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Boredom can make children more creative and teach new skills

As parents or caregivers, how often are we confronted with the exasperated declaration, “I’m bored!”? Rather than dreading the boredom, we may need to start welcoming it as a gateway to our children’s untapped creative, social, and life skills.

Taking her cue from the world of small but powerful words, Jamie Jirout, associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development, delves into the intriguing correlation between a child’s curiosity and their learning abilities.

Curiosity from boredom

According to Jirout, curiosity is kindled when a child senses a void in their knowledge, compelling them to seek information and reduce their uncertainty.

This thirst for answers breeds creativity as the child starts to cook up unique and useful ideas or products.

Our digital age, saturated with screens, can understandably worry both adults and children when it comes to prolonged periods of unstructured, tech-free time.

However, Jirout assures us that such intervals can be golden opportunities for children to cultivate their curiosity, creativity, and important life skills.

“Curiosity occurs when a student experiences a gap in knowledge that motivates them to seek information to resolve their uncertainty. Creativity occurs when students generate novel and useful ideas or products,” Jirout explains.

Creative break from boredom

Be it summer at home, weekends, or holidays, any break from routine can provide the perfect platform to nurture both creativity and curiosity in our young ones.

“When kids have the agency to do what they want to do, they’re going to be motivated to get into activities in a deep way,” Jirout said.

“That motivation will then provide a lot of experience and opportunities for them to develop different skills that they might not get in school, or from more structured activities in general because they don’t have to create the entire structure themselves.”

How do we make this work? It’s all about structuring unstructured time.

Structuring the unstructured

So, how do we structure this unstructured time and help our kids combat boredom? Jirout offers a few strategies. If your child struggles with where to start, offer a general activity idea.

Whether it’s building a fort, creating an obstacle course, or making a fairy garden, the key is to be as vague as possible. This allows your child to take charge and explore various aspects of the activity on their own.

Moreover, creating their own schedule for a few hours can greatly enrich a child’s sense of control and autonomy, often absent in a typical school or camp day.

Spawning creative skills through boredom

Provokingly, these moments of boredom can be more enriching than more structured activities. Jirout points out that children cultivate a lot about problem-solving and thinking creatively from these experiences.

When children are free to follow their interests, they are more likely to dive deep into activities, gaining experiences and developing a wide array of skills.

“In general, kids don’t get to do things of their choice very often,” Jirout said. “And they’re going to be most motivated when they have the autonomy of choice. So, I think it is great to provide them the opportunity to figure out what they want to do.”

Outdoor activities add the cherry on the cake with additional benefits like physical movement and nature interaction. The child also learns social and collaborative skills as they negotiate decision-making and ideas with friends.

Serving a Slice of Life Skills

For the slightly older kids, unstructured time can also serve practical life skills lessons.

“The summer can be a great time to walk or bike to a nearby store, buy some ingredients, and then return home to do some cooking,” Jirout said.

“Or without even leaving the house, packing up a picnic for an outside lunch is a great skill for kids to learn.”

While introducing and embracing boredom may initially feel uncomfortable for both adults and kids, with patience and practice, it can foster a habitat of curiosity and creativity, making every day a summer of skillful discovery.

So next time your child complains of boredom, remember you’re stirring a pot of creative soup, one bored moment at a time.


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