This Summer, Give Your Kids the Gift of Boredom

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During the last few weeks of school my kids brought home piles of flyers for summer camps and activities. The pressure on parents to fill those once-lazy-summer-days with organized and expensive activities is tremendous.

After all, they all sound so educational and fun -- we'd hate for our kids to miss out. Plus, the kids want to be with their friends. As my husband and I struggle to narrow the list, coordinate the schedule and somehow fit it into the family budget, we actually worry: If we don't sign them up for something, does that make us bad parents?


But maybe the greatest gift we can give our child this summer is the gift of down time -- and a lot of it. Kids actually need time to get bored. Deprived of adult-organized activities, television and video games, they'll have access to a rare commodity and the fruit of boredom: Mental space to reflect, read, create, and discover.

It's something most of us had and took for granted growing up. Faced with long summer days without a whole lot of adult interference, kids will rediscover toys they haven't played with for months, organize other "bored" kids for neighborhood kickball games or freeze tag, observe nature, catch frogs, make a lemonade stand, read a book, climb a tree or sit under it for a delicious afternoon nap. They'll have time to get lost in their own thoughts and dreams.

I recognize it's a very countercultural gift, one that's not easy to give; first you have to endure the protests from your kids and the guilt you might initially feel about not having to spend your summer driving to practices. You also might worry that other kids are getting ahead of yours in the "enrichment" department or feel embarrassed when asked by other parents about your child's summer activities. It might be just as difficult to get used to hearing your kids say "I'm bored," and feeling good about smiling, doing nothing about it, and trusting that a healthy dose of childhood boredom is a precious and priceless gift.

Related: My First Child is Off to Summer Camp (and I Never Got to Go)

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.