Bore on!

An article proposing that boredom is a good thing: a source of creativity. Told from the perspective of someone who has, at times, been phenomenally bored.

Sometime in the late 1970s and early 1980s…

“Mum, I’m bored.”

“Why don’t you read a book, or go out to play?”

I can assure you that there were longer and more complex exchanges between my mum and myself but this particular snippet typifies how mum dealt with my need for mental stimulation. Mum, if you’re reading this, thank you it was the perfect answer.

Source: I'm bored by Michael Ian Black

Source: I’m bored by Michael Ian Black

In response to my mum’s directive to ‘read a book’ I generally sought solace in The Famous Five, E. Nesbit and C.S. Lewis. In a serendipitous twist (which I’m not convinced my mum foresaw), I then further occupied my time by desperately willing the sitting-room carpet to transport me on journeys around the world; urging my wardrobe to open a portal to Narnia, and spent long summer holidays of riding bikes, building dens and cooking sausages on *small* bonfires in the field at the bottom of my mum and dad’s road. My sister was always in tow and occasionally my little brother (in his role as The Lamb from The Phoenix and the Carpet, Five Children and it, and The Amulet – see I remember all three stories). Whilst my time was thus filled, my dad was at work and my mum was busy performing her ‘Blytonesque’ role of baking cakes and bread, and doing the family’s laundry.

That Mum and Dad were absent from my adventures is important. When Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog set out on their adventures they did so without parental interference. There were also no parents fussing about clean nails and grass-stained clothes in E. Nesbit’s or C.S. Lewis’ stories. Therefore, I didn’t need my Mum and Dad joining-in with a trip on the sitting room carpet or coming down to the field to build a bonfire. I suspect they’re relieved not to have been involved in that one!

So, what is my point? Well, in part it is the positive impact of adventure stories for influencing the creative play of children. However, the main point is the need for parents (and teachers) to allow a little bit of boredom and so make space in children’s lives for imaginative play. Play that hasn’t been booked into the diary, play that hasn’t been scheduled at a specific environment, and play that doesn’t involve adults – and I’m not the only person suggesting this . I’m not proposing that we ignore children. My brother, sister and I were not ignored. There were plenty of camping holidays and trips to parks but there were times when we were allowed to reach a point of boredom which was subsequently cured through self-initiated activity.

If you’re a teacher, you may well be thinking ‘this is all well and good at home but I’ve got a curriculum to teach and quite frankly Ofsted and our Head would hang me from the school gates by my shoelaces if I started deliberately boring our children’. I see your point but ask you to think of lunchtime – that hour of potential playtime that frequently ends in disputes over which year group has the ownership of the football and which class is having their turn on the Trim Trail. As a school leader I spent hours working with lunchtime staff on developing games and activities to occupy idle minds. I admit, I was probably too concerned with preventing boredom rather than embracing it. Again, I accept that organised playtime activities have their place but there also needs to be a creative outlet for passing an hour without your teacher. Whilst few schools would be able to facilitate a fully-fledged junk playground  it is possible to source interesting and useful junk to alleviate boredom and stimulate imaginative play from companies such as Crow Recycling. I’ve even heard of schools purchasing shipping containers of junk, which is then regularly updated with ‘new’ junk to enable boredom busting play. Just think of the adventures taking place on those school playgrounds!

Life is cyclical. I’m now a mum myself, albeit to children slightly older than those most of us teach, and during a recent school holiday the following conversation took place in our house:

“Mum, I’m bored.”

“Why don’t you read a book, or go out to play?”

“Ooo, I’ll get my cook book out. Have we got any eggs?


“Okay, I’m popping down the shops. Do we need anything else, Mum?”

I like cake. I like my children learning to occupy themselves. I like them going to the shops, and I like the way that once they’ve re-energised their interest in life it then spills over into painting, drawing, sewing…

By advocating a little boredom in the lives of children I am not taking the moral high ground. I’m not judging parents and teachers who fill the lives of their little charges with structured play, adult-led activities and stimulating day trips. I embrace those things as part of the fabric of enriching children’s lives and as a both a teacher and parent I have provided plenty of structured activities. What I do want to do though is assuage any parental or teacher guilt you may feel about the amount of activity you provide for your charges. Go on, let them get bored. You may need to tell them to read a book or go out to play but try it and see…

Rachel Clarke, Director – Primary English

All content on the Primary English website is protected by copyright and owned by Rachel Clarke.

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