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Boring Our Kids to Brilliance

An open invitation to join me in shutting off and missing out this week. Who knows what kind of discoveries will be made when our kids find themselves, as they say, "bo-orrr-ed."

This week, I want to urge all of us parents to bore our children. That’s right, let’s let them have no agenda, no interesting thing in the world. Let them come to us and whine out the word into three syllables, “bo-orrr-ed.” And let’s respond with a sympathetic yet, wholly dispassionate, “Awww.”*

This could require some strength. It will mean turning off, missing out, and, perhaps, even not showing up. But who knows what will come out of it? In addition to a bit of misery for some, maybe there might be some new discoveries.

Did you know you can make a slingshot with an old hanger, some hem from a pair of jeans and rubber bands? How many ways can you write your name in juice on a plate? What is that road going up behind our house, anyway?

Even better, I wonder if our kids may seek out each other during their week of drought. This was a discussion topic in a recent meeting at our school when some parents touched on the differences in their own childhood versus today.

As kids, many of us had playmates on our street and time to play with them—or be bored with them—whenever we chose. Today, you don’t see kids out on the streets nearly as much, and participation in organized sports is prescribed by pediatricians as a way to keep our children healthy and active.

Please don’t misunderstand. I do not think organized sports are bad at all. I just think that when you couple the increase in commitment to them at young ages, with the rise in homework and video game time, some of us may be giving up some crucial moments for our kids to just be aimless.

I think about a mom at school who recounted how her son often sits in the tree at their house looking for the neighbors he used to play with as a very small child. As he’s gotten older, most of those kids are now busy each afternoon with sports and homework, as well as video games.

“But,” said the mom, whose family limits all three of these activities for their young kids, “, they all came out of their houses like lines of ants, looking to play.”

On my own block, many of the kids are getting heavily involved in sports as they get higher up in grade school. At the same time, homework demands are skyrocketing. Their schedules do intimidate me a little as a mom with younger kids. There was even one adorable little boy who was said to have gone on a diet to make it onto the football team.

Of course these kids do still get out and play basketball in the front yard, or wiffle ball in the backyard occasionally. They still seem to have, at least, some unstructured play-time.

Yet, from across the street and a few years away, I already see our own unstructured time disappearing as my eldest has begun kindergarten. What I worry will be lost are the lateral ways our brain can move when not being funneled into a structure where there’s only one right way to play the game or complete the worksheet.

I do value hard work. I do provide my kids with new experiences and structure. I just also think terrific thinking can come out when they’re aimless and rolling around on the carpet one minute, stringing together paper clips the next, and, hopefully, standing in the front yard trying to catch the attention of the kids across the street the next.

To this end, I intend to skip both swimming and gymnastics one week (pre-payment be damned), unplug the world, and plan or provide nothing for those days. If you feel like it’s been a while since your family has been rootless too, I hope you’ll join me in shutting off and missing out.

Someone may end up on the verge of insanity, no telling if it will be us or them, but someone just may discover a new love of entomology on the ant hill in the backyard, too. Either way, please let me know how it goes, and know—in brilliance and in whine—we’re right there with you.

*Thank you, Kim John Payne's "Simplicity Parenting” for this response.

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