A Case for Boredom


A couple months ago 60 Minutes did a piece on NY Times best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. In the segment Gladwell recited a quote had heard from his mother as a child, “It is important to be bored, it gives your mind a rest.”

This quote resonated with me and got me thinking…Do we let our children rest their minds? Do we allow boredom?

I find myself as a 29 year old new parent as being stuck between two parenting paradigms. When I was a child I remember going out to play, real play, the type of play where my mother knew where I was (approximately) but didn’t know what I was necessarily up to. I remember building snowforts, inventing variations of hide and go seek or tag and playing home run derby in my best friend’s backyard. I also remember being bored and then doing something about it, my mother didn’t solve my boredom for me. 20 year later and I don’t see that type of play happening in our community as much anymore…

We now seem to live in an over-scheduled contrived play date world. Some of my students for instance have piano, dance, and a basketball after school…and I don’t mean throughout the week, that is just one night! Heck, when I was in University I remember tutoring a grade 2 student in math until 10 at night! Yikes!!! Parenting it seems has turned into a never ending chauffeur service of going from one event to another to ensure our children are well-rounded and perpetually stimulated.

My concern is that we are not letting our children be bored. Boredom is seen as the enemy.

I see a connection between boredom and great things happening because of that boredom. When we give our mind a rest we are giving it an opportunity to power up and get ready for brilliance. This is the reason why I encourage students to take mental brain beaks in my classroom. By letting our children create their own play rather than bouncing them from one organized activity to another we give them the power to be bored and then the power to solve their boredom themselves.

So…maybe boredom isn’t so bad sometime. My guess is that if we let them be bored then we’ll get a chance to watch them be brilliant.


About flippingmath

Math Teacher, Flipper, Blue Jays Fan
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6 Responses to A Case for Boredom

  1. Josh Hammond says:

    I agree. Michael Chabon makes a case for unstructured play in his book “Manhood for Amateurs.” He talks about creating stories out in the woods, and how kids don’t get that chance to be creative now. They look to adults for answers and to referee every game they play. I’m learning to resist the temptation to help right away – both as a teacher and a parent. When my daughter asks me for help, I ask her to try it for herself. Most of the time, it turns out, she didn’t need my help at all.

    • flippingmath says:

      I am interested in that book, never heard of it before. You make a good point about resisting the temptation to help right away. I hate that so many of my students have been conditioned to believe they cannot solve a problem themselves if they cannot get a solution in 2 minutes or less.
      Thanks for the comment Josh.

  2. Ryan McCarty says:

    With my own children, I had to firmly guide them to remedy their own boredom. It has paid off as they have grown up. As a teacher I also understand that constant stimulation isn’t good for them (or me!). The human brain needs down time.

  3. I think the challenge with the play date parenting culture is that a child without regular involvement in organized activities is going to find him- or herself with no one else to play with. Meaning the only alternative for that child may be nonsocial activities such as surfing the internet to watch youtube videos, play video games, or watch tv for hours on end. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were “organized” children who have never played hide and seek, a national tragedy if ever there was one–okay, perhaps not, but still . . .

    Glenn Laniewski
    Latest blog post:
    Math teachers, start baking your Pi Day pies early

    • flippingmath says:

      I believe there needs to be a balance between the two camps. My post was not to say organised activities are bad, quite the opposite in fact. I just worry when they take over…

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