Lots of time.
Along with countless popsicles and playdates, I’m betting that your kids will also get sunburns, skinned knees, bug bites, and bored. I know mine will.
When I was a kid and I got bored, my parents would tell me and my often-also-bored sisters to go outside and play. When we complained that that would be boring, they told us to make something. We had all that we needed – construction paper, glue, glitter, stickers, crayons, markers. We practically had a Michael’s in our hall closet.
At least one of us would survey the materials, frown, and whine. “But I can’t THINK of anything to make!”
My dad would reply, as parents often do, “Use your imagination.” He’s a writer, so he probably said that more frequently than average.
“I can’t!” would come the inevitable reply. “It’s just. Not. Working.”
Our imaginations weren’t working. So one day, my work-at-home dad, in a stroke of genius and exasperation, told us to MAKE NEW ONES. He gave us empty two-liter soda bottles, the hose, and a jar of rainbow glitter.
“Make one,” he said.
So we filled our bottles, dumped in the glitter, screwed on the caps, shook, and watched with delight as the sparkles danced on their watery stage. An imagination – just like that.
Believe it or not, it worked. If we could make our own imaginations, we could make our own fun.
We now could shake those bottles and watch those sparkles and think of things to do. I was fortunate enough to have younger sisters who repeatedly allowed one of those things to be what I can only describe as high-concept performance art. They let me boss them around as choreographer of spectacular dance routines to any number of C+C Music Factory songs. I still can’t believe they didn’t get picked up by MTV.
Oh, what a brand-spanking-new imagination can do! I grew up a short drive from the ocean. We went to the beach almost daily. We had a swimming pool in our yard. I have three sisters, all of whom are close to my age. I still got bored. We all did.
That’s what kids do. They get bored.
And that’s a good thing.
Each year, a wonderful principal for whom I once worked includes in her end-of-year letter to parents a message about the importance of boredom. Unplugging our kids from technology and the busy, scheduled-ness of life can help them plug into themselves. That’s how imaginations grow.
They’ll realize that they don’t need TV, video games, smartphones, and other such buttons and touchscreens as much as they think they do. It doesn’t take a whole lot to create a game, a fantasy, a story, an adventure. All kids need is time, which is and should be bountiful in a child’s summer, and the absence of an end goal determined by someone else.
They’ll learn to solve problems themselves, sometimes pretty creatively.
They’ll figure out how to work with others to come up with something to do and then do it. My sisters and I eventually learned how to work collaboratively without tearing each other’s hair out. (Well, most of the time. Sometimes those braids were far too tempting.)
They’ll discover that there’s a world of wonder inside of them. They’ll realize that they can imagine and create independently. And then maybe, just maybe, they’ll be able to write about it later. Or they’ll be able to write about any number of things because they can solve problems, work collaboratively, and embrace their own incredible imaginations.
Sure, send them to camp. Plan and schedule activities. Take action-packed vacations. Spend a whole lot of time with them. We should do these things. We need to.
But also let them just be.
Let them get bored, and then let them figure out on their own how to not be bored. (In a way that doesn't lead to ER visits, broken furniture, and/or traumatized pets, of course. These are often the first not-boring things kids think of. Especially when they are VERY BORED.)
These days I often wish for the imagination of a child. Maybe I just need to make one out of what I can find in our recycling bin. Or perhaps I should pay even more attention to the little ones around me and how they go about doing things.
As I write this, my four-year-old is involved in a rousing game of “Cushion Rescue,” which involves his Rescue Hero action figures and cushions removed from the couch. There is a lot of very exciting stuff happening here, and I didn’t have to tell him to do it. He’s not looking at me for what’s next. Ten minutes ago, he was SO BORED. I’m sure it won’t last all that long, but he did it by himself. It’s a start!
Here’s to writing, reading, smiling, and a little bit of oh-so-boring boredom.