On Boredom

On Boredom

We’re about half way through the summer holidays. Some kids are probably getting to that stage where they’re saying, “MUM! DAD! I’m bored…” on a fairly regular basis. 

But maybe a bit of boredom, viewed in the right way, is a very good thing.

I feel like many of the children I meet now are never bored. Not only does there seem to be more homework, and at a younger age, but the amount of activities and clubs and camps and courses for young people to attend seems to have proliferated. This has massive advantages, of course - I’m pretty impressed when ten year old students tell me they’ve spent the week studying robotics or playing sport for six hours per day or doing clay-modelling or whatever. These are cool skills, and I’m all for building new interests and talents through extra-curricular experiences. However, I do remember that when I was kid I spent an awful lot of the summer with nothing much to do. I distinctly recall sitting at the kitchen table and asking, “What shall I do now, Mum?” 

Matt and I have discussed how the things we did to fill time when we were young have influenced us as adults. Matt was forever writing stories and drawing; now, as well as the tutoring business, he’s a writer, publisher and designer. I too spent a lot of time writing - something that has continued into my adult life - while the two things I did with most of my ‘play time’ were pretending to teach all my dolls and teddies (hello, first foray into tutoring) and playing at having an office, taking calls and signing cheques (cheques held a peculiar fascination for me!). So these idle times allowed both of us to determine our own identities to some extent. In addition, we were forced to find novel ways to fill great expanses of time. My sister and I once spent a week writing down every word of the film Mary Poppins in an exercise book.  Well, to be precise, she - being the older sister - was the one who wrote all the words down in beautiful handwriting; I was employed to lie on my front by the VCR and press pause on the video every 4 seconds. I think there’s something in the discipline and commitment required for that task which must be a good thing!

A couple of weeks ago I was in Tuscany, teaching some students, but only for 5 hours per day. Cut off from the immediate demands of the business, and without Matt or my friends to hang out with, I got a rare reminder of what it’s like to finish at 5pm and see the rest of the evening as an empty space. Not only did I read an awful lot more, but I did a great deal of thinking, dreaming and planning that I wouldn’t usually have time for. And I remembered that being ‘bored’ is a challenge, but a good one. It encourages the ability to be happy in your own thoughts. 

Although I suppose staring into space isn’t so tough when you have the view above to absorb.

So, this Summer, don’t be afraid to include some time where not much happens. After a day or two, the kids will find a new internal rhythm, driven by their own eccentric, meandering thoughts and ideas. And that, just like robotics or coding or touch-typing, is a precious skill for the future.

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