Don't panic when you hear the words "Mom, I'm bored," says Ivy at Twirl.
This summer, many parents are feeling especially overwhelmed. Having somehow made it through the school year and the added responsibilities of homeschooling on top of their already full load, parents are still having to be creative in how they adjust to the reality of limited summer camps, child care and play date opportunities.
Parents could be forgiven for thinking: "It's just too much! What do I do with my kids? I can't keep up with working and housework and providing full-time child care and entertainment."
So, should we give up, and plant the kids in front of the TV or iPad for hours every day? Not at all! The most essential thing this generation of children needs is practice at how to overcome boredom.
These days, information comes at us all rapidly, through our phones, TVs and computers. Kids struggle with building skills to cope with a lack of easy entertainment or adult engagement: yet now more than ever, they need to develop their own ways to observe, create and learn without constant guidance.
This is a cognitive skill that requires practice to strengthen, just like exercising muscles. And right now could be the perfect opportunity to foster kids' independence, creativity, problem-solving and attention span, while also giving yourself more free time and energy.
Here's some strategies to promote self-guidance:
Turn boredom into a fun challenge. Set a timer. Start with shorter times, like five minutes, for younger or more extroverted kids. Until the timer dings, the child must occupy themselves without adult help or attention.
Remember not to engage until the timer goes off unless it's an emergency. A few gentle and firm reminders that you'll be available when the buzzer sounds may be needed at first, but they'll adjust if you're consistent.
When time's up, give full attention and praise to whatever they've accomplished. Then start over. With practice, it's possible to gradually increase the length of self-guidance time. You can also provide some time challenge ideas:
1Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorObservation Challenge: Have your kid count things in a certain category, like, "How many yellow things can you find before the timer goes off?" This is especially great in an outdoor setting.
2Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorStorytelling Challenge: Set kids up with a few character toys or pictures, and have them figure out the personalities and an obstacle or problem, then a story of how they work together to solve it. Kids have to really concentrate so they can tell you the whole story after time is up.
3 Invention Challenge: Choose a variety of random materials. These can be actual art/craft supplies or household things like cardboard tubes, Q-tips, aluminum foil, driveway pebbles, etc. Kids must use them to come up with a new invention. When time's up, they present their creation and explain how it will solve a problem - maybe even for the world.
4Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorExperiment Challenge: Kids are natural scientists; they begin their scientific education as soon as they are born. Exploring, observing, inquiring, testing, reflection and iterating are all part of how young children learn about their environment and the world around them.
As parents, we've all played that hilarious game of cause and effect, where your child drops things from his high chair eagerly awaiting you to pick it up and start the process all over again. This is a great opportunity to encourage those scientific tendencies. Set up some materials, pose some questions and let your scientist do the rest.
Do different sizes/materials of balls make them roll faster or slower? Do different kinds of leaves collect water drops in different ways? If your kids don't have an experiment idea already, choose something simple. Have them observe closely so that they can tell you their results afterward.
Out of ideas? Here's a great list of suggestions online: mommypoppins.com/kids/50-easy-science-experiments-for-kids-fun-educational-activities- using-household-stuff.
Figure out a reward system if your child appreciates added motivation. If kids use self-guidance time in a helpful way, they could earn gold stars. Enough gold stars could be traded in for something they want: choosing the movie one night or picking their favorite meal, etc.
You could also invest some time upfront by creating an "I'm Bored" jar together. Have them decorate a mason jar. Brainstorm a bunch of age-appropriate activities together that your child could do on their own, and write them down on pieces of paper or Popsicle sticks.
Then, whenever you hear those infamous words, you can direct them to their self-generated ideas for relieving boredom. In time, they might even just pick out a stick themselves.
Helping children stay engaged, entertained and learning is a big part of every family's to-do list right now. These tools to build simple lessons and self-guidance training into the day can help kids and their parents/caregivers, perhaps making this crazy summer a little bit saner and fun for everyone.