Remember the, now historically famous, milk campaign of the 90’s; Got Milk?
Well, either you do, and no explanation is required, or your age depicts that you may have missed out on this ad genius that was created in the hopes of boosting milk sales in the United States, which later milk farmers took on themselves. Whatever your generation of pop culture, the fact of the matter is, milk needed a boost. Today milk and dairy sales are growing (depending on which side of the U.S./Canadian border your economic pocket lives…) Great! Now, what is not growing or being boosted: boredom.
So in all my research and reading around why kids are bored and if they are actually bored, it’s good to begin with perhaps, why.
Kids, students, and even young adults complaining of “I’m bored,” is nothing new. However, how we handle this as educators and adults has.
For a deeper, harsher reality to why boredom may be more of a concern at the moment, take a rest, and have a watch at this conversation. (for those who saw it the first time, years ago, it still holds value (with the grains of salt you wish you agree/disagree with) and for those who haven’t’ sit back (give yourself 20 minutes) and watch this (yes, it’s worth it!):
So to some of you, you’re nodding your head and aghast with agreement! WOW! Others may be swinging their heads in disgust and disagreement. What both sides should recognize and agree upon is this is an issue that needs to be talked about. Internet addition, immediate gratification, and unrealistic parental and environmental provided/guided goals, have become the norm of most households and students within our classroom.
Why is this a problem? No work is involved. Wait what? Of course work is involved, but to these children, it’s just “going to happen” to them. Here’s the truth. Kids need to work through things, need to work on how to figure things out on their own, and need to have times where they are wrong and not the best at something, rewarded for nothing, (I’m planning to open that can of worms in another post) and work through those self-reflective feelings. In Simon Sinek’s words: “there is no app for that.”
This leads to me to the importance of kids being bored. What we also know is that when we don’t have a chore or a schedule or a planned activity, we think. We’re left to think about what? Anything, everything, all the things! All too often kids are overscheduled, overly structured, and overly controlled where their actions and day to day routines are already set in place by an adult of an institution. Research shows that this ultimately leads to a lack of creativity, emotional and mental health concerns, and poorly motivated adults in our society.
As an only child, I experienced boredom often. My parents response: Only boring people are bored.” Funny that it wasn’t until only a year ago, when I began looking into this (boredom) as part of a group at work investigating the Leader in Me and recess protocols to perhaps instill at our school, that this actually became a delayed “A-HA!” moment! What they were saying was that if you are bored, then you are not using your creative mind, your mental and emotional abilities, and are sometimes more “lazy,” than bored.
I place “lazy” in brackets here for a very important reason. Research has shown that children with ADHD actually feel boredom in a different way. This is essential to point out, as we can’t lump everyone together in one category. As the majority of us, and kids use “bored” as an excuse and lazy way out of using their creativity and working through something on their own, kids with ADHD often just “don’t know” what to do. Hence boredom to them looks and feels different. We need to step up here and help and aid them in this process. This is where living in the “grey” as per Dr. Ross W. Greene points out in his book Lost at School, is so detrimental to the positive behaviour and acceptance of “challenging students” (blog on this book coming soon!)
So as I gear up and mentally prepare for “back to school,” I’m reminded of how little downtime and unstructured time the students actually have. Students K-8. Not just playtime in Kindergarten, but yes the big kids too! So when recess does happen, do we plan to structure it with games and activities? Or do we work on teaching kids how to deal and work on their own unstructured time. Listening to their bodies. Knowing what they need versus what they want during that unstructured time. We as educators have a duty to not only prepare students academically for a successful and productive life of education and opportunity, but also how they deal and manage is also our responsibility. In a school day where almost everything is timed and scheduled, the time where students get to breath, relax, and just do what they want, is precious. This is the times where the most growing can either blossom, or wilt away at the same time. The Canadian Public Health Association recognizes that unstructured play at all ages is highly beneficial and although a lot of boards have taken steps to address this, they still point out that more direct steps need to be taken.
Quick glance forward, I was curious to look into what and why being bored as a adult is beneficial, if at all. Turns out, the “Got Bored?” slogan could be targeted at adults too! Don’t be too surprised to learn that, yes, the same benefits are found! Creativity in the workplace, reflection, and work-life balance. What is school to kids if not “work” to us adults.
So as we all gear up to the first few days of school, or embrace the few days you’ve already been in the classroom (I’m speaking to you my US colleagues) I encourage you to be more mindful of the downtime you provide your students, the importance of recess, the importance of working through problems, and student life. This is their reality. Their truth. Embrace it with them. Take time to teach and model to them how to be bored, and perhaps it will change their mindset from “I’m bored, I have nothing to do” to ” I just want to think for a bit before choosing my activity.”
So go ahead and brave boredom!
…you just might be surprised what you may find in there…