Sometimes I avoid going to the library. (I know that seems counter-intuitive for a homeschooler who loves books!) I’m not avoiding the library because I don’t want to have to deal with a very noisy, active toddler. I’m not avoiding it because I owe the library so much in fines that they could build a new wing. No, it’s for the simple reason that when my children run out of library books, they get bored. Sure, “I’m bored” isn’t exactly a favorite phrase for most parents. I’m not always thrilled with it either, but it’s growing on me. I’ve come to believe boredom is a gift.
Boredom is a large part of the gift I give to my children as a homeschooling mom. Homeschooling does not take as long as public school does—it generally takes as long as I hear other parents spend helping their children with homework. I try to limit television on school days and keep computer use to tool time instead of play time. That leaves a beautiful, open day! Time to pursue their interests. Time to lay on the grass and watch worms. Time to write and write and write. Time to draw. Time to dance. Time to build a life-size spider web out of yarn. Boredom can be a very messy gift.
I first began to understand the gift of boredom about five years ago. My oldest child was complaining bitterly about her complete and utter lack of library books. This was an emergency. This was an injustice. I was failing her as a mother. She needed to go to the library. I don’t even remember why we hadn’t gone that week, and it had only been one week, despite her dramatic protestations to the contrary. She could not possibly be expected to survive one more day. She was bored. I must have had a good reason for not going. (I needed a reason back then.) Maybe another child was sick. Maybe I was sick. Maybe the car was dead. I don’t know. All I know is that we couldn’t go.
Up until that point, my standard reply to “I’m bored” was a long list of chores. Since they seemed incapable of thinking for themselves and making plans, I was perfectly happy to think and plan for them. This particular child was quite vocal in her explanations as to why chores would not satisfy her particular problem. She then started pacing around the couch where I was sitting, hoping I would sprout wings or change magically into something interesting.
The Miracles That Can Happen When a Child Gets Bored
The other children were playing quietly. The baby was asleep. The only thing standing between me and booked bliss was this bored child. Sigh. At the time, I was reading Shakespeare. I can’t remember what play, but I had my big Shakespeare book out with its beautiful green monogrammed cover and full-page pictures.
As I looked back and forth from my pacing daughter to my book, the baby woke up. That was the end of my “relaxing” for the day. The baby’s diaper was particularly exciting and necessitated a bath and laundry and possibly a sanitation crew for her crib. It was more than 45 minutes before I walked back through the living room. I noticed the quiet first. In all of the intervening time, not once had my daughter pestered me. Perhaps she had been afraid to come too close to the disaster area, lest I enlist her aid? I found her sitting on the couch committing a cardinal sin in our family: she had stolen my book.
Here was my 11-year-old, completely absorbed in Shakespeare. I had been reading it for a discussion group and she couldn’t have it, and I was about to tell her so when I noticed the time. I needed to start dinner. I guess she could have a little longer. I cooked dinner, paused for the interruptions, rushed back to catch the boiling pot while desperately trying to not crush the toddler who seems intent on tripping me… Time flew by. The other children had all gathered around the kitchen hoping upon hope that somehow an increase of noise on their part would cause an increase of speed on my part. My oldest child was still reading Shakespeare. Amazing.
Why do we think it’s bad to be bored, anyway? I want my children to be comfortable with themselves. Empty time is a gift. What is time to study the path of an earthworm to a budding biologist? What is time and paper to a writer? What is time to study the feeling of movement to a dancer? What good is an empty sketch book to an artist who is constantly entertained or over-scheduled? I don’t know what the life-size spider web of yarn taught anyone, but it was definitely creative and that child was no longer suffering from boredom. When my children say “I’m bored,” I no longer feel that I am lacking as their private entertainment committee. I don’t wonder if we should have a more scheduled life. I do say, “I can’t wait to see what creative things you are going to think up to do in this gift of time!”
This post was originally published in January 2014. Minor changes have been made.
Britt grew up in a family of six brothers and one sister and gained a bonus sister later. She camped in the High Sierras, canoed down the Colorado, and played volleyball at Brigham Young University. She then served a mission to South Africa. With all of her time in the gym and the mountains and South Africa, she was totally prepared to become the mother of 2 sons and soon to be 9 daughters. By totally prepared she means willing to love them and muddle through everything else in a partially sleepless state. She is mostly successful at figuring out how to keep the baby clothed, or at least diapered, though her current toddler is challenging this skill. She feels children naturally love to learn and didn’t want to disrupt childhood curiosity with worksheets and school bells. She loves to play in the dirt, read books, go on adventures, watch her children discover new things, and mentor her children. Her oldest child is currently at a community college and her oldest son is going to high school at a public school. She loves to follow her children in their unique paths and interests. She loves to write because, unlike the laundry and the dishes, writing stays done. Whenever someone asks her how she does it all she wonders what in the world they think she’s doing.