Sunday, March 10, 2019

Children and Boredom

I received this question from one of the people I am mentoring:

"How can I create lessons so that the children won't be bored?"

It got me thinking about children and boredom, because the two just don't mix.

All human beings are born with an unlimited capacity and drive for exploration and learning. Infants use all their senses to explore anything and everything with which they come into contact.

So what happens? Why do children get bored? Why does it seem to be more of a problem these days?

I can tell you exactly why children get bored:

They aren't allowed to entertain themselves. Babies should be held and interacted with as much as possible in the early months. Often, though, babies continue to be held, contained and entertained most of their waking time when they should be exploring on their own. Babies today are held, placed into stationary contraptions or placed into safe areas with limited, non-rotating toys. Babies don't need baby toys, they need exploration opportunities. Give a baby a whisk and even at 4 months old their eyes light up because it is something NEW and to them, extraordinary. That word EXTRA-ordinary. It can be an ordinary object, but to a baby or child, anything new is extraordinary. From 6 months on, children need to be down, freely exploring new and varied materials, textures and environments, building and utilizing skills.

They aren't allowed to do individual exploration. So often today children are told what to do, where to go. They aren't allowed to venture forth to check out the world on their own. I had a conversation with a mom who was very irritated that her one year old kept moving the backdoor back and forth one day while she had it open. She couldn't get the little one to stop. I asked why she wanted the child to stop. She didn't have a good answer, she just felt it was not appropriate behavior. I explained how moving the door back and forth shifted light patterns, shifted any breeze patterns coming through the screen door, had heft for gross motor control practice, probably created noise changes as he could hear outside and inside noises differently, he was learning about arcs and physics. SO MUCH LEARNING at play, with a mother demanding that he stop.

They aren't allowed to play as they wish with items. "That's not how we play with cars." "That's not a toy." "No, here's how you do it." "Stack the blocks up high." You wouldn't think saying something like "Stack the blocks up high," would be a bad thing, but it imposes our own idea of what is to be done with the blocks, rather than the child's. Maybe she wants to line them up, or use them as pretend food, or carry them in a purse. So often we want adults and teacher playing with children, but too often the play is then directed by the adult and their narrow in-the-box view of how play should go. Children don't just "think outside of the box," to them, there is no box. WE adults create the boxes for them. WE limit their imagination. WE limit their ability to play and explore. By suggesting how a child should play, our powerful influence through how they wish to please and imitate us, eliminates immeasurable ways that THEY may have chosen to play. 

They are told no. It's a freakin' spatula. Let the kid play with it. Before taking an item from a child, really assess if it is necessary to do so, or if you are simply making a knee-jerk reaction because you don't see it as a "toy." We need to get out of the idea that children need toys and into the idea that children need to explore anything and everything around them that is safe to do so. So your toddler loves the Tupperware. Let him play with it. It will wash. Create a home where your child will only hear NO if a situation is unsafe, meaning where she will harm something valuable, herself, another person or living thing.

We do for them rather than teach them. Maria Montessori said, "Never do for a child what he can do for himself." I live by that. Even the two year old here is folding towels, sweeping, helping to dress herself, etc. The goal is to raise competent, resourceful, polite human beings. We do them no service when we don't allow them opportunities to practice and gain skills as soon as they are ready. When we shut down a child's emerging independence because we are too impatient, too time-crunched, we tell them, "You can't do it." "You can't do it well enough." "This doesn't matter." "Your needs are not as important as my needs." You find children try less hard. They try to do fewer things. They give up quicker. They begin to more and more look to the adults in their lives for what they SHOULD be doing, HOW to do it and WHEN. See where this is going?

We instill unnecessary fear. "Get down from there before you get hurt." One of the worst things an adult can do is to save a child. Instead, they should teach the child how to get out of the situation on his/her own. If it happened with your back turned once, more than likely it will happen again. Giving skills rather than help is a much better approach. Rather than helping a child gain skills to be competent, we tell them they are NOT competent and not to do something. This is more true with girls, but it is true as well with boys, especially in our helicopter parenting world. We shut children down, not allowing exploring, risking, learning, allowing them to find their own limits, to learn the skills necessary, to set goals, grow and accomplish. Children in fear will not attempt new things, even simple ones, either completely or at least not without hesitation. Children living with a sense of bravery will assess risks, make a determination, and proceed with knowledge, experience, and skills. They will seek help in their endeavors as necessary, and be willing to face failure.

LOVE this:

We don't embrace failure. Failure = First Attempt In Learning. From the beginning children are taught the "right" way to do things. If they don't do it the "right" way, they are corrected at least, put down at worst. The one thing we have majorly forgotten is the importance of praising EFFORT. Effort will get children farther in life than anything else, but we praise perfection over trying. So they fear trying because they fear not being able to do it perfectly. While some children are natural perfectionists, in general, this need to be the best, to be the smartest, to be perfect, is instilled by adults. The freedom to fail is one of the greatest gifts we can give to children. 

We don't give them time. Children are expected to conform to adult schedules. It's time for this, so let's go. No matter what children are doing, they are expected to abandon it without fuss to be moved to the next "important" activity as deemed by the adults in their lives. They aren't allowed to immerse themselves, without any type of time limit, in exploration. That sense of impending loss hovers over them constantly as they play. We put their toys away, their activity away, when the time is up. There is no leaving it for the next day, no chance to come back with a new perspective to tweak and re-do. There is little chance to fully explore, to their heart's content, materials and experiences. 

We expect them to play with toys with a purpose. The toy phone is a phone. You push the buttons on the phone. You listen to the sounds it makes. You pretend to use the phone. This takes almost no imagination and there is almost no exploration past about a minute of initial introduction. It is what it is, it does what it does. Unstructured toys such as blocks, can be ANYTHING. They can be animals, people, food, etc. Their only purpose is what the child makes of them. These are the toys they need. 

We don't provide free outdoor time in a true outdoor space. Children are outside at home in manicured yards. Most child care facilities have large climbers with mulch underneath. Period. Children aren't finding pine cones, bugs, digging in the dirt and carrying buckets of stuff from one place to another. They aren't allowed to use sticks as magic wands, swords, markers, dolls. They can't go barefoot to feel the grass, rocks, mud. "Don't touch that!" "Don't get dirty." Even when outside, we tell children very often that the outside is NOT a place for exploration, when it is the ULTIMATE place for exploration. 
Children today spend less time outdoors than any other generation, devoting only four to seven minutes to unstructured outdoor play per day while spending an average of seven and a half hours in front of electronic media. [source]

They don't do art, they do crafts. How often do children bring home these perfect crafts that look identical to everyone else's in the class? This isn't art. This isn't imagination and exploration. This is doing what you are told, with the expectation of perfection. Give a child a lump of clay and they can spend an hour with it, if they have experience and feel comfortable in being a true ARTIST. They should be allowed to explore materials, their viscosity, their malleability, their weight and other properties. THEN can they create their own masterpieces with them. When we have children do pre-determined crafts, we box up their innate artistic genius. 

They aren't exposed to a variety of music. Kids songs are great, but children are born with musical ability. Exposing them to zydeco, Indian flute music, Asian music, classical, blues & jazz, not only gives them a greater musical perspective, it lets them find their own musical passion. Dancing, making music and listening to music are all another form of exploration that many children are severely stunted in doing.

They are given electronics as a quick solution. Rather than having a child make a mess or having to assist them in exploration, it is much easier to just plop them in front of an iPad or TV. When they claim to be bored, an easy solution is to provide electronics. Electronics for children benefit adults, not children. Children need to be using their imaginations and exploring their real world, not escaping into a fantasy one.

They buy in, like adults, to the concept that education = learning. That it takes a teacher to teach in an academic setting to learn. Actually, most learning takes place through children's observations and experimentation in everyday life. But children usually don't research, practice or experiment anymore on their own. They don't identify a passion and immerse within it. They don't push to learn things not taught in school. They simply wait around until someone tells them it is time to practice, time to learn, what to learn, what to practice. I remember studying botany over the summer, on my own, and my brothers wondering why I would have my nose in a book and off doing experiments when I didn't HAVE TO. The thing about passions, is that the HAVE TO is internal, not external. Children need to find internal motivation to increase their knowledge and skills without being ordered about to do so. This type of learning, is what sticks. When children have a passion, all other learning gains purpose and meaning. When I child develops a passion for trains, suddenly reading becomes a necessary skill, math had a purpose to count the cars on the track, and so many other taught skills suddenly become important and relevant. Things that were once boring, are now fascinating. There is suddenly not enough time in the day to learn and do all the things the child can come up with to perform.
My Mr. H was at his grandma's one day and she told me that he played outside, by himself, all day. Happily. She thanked me for that. 

One of the boys was in time out last week and played with a string on his sock the entire time. He continued to do it when he came out of time out.

I had a 6 year old boy come as a drop-in one day last summer. He entered my 1/2 acre natural backyard and immediately said, "I'm bored.' He stood around, asking to go in, until we did so. He had no clue how to play and explore. Once inside, he wanted to watch TV. He couldn't see a place filled with exploration opportunities. 

It is amazing that older children that I get in have to be TAUGHT how to play. They don't know how. They can't break past the tight constraints put upon them since infancy in how they explore. They don't have the capacity to rely on their own imagination and abilities. They need to be told what to do, how to do it, when, where, why. They have not lost, but been stripped, of their innate curiosity. 

This is why children are bored. A bored child is not natural. Play is how they learn, much more so than academics.

You notice the overlying reason children are bored? 

Unnecessary or limiting adult intervention in every aspect of their ability to play, explore. learn and entertain themselves, from infancy.

I find this very, very sad.
parenting, day care, child care, daycare, boys, girls, classroom, parenting, pre-k, kindergarten, elementary, learning, development, preschool, language, math, science, psychology

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