Does forcing kids to be bored teach them useful skills?: A deliberately controversial post

Related: does forcing kids to be with sucky people teach them important life skills?

We argue: no

Boredom leads to trouble and increased drop-out rates.   It would have to be an important skill to make up for the negatives.  But it isn’t.

As an adult, you have more control over your environment, so learning these skills (such as they are) may not be as applicable as we’d wish.

Better: give kids skills to manipulate their environment, so they know they can change it.

If they do have to be occasionally bored or to deal with sucky people, why not learn that on the job as adults? It’s an easier lesson to learn when you’re making the choice to deal with it because you’re getting a higher paycheck or other perks to your job.

And nobody should have to put up with a sucky work environment as an adult. That’s why we work so hard so we have options and freedom to change things, even if our parents sacrificed in their own work environments for us.

This post was brought to you by our childhood selves, who were bored as crap in school and got nothing useful out of grades 1 – 8.  [#2 says, except 4th grade with Mrs. A.  She was AWESOME.]

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71 Responses to “Does forcing kids to be bored teach them useful skills?: A deliberately controversial post”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    Are you just referring to school or at all times? I detest when my kid has a horrible teacher that’s just mailing it in til retirement. Curse anyone who takes the fun out of learning.

    I tend not to be a fan of the zero downtime over scheduled kid who does 8000 activities in addition to their schoolwork though. (Unless it’s something they enjoy and want to do). The kids always seem like exhausted shells of their normal selves. Perhaps that’s just my own mom guilt talking because I can really only put my kids in one thing at a time because I work and anything more would be unmanageable without a nanny. In the summer, there are no scheduled sports because we like to do fun summer things spontaneously on the weekends like go to the beach or zoos or visit fun relatives or fish or canoe or ride bikes or camp or climb mountains. I also try to get my kids to pick their own adventures if possible versus just having them say “I’m bored.” They’re not always good at being creative so we made a summer fun list that they could read for inspiration and we checked stuff of the list all summer. We made sure there were new things on it that they hadn’t done before too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Does downtime have to be boring?

      btw, my mom always had an answer to, “I’m bored” at home. It usually went, “Great! The X could use some cleaning. Why don’t you start there?”

  2. eemusings Says:

    Boredom in school sucks, but I think it’s inevitable to a certain degree. At least if we’re talking mainstream education.

  3. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Intentionally forcing kiddes to be bored is cruel and abusive.

  4. Miser Mom Says:

    And on the other side of the argument . . . what about the skill of delayed gratification? For example, my parents forced me “to be bored” at opera when I was a kid; now I *love* opera. There is something wonderful about acquiring the self-discipline it takes to be able to sit through a long train ride, or a meal, or a church service without annoying other people. The parents I know who most worry about “not boring” their children are the ones most likely to have children who disrupt adult activities.

    Should we deliberately bore children in school? No, I think we need to challenge children. But that’s not the same as entertaining them, and for kids, they don’t always see the difference. That’s why I think it’s so important for parents to stay involved in their kids’ education, too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m still not sure if all those church services I had to sit through as a small fidgety child were worthwhile. But I guess churches have nurseries now.

      However, is the purpose of opera (or church) to teach boredom and self-control?

      Btw, my kids do not disrupt adult activities, not even the infant (because mommy and daddy know how to remove an infant from adult activities when ze is being disruptive). Generally we bring a book for DC1.

  5. NoTrustFund Says:

    Being bored at school is the worst. Have you figured out how it prevent it?

    • NoTrustFund Says:

      Although I do think it’s good to be able to do mundane/ boring tasks. So much of life and even most jobs have their fair share of stuff that just needs to get done. But that’s different than being bored at school!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I do mundane and boring tasks with the tv or radio on or as a family activity so we can chat. DH tends to listen to audio books.

        Is learning to do mundane and boring tasks at home important if you make enough money to hire other people to do them for you?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Accelerate the kid two grades and send hir to a school with small classes, great teachers, and lots of differentiation?

  6. bardiac Says:

    Is there a possibility that some people may confuse boredom with difficulty? I, for example, would have been likely to say that I found math “boring,” when in truth I found it difficult and wasn’t self-disciplined enough to work through the difficulty.

    As someone who assigns difficult reading to college students, some of them claim things are “boring” when I think they really mean “not as exciting as drinking copious amounts of beer.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, in the cases that inspired this post, boring is confused with far too easy difficulty. Teaching kids to be bored is one of the reasons given for not providing appropriate challenges for gifted kids.

      Math itself, of course, is never boring. Being forced to listen to a math lecture on something you completely mastered years and years ago… kind of boring.

      • bardiac Says:

        If things are too easy, especially in grade school, then that seems counterproductive. I wasn’t smart enough in grade school for things to be too easy, and it took me to calculus to realize how beautiful math is.

  7. Cloud Says:

    I come down somewhere in the middle, I guess. I don’t think kids should be bored at school- but I also think it is unreasonable to expect that they will always find the material challenging, unless you’re going to shell out for individual instruction. We aim for an overall interesting school experience with enough challenges to keep our kids growing. But if there are a few lessons that turn out to be busy work for them, that’s OK. We try to teach them that even simple, redundant work can have value and needs to be done appropriately. I learned that lesson in school (in 6th grade, after I rushed through some simple math problems and did them all wrong and got a zero, thereby losing my place as the top math student, which really bugged me at the time….) I don’t think you have to learn it in school, but I don’t think it hurts to learn it there, either, as long as the overall school experience isn’t too easy/boring.

    I’ve worked with adults who never learned it, and they have struggled to advance in their careers to the level that their high intelligence would support. But as you say, there is no reason they couldn’t learn the lesson now. They just aren’t.

    I also think that the amount of boring work that a kid can tolerate with no ill effect is probably different for different kids.

    • Tinkering Theorist Says:

      I feel similarly. I taught a class last semester in which several students got a 100% on two of my tests. I was discussing how the class went with someone famous in the field but whose teaching style I really dislike. He felt that because people were getting 100s, they weren’t being challenged (also that I wouldn’t see as well which students are really better than the others, a comment I find bizarre because I don’t want to separate the very best students, I want to give an A to all students that truly mastered all the material I asked them to master, which was not a large percent of students). I told him that I got 100 on two of the tests when I took the class, but I wasn’t bored, and I spent some of the class time thinking more deeply about the concepts. I can’t say that I was ‘challenged’, but if you learn what you need to learn, and you use your time wisely (either learning extra on your own or just doing something else) why does it matter? I was glad that I learned what I was expected to learn, and I had time to think about what it really means. I didn’t tell him that I learned more in that class than I would have if I had taken his class which covered more material (I sat in on his class so I know how it goes). If you don’t have enough time to think, it doesn’t sink in the same way.
      In fact after my class I got a couple of comments that some parts were explained too many times (obviously these were a tiny minority of the comments, several people got Ds so it’s not like it was a breeze for everyone). So next time I think I will start the class with a life skills discussion. My advice would be, if you are feeling bored in class, try really thinking about what you are learning. Think about why the material is presented the way it is, and not another way. If you’re really far advanced, think about how you might teach the material differently and why. When you’re doing a certain problem, think of how it could be changed to apply to other situations. In real life the problems are not always well described and handed to you, you have to take initiative to define them yourself and think of how to approach them. If you don’t care about these things, do homework (hopefully for that class) during class, or make some kind of game about the class. I already knew algebra when I had to take it in high school, so for fun I tried to see how far above 100% I could make my final grade (there was some extra credit).
      I agree with the post that it’s frustrating as a child in school, mainly because you don’t feel like you have much control of your environment (and in fact they don’t compared to adults), and it would be better if the environment just worked better. But I think even elementary school kids can learn skills to deal with and in some ways manipulate the class environment–I had some skills in this area but I wish I had understood this better at the time.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        As a third-grader, however, you don’t really have the toolbox to think about how you could teach something a different way. In college, sure! But in grades 1 – 6, you’re pretty much stuck sitting through the stuff you mastered years ago, and there’s no way out, and that is boring.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Speak for yourself! (That was a regular topic of contemplation for me, possibly why I was such a popular tutor later one.) But there’s only so much of that contemplation a person can do during K-12! Also, cooperative learning

  8. bogart Says:

    I’m pretty much with Cloud, and/or Miser Mom. No, of course it’s not OK/good to be routinely unchallenged. But the ability to sit through a play or sporting event or engage in a conversation one finds boring is a valuable life skill (essential if one is going to be an engaged parent, not that this is on everyone’s to-do list), as is sitting still on an airplane. Boredom is motivation to (a) think of something interesting to do, if one is in a place where one can go do it, and to (b) learn to daydream when not.

    Having been raised a Quaker, though I”m currently non-practicing if by practicing we mean frequently attending meeting, I’m a big fan of the ability to sit still, quietly, for an hour or so and reflect/meditate/pray/daydream. I think that for most of us that is a learned, not an innate, ability.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hm, do parents have to go to kids’ sporting events? That itself is a question that could be deliberately controversial.

      (Me, I never cared growing up. Of course, I wasn’t ever particularly good at sports. My sister cared, but she was also the catcher and not right field.)

      Sitting still in an airplane is the opposite of boring! That’s where I do most of my fiction reading. I LOVE it.

      Why not learn how to sit through a boring event as an adult if the need arises? Or through meditation or yoga if that’s what one desires?

    • bogart Says:

      Haha. Well, no, I’d say they do not have to go to every sporting event or even to most, but that they should go to some events and that it’s very likely many of those will involve significant boring-ness. But, as noted, this boringness can be avoided by avoiding parenthood.

      My now-Pavlovian response to airplane travel is to fall asleep, which has worked very well for me, though certainly fiction (well, my choice is usually non-fiction, but still, pleasure reading) is a good option too.

      My son’s had plenty of worthwhile opportunities to need to sit through boring events even just pre-K. There are those annoying moments at a restaurant when one is waiting for food, or the bill, and while those don’t (usually) drag on f.o.r.e.v.e.r they can seem to, to a small kid. We still go out to eat, and he still has to behave (sure, we will sometimes take him out to walk around or whatever, but it’s not a guaranteed service. Neither is my remembering to bring crayons or being willing to rattle off addition problems.). And 6- or 7-hour car rides, or long plane flights, well, I’m willing to allow some electronics for those (the Leapfrog “books” have become tolerated for long car trips, especially when we were doing multiples ones in a single month under stress to visit a dying grandparent), but I don’t really want to introduce those as a travel entertainment option precisely because I do want him to disappear into a book when we travel — but he’s not to a stage where he can/will do that, yet. So, bored it is.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The main purpose though, is not to make him bored, right? And if there were an easy way to keep him from being bored while still being polite, would you do it?

        (We have DC1 do math problems too and mostly ignore nasty looks and the occasional sotto comment that we’re destroying our child. Skip counting is something ze can do mostly on hir own.)

      • bogart Says:

        No, I think (?) I can safely say I have never intentionally set out to bore a child or, indeed, anyone, though I’m sure I have nonetheless done so. But honestly, I’m pretty neutral on it, provided that it’s practiced reasonably infrequently. I guess I do consider some exposure to boring conditions an inherent part of being human (at all ages), so, sure — when we go on long trips I pack (some) toys, am prepared to engage in (some) number of (possibly inane from my perspective) conversations with my kid and to read (some) number of books out loud. But plenty of things that are pretty easy nonetheless get tedious for me, and that matters, too.

  9. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Being bored is a lame excuse that usually translates to “entertain me;” “let’s do what I want to do;” “you did not consult me;” “I want to do what I want to do.” Quite frankly, I think feeble minds, large or small, cannot figure out how to solve their own problems. I think parents are too quick to solve the boredom problem with something that makes noise or moves.

    However, little children held captive in classrooms MAY have a point. They are captive, I realize. It does not take much effort from a teacher to alleviate boredom with more work, harder work, or more interesting work.

    I am sure I would be in the top classes, put ahead two grades, and lauded by all if I were a child going to school today. I always finished my work first, knew all the answers but was never allowed to say the answer no how many times I politely raised my hand, waved my hands or bounced in my seat while I waved my hand. I was dellighted for downtime. I read. in the fifth grade I read The Leatherstocking Tales. I pondered things: How do I know this is real? Could it be a dream and I think I am awake? Am I asleep? (I have lucid dreams, always have.) I was shocked to find Descartes had the same thoughts.

    When my children whined from boredom in the car, i directed their attention to the world outside the car–trees, cows, what is that building over there?, what phase is the moon in tonight? The thing I did NOT do is plug them in to the things available even back then. I see children in cars now, slack-jawed, oblivious to what is in the car or outside, just staring at little screens of all kinds.

    When I was a child and bored in school, I turned my WriteRight spiral notebook over and read all the tables on the back cover. There is great, unaccepted by most, value in peripheral learning. Plugging earplugs in to be entertained is not the same thing and does not foster the skill of looking outside of what is happening to make something happen. There was no Hannah Montana on our notebooks, no glitter, nothing overtly exciting.

    For my lunchbox, I chose one with pennants of the Big 10 schools. Okay, maybe i was a boring child, but the Lone Ranger and other lunchboxes did not excite me at all. But, I was familiar with universities before my friends knew what those names on the pennants were. Okay, I AM BORING.

    I think that learning to learn and learning to find something to interest/entertain oneself is a good skill to foster in children. Not every child in school has mastered everything to be learned. I had a bored child who had not perfectly mastered multiplication tables.

    • Tinkering Theorist Says:

      Exactly! These are the skills I want my kids to have, and I am not sure how to best model them. I think screen time is an issue. They ride in the bike trailer and watch things go by and discuss things with each other, but in the car they expect to be entertained in a different way–maybe it’s too much of a house-like environment, and it doesn’t help that they can hardly see out the windows.

      • Practical Parsimony Says:

        Invent a game called “Bike Trailer.” You will have to work to get this one started. “If you were in the bike trailer, what could you see?” Direct them to look outside the car. Ask them what is ahead. “If I were in the bike trailer, what could i see?” Then, they look outside.

        For about twelve years, through three children’s baby/toddler days, I had a way of stopping some of the crying and whining. I would say excitedly, “I thought I saw a bunny/cow/puppy/kitty out of the window! Did you? Well, let’s just look. Oh, could it be under the trees?” Yes, the youngest was mad about cows. The parent has to keep up the prompt to look and ooh and ahh lots. This involves some effort on the parent’s part, but a whole lot less than curing a crying or whining jag that was usually accompanied by runny noses.

        Ha! I can invent a game on the spot.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I would have been SO HAPPY if I’d been allowed to read a book when I finished all my work! Unfortunately, I had to just sit there. I did have a rich fantasy life, but lots of it was directed at the teacher for not giving me anything more to do and not letting me leave. I did write satirical poems about them.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 counted a lot of dots on the ceiling as well.

      • Leah Says:

        Horrible! I get ticked when my students don’t bring a book and just sit there when done with work (or, worse yet, chat with friends — I can’t get my high schoolers to shut up, especially when they’re done with allotted work time).

        I gave a big, structured project this week that is taking up most of the week. Some students are finishing faster than others, and it’s a bit of a struggle. I don’t want to give more work (or extra credit), and most of my students won’t do work unless I’m giving them points for it. The ones who will do the work without points are also the ones who bring a book/other work to do when done or who will go back and make sure their project is really awesome. I like the independent work, as it teaches students to structure their time and also to do some exploring on their own, but I wish more students would figure out how to fill their time (other than noisily chatting) when they get done. If they were at least pretty quiet with the chatting, I wouldn’t be so annoyed.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Well, given that during so much of K-8 we’re told we can’t do non-classwork during class-time, and we’re punished if we work independently… They may just not realize you allow it!

    • Sara G (@sargoshoe) Says:

      I agree! I don’t think forcing kids to be bored is a good thing, but teaching them how to continually challenge themselves independent of teachers IS. I learned this at an early age and never remember being bored in school, despite not really being challenged intellectually until college.

      My child’s K teacher continually asks us if our child is bored, and so far we haven’t seen any evidence of boredom. I’m sure her skills could be improved, but I rather foster a love of school (even if the activity she loves is stapling paper chains for an hour) than a firm grasp of reading before the age of 6.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        What about when the teacher does not allow you to read, knit, daydream, etc. even though you have already learned the material because the teacher does not want you to “be a distraction to others”?

      • Tinkering Theorist Says:

        I think good teachers have extra problem sets or work available, and if all else fails I think they should allow kids to read if they have downtime. Why would they want to prevent you from daydreaming? Maybe you got bad teachers?

      • bogart Says:

        Unless the teacher is requiring you to recite your multiplication tables out loud, if the teacher can tell you are daydreaming, then you are not doing it right.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        A teacher can tell you’re daydreaming by cold-calling and refusing to repeat the question.

      • bogart Says:

        @N&M OK, but then (given the background already provided) it’s the teacher who is being a distraction to others, not that it would be acceptable to point this out.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I am fascinated by this notion of peripheral learning. I’ve always been good at staying inside the box. (This makes me a good bureaucrat–I can find ways to follow the letter of the rules but still get the goals accomplished.) However, there are many times when you don’t have to stay in the box. Are you really allowed to bring a fiction book to class and read it? Are you allowed to pay attention to what’s going on outside when you’re done?

      At work I am so appalled by some things that I just go outside the box all the time (getting into other people’s business by giving them suggestions on how to do their jobs). Now that I know how much I like getting feedback and suggestions and how awesome it is to have a real teammate who actually makes a difference in how good my work comes out, I don’t worry about doing this, though I still have the feeling that this is none of my business, I shouldn’t be interfering, etc. Now if I can just figure out a polite way to tell person A that I Iearned that if she fires person B (who is incompetent), person C who has run away (supposedly to go to grad school) will happily come back to work with person D to kick the butt of those job duties. But that’s all privileged information I got from person E.

      But in real life, I basically have tunnel vision and only notice what I am paying attention to (and I can’t even always count on noticing that).

      Practical Parsimony, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with your statement that you’re boring. I would say that as in inside-the-box person, I must be more boring than you. Except that I do notice “truths” that don’t seem true, so in trying to figure out truths that do seem true, I end up thinking of interesting things, too.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Staying out of people’s business is very midwestern. :) So is the lump of responsibility of trying to make things work.

      • Practical Parsimony Says:

        I was just sounding so pedantic and always doing things on my own without permission and being good. i always stayed close to the box and did things without much ado because I did not want to be yanked away from my reading. As a child, I don’t ever remember doodling, the classic boredom reliever. People who doodled had dirty digits…lol. I like being clean. I like to rebel without suffering consequences.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Funny, Practical (and Clean) Parsimony!

        N&M, I’m sort of midwestern–my parents were born and raised in Chicago suburbs (and I got to live in a couple myself for 1.5 years–cold!).

  10. The frugal ecologist Says:

    I agree with cloud and practical parsimony. I frequently finished assignments much before others, but could either read a book or even those tables in the back of the notebooks like PP! I think teaching delayed gratification/patience etc can be beneficial. And also it can teach something about how others learn – as a kid I equated finishing first with intelligence – not necessarily the same thing…I did sports, music and kumon math which were all challenging so perhaps that made up for some of it?

    But To answer your original question, no, being bored from k-8 isn’t normal and it Sounds like you both would have benefited from skipping a grade or two.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The principal offered my parents the chance for me to skip a grade and they said no. I’m still mad at them about that. (OK, not really, but it would have helped.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2′s mom tried really hard to get her skipped out of 2nd grade when she moved from a more challenging state curriculum (in which she’d also been skipped a grade half the day) to one she’d already been to. They said, “she won’t make friends if she’s accelerated.” Instead #2 got put in a corner and was taught by whatever student teacher they had at the time (and was bullied until she hit 9th grade). They worried, “what about when she gets to high school”? Well, what happened was she went away to boarding school. *sigh*

        But that’s a different rant.

    • bogart Says:

      Hahaha. I had a grad school professor who told the story of the math professor he had had, who believed that finishing faster indicated greater intelligence and who therefore handed out a midterm (in an hour-and-fifteen minute class), telling the students that for each minute before the end of class they handed the exam in early, they would earn one point. Two students wrote their names at the top of their exam, stood up, handed it in, and departed. My prof. commented that the interesting thing was that not one other student followed suit. The early-hander-inners 70-something scores were above the mean, as the story was told.

  11. hush Says:

    I agree: boredom leads to trouble and increased drop-out rates. There are opportunity costs for all of that misspent time we spent sitting there bored in various classrooms. Luckily, I got accepted to a math/science/computer magnet public school in 5th grade, and was appropriately challenged from then on.

    “does forcing kids to be with sucky people teach them important life skills?” Depends on what we mean by “sucky people” but usually, no. As someone said upthread – kids do not yet have adult coping abilities. See this review of Wm. Copeland’s recently-published bullying research -

    “Copeland and other researchers don’t define bullying broadly, in a way that encompasses a lot of mutual conflict among kids, or one-time fighting. Bullying is physical or verbal harassment that takes place repeatedly and involves a power imbalance—one kid, or group of kids, making another kid miserable by lording power over him. As Dan Olweus, the Scandinavian psychologist who launched the field of bullying studies in the 1960s, has been arguing for many years, this is a particular form of harmful aggression. And so the effort to prevent bullying isn’t about pretending that kids will always be nice to each other, or that they don’t have to learn to weather some adversity.”

    I like that last line a lot. Kids do need “to learn to weather some adversity” – but not for years on end, and not the kind of adversity that literally scars them emotionally for life.

  12. chacha1 Says:

    I remember being frequently bored in school because of my reading speed (and writing and processing speeds. I don’t think I’m excessively intelligent, but I can access what I know or understand quite quickly). An assignment that would take most of the kids 20-30 minutes would take me 10. I don’t really remember what I did with the downtime. :-) Probably daydreamed or doodled, maybe worked on homework for other classes … no idea, really. I think it is safe to say that my childhood was sufficiently boring that I haven’t bothered to remember most of it. :-)

    From the vast sweep of time separating now from then, though, I wouldn’t say I “suffered” through this boredom. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if these episodes of downtime functioned a bit like sleep-dreaming, in letting my brain reorganize its most recent acquisitions.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have noticed that I better remember the parts of my childhood in which I learned things than those when I didn’t learn anything. So first grade is vivid, as is fourth, but then a big nothing until I started walking to high school math in middle school.

      • Sarah Says:

        I still resent my 7th grade math…we basically plotted coordinates all year. My mom complained I was bored but no change. I found out later that a boy was allowed to move up to high school math. I’m female and always wondered if that was a factor in the school’s response.

        Do you find that gender influences how instructors handle bored students?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The same thing happened to me! We got around it by having me take algebra after school at the community college. Then they had to let me go with the boys to geometry at the high school. (And that was awful too– they spent the entire time hurling insults about my intelligence at me. I wish I had complained to the administration about it. I always thought it was because I was doing better in the class than they were, but now I suspect one of the assholes had a crush on me. Years later he told everybody at our boarding school that I had had a crush on him. AS IF! What a jerk.)

        In college I had the same math background as a boy, and this female prof recommended that I take differential equations (an entry level after-linear algebra class) and he take Real Analysis. (Turns out Diffy Q was the right recommendation for a first semester freshman, as he bombed Real Analysis, but it still rankled.)

  13. Debbie M Says:

    I was bored a lot as a kid and what it taught me is that I never want to be bored again. And I’m not. But I mostly do it the plugged-in way: I have a book with me almost at all times.

    However, I wasn’t bored in school a lot. And that’s definitely because I added extra standards. Like if I had to write sentences with the new spelling words, I would try to make the sentences as interesting as possible. If I had to write something really boring, I would make my handwriting as pretty as possible. (Also, I didn’t already know everything they were teaching.) My brother sucked at this. He would turn over the page and draw pictures on the back. By the fifth grade, they were finally teaching things he didn’t already know, but he had bad habits and failed. Virtually all of my friends were bored until college or grad school. Many of us did not know how to study properly and had to learn at a late date.

    I was bored somewhere–someplace they made me take naps. I could not sleep. I faced the wall and stared at the alphabet in cursive that was posted on the wall. (That turned out to be a good thing because in the third grade I moved from a school that had just taught a – p in cursive to a school where everyone was writing their papers in cursive. Once I learned that you are supposed to connect the letters to each other, I was golden.)

    As an adult, most people don’t get bored–they have too much to do. At work they’re doing “more with less” somehow, then they have chores, hobbies, and probably love lives, children, and pets. Dealing with boredom is hardly the skill we most need.

    Justifying crappy teaching of gifted students by saying it teaches them good skills is reprehensible. Better to admit it’s just too hard to keep them interested–while hoping to get easy suggestions.

    And for those of you who read fast, I do not recommend taking an online defensive driving class. Each section is supposed to take a certain amount of time. I lucked out the time I tried this and the error message would tell me how many minutes I had left–so I could set a timer and go do something else for that period. Arg.

  14. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I remember taking a course in school where the professor would not allow other activity after the exams except sitting still. We finished, put our pencil down, and sat. He would come get the paper. He said that we would distract people if we went into bookbags or anything else. I thought it was bizarre that adults could be so easily distracted. THAT was boring. But, then I realized I had to go to the bathroom and dawdled in the hall, get food from my purse, look out the door. Now, does that not sound exactly like something a child or teen would do? I was not above it. It was probably not the boring part. It was probably that doing what I wanted was impossible, so I just did not do what he wanted.

    I could not study for the next exam, read, open my purse or anything in class.

    When I took a test, it would have taken a bomb to distract me. Who were these babies in class with me?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I so agree! I never had any patience for fellow students who couldn’t focus on their work if I did one tiny thing with my one pencil and one book. If I were in that class, I would take naps all the time.

  15. becca Says:

    I actually do think learning to come up with good solutions to boredom is a valuable skill… but that skill often cannot be developed in classroom environments that frown upon artwork or reading (or conversation, although it’s relatively understandable how that is disruptive) when bored.

    For example, we’ve noticed puzzles are the best way to get kidlet to play quietly by himself for good stretches of time (an hour or two). But I’ve recently noticed that only once most of the puzzles are done, and he pulls out other toys, does actual imaginative play start to happen. He will engage in interactive imaginative play with me, but on his own? It’s very rare. I think if he had less tv time, and less puzzle time, he’d do it more. I’m not sure it’s right to privilege imaginative play above those other things, but I would like to see it more. And it looks like it takes a certain level of boredom to prompt it. Though to my surprise he seems capable of carrying on a running dialog that suggests perhaps his ball time is imaginative play (“yeah! and then that guy scores! and then it’s my turn!”- there is clearly a lot going on there for him), but ball play in the house annoys me because balls randomly bonk me in the head and knock over things.

  16. Ana Says:

    FORCING anyone to be bored sounds downright mean. On the other hand ALLOWING occasional periods of boredom, those times that come up from time to time in daily life, without moving heaven and earth to prevent it, is probably a good thing. If a kid is bored all day in school, that needs to be fixed. If a kid is bored in the car once in a while, or waiting their turn for the water fountain, or on a rainy Saturday afternoon, they can figure out there own way to deal with it without Mommy or Daddy jumping in with automatic entertainment. I DO think those occasional periods of boredom staring out the window on car trips, or stuck at home on hot summer days allowed me to explore my creativity (in ways that I can’t even imagine anymore, so bogged down in my adult routines)—I made up elaborate games, wrote & drew stories, poems, cartoons, and put together all kinds of “shows” with my little sister & cat. Great memories that never would have happened if I was scheduled in multiple activities or if portable video games or movie players were available in the 80s. In school, I was always allowed to read a book if I was finished early. I also tried making games of my assignments as others mentioned above, working on different handwriting styles, making elaborate sentence structures, etc… Also I was a doodler. The margins of ALL of my notebooks, even in college, are completely filled up with vines & flowers, block writing, & even math problems.

  17. growingmygirls Says:

    You know, this is the hardest question ever. We’ve consciously avoided media for the kids when they were little so that they would naturally turn to the outdoors and crafts. Well, after years of this, one turns to crafts, the other just lies around watching me, or in her room, hoping something will happen. Both yearn for tablets and tv, which they now get doses of, and I simply can’t tell. Oh, and when they tell me they are bored, I’m grouchy mama, but inside, I’m crumbling and my resentment and resolve turn to marshmallows inside, making whatever grown-up thing I’m doing hard to finish. Oh well, I’ll keep plugging away and what I think is right. One kid will be an award-winning sculptor and the other, for all her lying around, will be a novelist ;-)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My mom’s, “If you’re bored, clean the X” did wonders for us figuring out how to entertain ourselves without video games etc. I also got good at cooking etc.

      That’s a little different than forcing your kids to say, have quiet time in which they’re not allowed to read or do crafts etc.

      • growingmygirls Says:

        I forced my kids to do “quiet time” when they were younger. Primarily it was a sanity-saving device for me, but they could do quiet stuff in their rooms. Forcing them to just sit — no, quite yuck!

    • Practical Parsimony Says:

      We did not get a tv until I was eight, in 1954. After three days Daddy took it back, “I cannot read with that damn racket!” I felt like I was always on the outside at school. Other kids talked about episodes on tv. I could not join in. I felt terriby denied and ignored by my father. He did not care if I had friends or not. So, here I was–no tv; hot in the summer in Jackson, MS:no ac; the library for entertainment; no car when Daddy was at work: and ten acres to roam. It was too hot to be active some days, so only books and plays we wrote offered any escape.I doubt a day went by that I did not complain bitterly about the lack of tv. I was tortured with the lack of tv until I was 14 and Daddy got another. I was ecstatic but managed to continue to feed my voracious appetite for reading AND watch tv. Back then the tv went off at 10pm or so. There were only three channels.

      Now, I am happy and feel grateful for no tv during my childhood. I wish we had no tv when I was rearing children. Since we had ac, I had to threaten them to get them outdoors. Then, they came back in, declaring it was too hot, and they would rather clean their rooms. They just wanted tv. But, they had only 30 minutes of tv on school nights and precious little on weekends. All three are readers and two are teachers. But, I still feel they did not get the kind of life that benefitted me. Of course, they all had sports, swim team, music lessons, dance classes–things I never had and wanted. They did play outdoors more than the other kids on this street.

      • growingmygirls Says:

        It’s so funny — I read your post and all I can think is how much I now identify with your Dad! The older I get, the more quiet I want!
        Sounds like you did a great job balancing the modern world with what you knew would be good for them. I think about this a lot as we open the doors to more and more. It always seems to be a little more that I’d like, but much less than many, many kids. That’s probably going to be fine…

  18. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    My kids are never bored. My oldest has been playing with a pop-tart box for a week. They are just too young to be bored right now (3 and 1). I’m sure the day will come when I have to deal with that issue!

  19. SP Says:

    I love this post. My childhood self thanks you!

    I also really agree. It reminds me of the TED talk (and i did also read the book, but the TED talk is good) from Susan Cain, who wrote “Quiet …” about introversion. Schools are very extrovert focused, and she claims that introverts tend to thrive and “bloom” once they enter the real world. This isn’t because they are late bloomers, they just have the ability to control their environment and be somewhere where they thrive. It made sense. While some workplaces may resemble a high school, mine certainly does not!

  20. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I realize we have moved on, but when we lived in Jackson, MS, when we were bored, we could sit and peel the asphalt from the soles of our feet. The roads literally melted and stuck. Oh, yeah, second boredom reliever–trying to run down the road fast enough that our feet were not on the asphalt.

  21. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Gifted Exchange linked to this, and one of their anonymous commenters made a great point, I think.

    “Boredom in adulthood usually produces results–house cleaning, organizing files, grooming, etc. They are all for a purpose. Boredom for the sake of boredom because nobody wants to treat you as an individual is not something that is good for anybody, adult or child.”

    It reminds me of those psychological studies on motivation where they made participants dig ditches and then fill them back in.

  22. Practical Parsimony Says:

    My mother promoted our finding our own solutions to boredom. However, we never, ever said we were bored. We said, “I don’t have anything to do.” Her reply, “Find something.” Or, “Go read.” Somedays, she said, “Go outside and quit bothering me.” Some days, we decided to “make a play.” Rarely did she take charge of our boredom. I think kids today want their parents to entertain them or provide them with entertainment. Parents are all too willing.

    If my child were complainng of boredom or “I don’t have anything to do” in school, I would examine the things she said she could do. If the teacher allowed no other activities, I would insist on the teacher allowing my child to read. If that was not acceptable, I would have a “come to Jesus meeting” and get to the bottom of it. A child should always have something else to do after work is done. Most children never recheck work.

    I did not go to kindergarten. Did they even have that in 1952 in Memphis? If there were readers coming into the first grade, I am not aware. I was always in the top reading group and was ahead of everyone in reading. But, I was a reader who, once she discovered it, read everything in sight. Anytime I was forced to sit and given nothing to do, I read.

    Yes, I was forced to sit still and given nothing to do. I had three younger siblings and often was out in the car. I read the print in the car–”Buick” and such. When we visited relatives, my parents did not carry toys or books for us. The TV, if there was one, was off. No one dragged out my cousins toys for us to play with. We SAT still. Period. None of us suffered. We listened to the radio in the car and at home. However, even that was strictly limited by my mother. In the eighth grade I received a transistor radio. They even limited my use of my radio. I am eternally grateful for all the boredom visited on me.

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