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Boredom is the Font of Creativity

July 30, 2010

I can’t take the credit for that statement, but rather, thank Richard Louv for his words of wisdom.

For the first time in my nearly twenty-year teaching career, I’ve successfully disconnected myself from my classroom responsibilities for a few weeks this summer. Instead, I focused my efforts on my health, my kids ( knowing that the time they will want to spend with me is slowly eroding, even if it’s only temporary), getting some things organized at home, and reading and writing about education outside of the classroom.  It’s my own effort at inner renewal that Parker Palmer advocates in Courage to Teach, only I don’t get to go on quarterly retreats (yet).

I think of it as white space. Breathing room. Recharging. We all need it, but seldom do it.  I certainly don’t do it well, but after all these years, I finally see the value in the down time.   It’s not just our kids who reap benefits when given permission to have down time.  With this mental break, I’m lining up my inner energy and the physical spaces in my life, so that when the calendar turns to August, I can put that teacher hat back on and stand tall, ready to set up my classroom, welcome families, and set my own kids off on the best footing for the upcoming school year.

But I digress. Back to the title of the post.

Here’s why Louv’s comment drives home the connection between boredom and creativity.  It’s when kids are allowed the space – physical, mental, metaphorical (my word) – that they begin to dig deep into themselves.  Making connections, trying out methods and processes, making a mess, having fun. Often, even producing something novel, functional, amusing.  We all need that unstructured thinking time, but rather than listening to what our bodies really need, many of us feel the external pressure to be busy and produce. And that carries over to our kids by example and schedules filled with adult-directed activities. (To read more on the slowing downs and valuing each stage in a child’s development, see David Elkind’s book The Hurried Child. )

When not on the water in a boat, my son is found most days with a cordless drill, skateboard parts and various sketches and photos of mini ramps and other skateboarding architecture which frankly, frightens me. He can sit on the garage floor for hours planning what he will build. Does he execute? Not always (phew!). But what a great mental exercise.  Does he spend time watching professional skateboarding? Yes, but there’s a balance that he is learning to juggle on his own.

I stopped to visit friends late one afternoon and found the parents preparing for a camping trip and the two girls (9 and 4 years) floating around talking and playing with their dog.  They were beaming with confidence and a sense of calmness fueled by the unstructured time alone and with adults who truly listen and attend to each of them.  After catching up a bit and hearing about summer camp, I inquired about their hens. The four-year old masterfully slipped into her shoes (wow, a year ago that was a frustrating task for her!) and skipped out the door and across the yard to corral four large hens. When they didn’t respond as planned, she crept into the tall trees and squatted down to talk with them.  It clearly wasn’t the first time she had done this and I imagined she had her own language to communicate with her feathered friends. Did these behaviors and confidence emerge out of boredom? Not likely, but rather from the careful guidance of adults who provided some structure in understanding the hens followed by the unstructured time to explore on her own.

So as the calendar turns to August, the reality of the start of school comes closer. There’s still time to hike in the woods, dig in the sand, curl up with a good book, make ice cream, visit family, pitch a tent or whatever else helps you disconnect as a family unit and for your child to spend some time alone to think, play and be. As you look at school schedules, resist the urge to fill each day with an activity.

If you’re already thinking about back to school, take a peek at last August’s post Get on Back To School.

If you’re looking for resources to keep summer reading alive and vital for your child in the last stage of summer, check out the Products page for a free list of Summer Reading Resources.

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