The Benefits of Boredom
24 November 2017
Willy Monnier, an obscure Swiss customs clerk, raised more than $5.5 million dollars to help leprosy victims between 1961 and 1981. He referred to himself as a nobody, and I can almost guarantee you have never heard of him. But across the African and South American continents, there are over 20 hospitals with several hundred Land Rovers and two planes that were financed by his persistence and vision.
‘I’m bored!’ It’s the phrase that causes guilt and frustration for parents and teachers alike. Boredom has a bad rap. We live in a world where we are bombarded with distractions and entertainment, and we’ve come to expect to be constantly mentally stimulated, but is that a good thing?
We strive to entertain and educate our children in a myriad of ways every day. They have access to amazing technology and a never-ending list of extracurricular activities. Life for children in the twenty-first century is packed very full. Music lessons, sporting activities, school, tutoring, technology. All valuable. But where is the down time? The resting brain (aka the bored brain) has been shown to be far more creative and capable of solving complex problems. In scientific studies where subjects were given repetitive tasks to complete, they showed increased abilities to think creatively and were able to come up with astounding left-field ideas for real life problems. The resting brain seeks stimulation by wandering. This process allows children (and adults) to be self-reflective. We are able to process emotions in a way that improves self-awareness and wellbeing. Quiet moments allow for mindfulness.
Author F Scott Fitzgerald writes, “Boredom is not an end-product ... rather an early stage in life and art. You’ve got to go by or past or through boredom, as through a filter, before the clear product emerges.” Good in theory, right? But when you have a whining child on day one of the holidays, what do you do? I encourage you to unplug and persevere! Children need to be encouraged to see boredom as an opportunity to take control and find something to engage in. You may need to suggest some ideas and provide some materials to encourage creative play and curiosity to flourish. The benefits of child-directed activity and play are overwhelmingly positive: curiosity, perseverance, playfulness, confidence, inventiveness and concentration.
Boredom can be a stepping-off point for wild adventure and discovery.
‘Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves.’ Dr Vanessa Lapointe
Head of Primary Avondale School