Ten Boredom Busters and Brain Boosters

Here’s an article I wrote for Mercatornet years ago:

Ahhh… the lazy days of summer are here.  School is over, and it’s time for a more relaxing and peaceful – “Moooommmmm!!!!” screamed my daughter. All-Star is bugging me!!!”  “Well, she won’t let me play with her,” complained All-Star. “He keeps knocking over my dolls!” exclaimed Big-Sis. I could tell that All-Star was bored and looking for trouble. “Big-Sis, come here” I said firmly. He reluctantly came. And I handed my six year old a knife.

  The summer time is often peak time for boredom among children.  They have too much time on their hands and they often don’t know what to do with it.  Boredom in children precedes trouble, such as nagging for new toys, self-pity, loneliness, bickering, and irate parents. So, aside from summer camps and field trips, how can we keep our kids happily busy and productive? Here’s my top-ten list:

1. Choredom not boredom

“All-Star, I think you’re big enough to help me make dinner.  I need you to chop the red peppers,” I said. “Be very careful.  The knife is sharp, but I’m sure you can manage.”  So All-Star chopped the peppers, then the garlic, and finally the sausage. All-Star and I had a great time working side by side in the kitchen. And, he was so pleased with his newly acquired skill that he wanted to do more. 

The summer is a great time to teach your kids new chores, and you needn’t pay them either.  If you start them young enough, you will find that your lavish praise and encouragement will be enough of a reward. Together, you can come up with a list of chores your kids should do each day. Checkout my post on Summer Chore Boot Camp for ideas. Don’t expect perfection – look at chores as a way to teach responsibility, build self-esteem, and a great way to spend time together.

2. Books and Audio Books

Have your child look at or read books by himself for at least a half-hour a day.  Spend another 15 – 30 minutes a day reading out loud to your kids. Not only does this make them smarter, but it also ignites their imagination.  If your child is a reluctant reader, download an audiobook from your library or from audible.com and have him listen to that.   Then, give him the written version and let him follow along or read it on his own. 

Reading Matters and The Read Aloud Revival provide lists of outstanding children’s books.  Harper Collins Children’s Audio has several highly entertaining, well performed audio books. You can probably download many of these from your library.

3. Imaginary Play and Movie Making

Great books trigger imaginary play, and this could keep your children occupied for hours. If you think your child has outgrown it, encourage such wholesome play by taking part in it yourself.  When your kids are really too sophisticated for this, trick them into it by having them make a movie of their favorite story. Not enough actors?  Use action figures, dolls, stuffed animals, or have them make puppets. You might even get them to write and rehearse a script, and use background music.  Praise their efforts, share it with family on you-tube, and they’ll probably want to make more movies.

4. Outdoor play

Gardening, tag, treasure hunts, playing in the sprinkler, hiding in a tent, building a fort, sandbox, sports, blowing bubbles, catching bugs and making a bug zoo… sending your kids outside(while keeping the electronics inside) is a great way for them to burn off their energy without tearing up the house. And nature is one of the world’s greatest teachers. One way to get your kids outside is to only let them have their snacks outside.

5. Crafts, Hobbies and Collections

Next time your child asks you to buy a new toy, tell her, “Let’s see if you can find a way to make something like it.” Go to the craft store instead of the toy store. Even better, see if you can find a way to make the toy with the things you have at home.  This fosters resourcefulness and creativity.  My boys build all sorts of things with boxes and masking tape. Make sure you teach them to clean up after they are done. www.dltk-kids.com is an excellent source of craft projects for very young children. Usborne Books has many wonderful craft and science books for older children. Klutz Books publishes many excellent craft kits for school-age children.

As your children get older, encourage them to develop hobbies such as painting, sewing, scrapbooking, baking, photography, carpentry, building model cars and making circuit boards. Help them to start a collection of items that are interesting to them: baseball cards, coins, stamps, postcards, pressed flowers, etc. Researching and making a family tree is another valuable activity.

6. Board Games, Puzzles, and Building Toys

Besides being a lot of fun, board games can be very good for the mind- especially the ones that require the use of strategy. Building toys, such as lego are great for creative and pretend play.  When I was a child, my siblings and I spent hours playing lego.  Now, my kids do the same.

7. The More the Merrier

When I was a child, I always envied kids that came from large families.  They seemed to have a perpetual party. Obviously, board games and toys are a lot more fun when there are other kids to play with. Set up play dates. Co-ordinate with other parents to have friends come over before or after sports. Plan vacations with extended family or family friends. Or, if you’re a stay-at-home mother, offer babysitting services for the summer.

8. Advertise the Fun

When a child comes to you and says, “I have nothing to do”, you need to help him.  Suggest a variety of different activities. But when you do, you must convince him how much fun each activity is. If you simply say, “Go play lego,” they will probably reply with “Nahh”. Instead, try something like this: “Take out your lego and see if you can build the biggest tower in the world. Then you can get all the lego guys and see if they can climb the tower.  You will need to build a hospital to treat the guys who fall off the tower. Maybe the tower is in the middle of an island.  You’ll need a rescue boat and a helicopter…” Now, doesn’t that sound fun?

9. The Bored Book and the Chore Jar

Sometimes all the activities and ideas in the world will not satisfy your child.  Perhaps she’s tired, grumpy, or just plain out of sorts. But whatever it is, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. She’ll come to you and say, “I don’t know what to do.” You offer a variety of suggestions, but she shakes her head at each one. That’s when it’s time to say, “Well, you need to think of something productive to do. I’ll give you five minutes, and if you’re still bored, it’s time for The Bored Book.”  That usually does the trick. My kids suddenly become busy when they hear about The Bored Book.

The Bored Book is any activity book that you purchase and reserve solely for those moments when your kids can’t seem to amuse themselves.  Depending on your child’s age and temperament, it can be a fun book, or something not so fun… like pages of mental math.  It is an activity book which he can do independently. He must do this book for whatever time you have specified, whether he likes it or not. When he is done, he can choose another activity… or do more pages in The Bored Book.

Kumon Books are an excellent source for Bored Books.  Some of their activities are really a lot of fun, such as paper crafts, puzzles, and mazes.  Other Kumon books are not so fun, but provide excellent practice in math or language arts.  The Draw-Write-Now series is another fun and educational resource. If you are very thrifty, print out pages from the www.learningpage.com.

Alternatively, you can have a Chore Jar that has slips of paper with chores written on them. Whenever a child says that he is bored, he must pick a slip from the jar and do the chore before he can go off to play again.

10. When All Else Fails

Once in a while, even The Bored Book loses its magic.  When it seems that all else has failed and your child is following you around like a lost puppy, that is a sign your child is hungry for attention – your attention.  You might invite her help you with your work, or you might need to stop what you’re doing in order to listen to her, play with her, or read with her.  Be generous with your time. Children need a lot of love and affirmation.

And last of all:  Limit the Eye Candy, Push the Brain Food

When a child complains of boredom, it’s so easy to plop them in front of the T.V., or shut them up with a video game. The problem is, when the show is over or the game is done, they’re bored again. Too much T.V. and video games stunts the imagination and makes children lose their sense of wonder. Once a child is used to the glitter and glitz of electronic media, it is hard for him to focus on a book, to engage in imaginative play, or to marvel at nature. It seems to me that the more T.V. a child watches, the more he is prone to boredom. Save television and video games for a limited time at the end of a day.  Summer days should be filled with wholesome, active and creative play.

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