BENEFITS OF BOREDOM
Occasionally, a spell of purposelessness has its place, says Fred de Falbe
The end of term is upon us and jet-fuelled plans involving beaches or skis are off the table. Revision for exams, the shortage of holiday entitlement or saving money have put paid to anything more glamorous than the odd trip to the shops.
Never mind, that craft activity given by your arty aunt last Christmas, involving plaster-of-Paris and slightly-too-long instructions, will finally be dusted off and the children can post photos of their creations on Facebook. Brilliant – it is going to be wonderful - while you get your marketing report done or spreadsheets completed!
Within hours the cry goes up of ‘I’m bored!’ and the Dementors’ gloom (with apologies to JK Rowling) sucks the life out of the day. We parents heave deep sighs and speak in wheedling voices. Anything to avoid the slide back into screen time that eats up days and does nothing for socialisation – or so the experts say. Before we despair, let us examine what boredom is and why we – that is us, as well as our children - need it.
Children at school sometimes show a confusing mixture of hyperactivity and listlessness. This can be tackled by gentle but firm boundaries so that children soon find delight in filling their directed time usefully. It helps to have a small scale environment like Beeston where that ‘direction’ (the teacher) can be easily made. The corollary of this is that when the time is undirected the child has simply no idea what to do with himself/herself.
Making lists is a fine start. Having a series of activities which you both know are options is great. It may never be chosen, but ‘doodling with a diabolo’ might last hours.
It may not be practising the violin but trying a yo-yo, or seeing if you can raise a single eyebrow can while away an hour or two, but it could be paper darts, unicycle, stilts, Rubik’s cube.
These can be picked up and rejected in the blur of boredom – but you never know, something might result!
Not only does this add into the broth of resilience, it can prod problem-solving and self-esteem too – further totems of successful personal development. Though this is judged by inspectors in schools, the effectiveness of it must often be put down to what happens at home; our job as educators is, after all, a partnership.
These consequences of boredom are an antidote to tightly controlled holiday schedules and great motivational processes. Boredom drags children into territory where they are obliged to think for themselves, to confront a kind of loneliness and to tackle a task independently. Just think of that feeling as you stretch, after interminable hours in the car, and greet the plain old earth or sunshine with a glad heart, full of possibilities.
If there is room to stand and stare into space at school – great, but the real opportunity for this is at home. There are thinkers, doers and dreamers; each has his/her place and will contribute, but boredom’s challenge is not something to be swept away in flurry of memberships and mini-courses. The restful, if discomforting, sense of purposelessness has a place in this busy world. Have a great Easter break!
Fred de Falbe, headmaster at Beeston Hall School, West Runton