxes, complete with cut-out doors and windows, wallpaper (wrapping paper), spool furniture, and paintings on the walls that were either my own creation or cut from a magazine.
Was I ever bored? Probably, but I don’t remember those times! What I remember is the pleasure I felt from being allowed to indulge in my curiosity. I was free within limits (“Don’t go past the pine trees!”). I became self-reliant. I learned to figure things out. To make mistakes and try again. I learned to be a self-starter. My powers of creativity and imagination knew no bounds.
As an adult I am rarely bored. But when I am, I see it with different eyes. During those times when my calendar is suddenly empty, when my day seems to have no direction, when I feel that slight bit of agitation over the realization that I have nothing “to do”, I don’t see it as a call to figure out “what’s next” but as a message from the Universe that it wants my attention. That it’s time to enjoy the empty spaces among all the “doings” and to allow the creativity and the Inner Knowing to have their say. It’s when clarity and creativity emerge, having been covered up by the doing. Out of boredom often come my best ideas.
Neuroscientists are now “discovering” the importance of free unstructured play. Finally! It’s something children – and perhaps wacky mothers – have always known.