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Boredom Busting: An Essential for Homeschoolers

By Rhonda Barfield
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #99, 2011.

Make the choice: Entertain your kids or provide ways for your kids to learn to entertain themselves.
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Rhonda Barfield

“Mom, I’m bored. . .” Nearly every parent has heard this unsettling announcement, usually voiced in whiny tones. It makes us uneasy. We feel responsible, that somehow we need to fix the issue. After all, aren’t moms supposed to help solve their kids’ problems?

Yes, but maybe not in the most obvious way. My husband and I learned that when our own children said they were bored, it often indicated a deeper issue, an expectation that someone should be required to entertain them. Instead, we wanted them to discover their own entertainment. That’s part of the reason why our family set out to find a solution to the there’s-nothing-to-do dilemma, through facilitating “boredom busting.”

We started by opening up our schedule, including a large chunk of daily free time. Facebook was not yet popular when our kids were younger, and we used our lone computer for business projects. That helped us to make the rules: No video games allowed. Limited phone access. One hour (or less) of supervised TV, Monday through Friday. Each family must decide its limits, but our goal centered on replacing mindless busyness with an open hour or two. We thought it would be good for our children to get bored sometimes, so they could think of ways to deal with it.

That’s why we cut back on activities like field trips to our city’s science center, history museum, zoo, botanical gardens, or art museum. Ironically, Eric, Christian, Lisa and Mary began to get bored with these weekly outings. Was the solution, then, to go more often? Not for us. Instead, my husband Michael declared that we’d start limiting the number of trips. That gave our children time for extra free play, which helped them define how to entertain themselves. As an added bonus, they also came to appreciate the less frequent field trips much more.

In addition to time, we offered basic materials to inspire creativity. Blocks, LEGO bricks, blankets, kitchen chairs. Dolls, stuffed animals. Two huge boxes of dress-up clothes. Stacks of paper, markers, paint and brushes. Hula hoops, empty refrigerator boxes. We avoided the toys that “did it all” and stuck with the basics. That way, our kids naturally used their own imaginations to cure the boredom bug.

They once built a 10-foot long “submersible” in our basement, and a “robot” out of lawn chairs, broom handles, and found objects. Christian and Lisa wrote and illustrated a book, The Tiny Secrets of Your Backyard, based on nature observation using only a bug trap and a magnifying glass. The girls built and furnished their own dollhouses with boxes and contact paper. The boys set up endless war scenes using plastic army men and scavenged materials from around the house.

They also learned to entertain themselves from other resources we made available. Both the boys’ and girls’ rooms contained dozens of books, including encyclopedias and other reference materials. Even my reluctant readers turned to these often when bored enough. . . and then no longer felt bored.

During our limited TV times, we watched shows such as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, one of Mary’s favorites, and Reading Rainbow. Both of these got our children excited about new ideas, which inspired additional reading, creative play, and projects. Looney Tunes cartoons, shared with Dad, taught humor and motivated the kids’ first attempts at comedy, recorded on an old tape recorder. Family-friendly movies such as Swiss Family Robinson and Robin Hood (with Errol Flynn) helped inspire hide-outs under the honeysuckle bushes, retaining-wall castles made of large stones, homemade weapons, and an eight-foot-deep “fort” in our west side yard.

“Boredom busting” can be easier than it seems. As we discovered in our homeschool family, parents sometimes need only cut back on scheduled activities and provide raw materials and resources. In fact, kids often do a far better job of entertaining themselves than we can, when Mom and Dad let them get bored enough.

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