How shelter in place may help our children find their creativity again
In the past week, my usually sunny attitude and optimism started to wane. As the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis continues to escalate, I am finding it more and more difficult to remain patient. Like so many Americans, I am ready to go back to the job I love without feeling the constant burden that I might bring the virus home to my family members and my baby. I am ready for my colleagues in healthcare to feel safe at their workplaces again. And more than anything, I am ready for all Americans to be able to safely return to work, hug the people they love, and for our lives to return to the normal we knew before. With the difficulties of the past week sitting heavy in my mind, I looked out my window to the perfect Texas spring day and over to my precious baby boy smiling back at me, blissfully unaware of the hardships facing our world. I loaded up Scotty in his stroller and decided that for one Saturday afternoon, I would try to put aside my fears to enjoy a walk with my family. What I didn’t realize was that waiting just around the corner, there were a couple of neighborhood kids that would give my stubborn optimism a reason to return.
As we stepped onto the neighborhood bike path, two brothers whizzed past on their bicycles, chattering about their latest adventure and the worlds they discovered just behind their backyard. I smiled to myself at their backpacks full of supplies and treasures they were planning to bring back to examine at their kitchen table. A few steps later, I peered over to the river sitting behind our subdivision to see a young girl learning how to fish with her dad. We finished our route by walking past a boy conquering the “beasts” of our suburban neighborhood with a toy bow and arrow in hand and living out the dramatic adventure in his imagination. I caught myself smiling and pictured my child growing up and learning to play among the same streets. For a moment, I forgot about the pandemic we are living through and enjoyed watching kids play on a sunny Texas day. I thought back to the weeks before we were thrust into our uncomfortable shelter in place lives and couldn’t help but wonder if the bustling streets of my neighborhood would look different had we not been forced to slow down the over-scheduled lives of our children.
I also imagined how the mornings of the households around me likely started. It wasn’t a stretch to picture a chorus of voices singing out “I’m bored” from kids who have been forced to give up their friends, organized activities, and any semblance of normal school days. Earlier in the week, I created a post explaining how boredom can be good for babies. I was amazed by the relieved responses that poured in from exhausted parents trying to constantly entertain their children while managing the tremendous stress from the coronavirus pandemic. From the moment we bring our new bundles of joy home from the hospital, we feel pressure to plan every minute of the day with enriching and engaging activities that will help them develop. It doesn’t stop as our kids get older and we spend much of our lives shuttling them between tutoring sessions, club sports practices, music lessons, and back home again. It’s no wonder that by the time we get to the weekend, it’s all we can do to hand over the video game controller and turn on Disney plus.
While our constant planning is a well-intentioned way to give kids a head start to a successful and fulfilling life, we often neglect the importance of free time. When we give kids time to play, we are allowing them to find problems that need solving, discover their dreams, and explore important ways to grow socially. By shifting our perspective, we can help kids understand that boredom is not something to dread, but instead is a chance to find their interests, hone their creativity and critical thinking skills, and develop their talents.
Nowhere was the idea that boredom can be a good thing more evident than when we returned home from our walk and settled in to watch a movie. Out of our own boredom, and largely because we exhausted all appealing streaming options, we sorted through the DVDs that were quietly gathering dust in our garage. To our pleasant surprise, we had forgotten all about the fun extras that come exclusively as a part of a DVD menu. Curious, we clicked through the film commentary options and settled on an interview with the incomparable Steven Spielberg. It turns out that his film career wasn’t sparked by a fancy academy or teacher, but by boyhood boredom. Much like the neighborhood kids I had seen running around with their siblings earlier in the day, Mr. Spielberg found his love for filmmaking by making movies with his friends as a way to combat typical teenage boredom.
At the end of the day, I still recognized the depth of the uncertainty and pain that may be a part of our lives over the next few months. But I also felt lighter at the realization that we can use this moment to learn lessons that may transform the way we spend time with our families and our kids. At some point, our lives will return to normal. When that day comes, we will face the temptation to let our kids oscillate between jam-packed schedules and hours spent in front of the tv. I hope that I can look back on this perfect spring Saturday as a reminder of the wonders that my child can discover about himself and his world when I allow him the free time to do it. And who knows? Giving our children the chance to combat their boredom might be the spark they need to become the next great filmmaker, scientist, athlete, or musician. At the very least, it will lead them to a really great Saturday on the bike path.
If you are looking for ways to help guide your child’s free time, check out some of our favorite techniques at Compleo Kids below:
- The I am bored jar- Fill a jar with popsicle sticks. On each stick write an idea (it can be writing a play, making a movie, going on a bike ride, even include chores like helping sweep and clean; put those kids to work for you!). Every time your children say “I’m bored” make them grab a stick from the jar and perform the task they pulled
- Create a chalkstacle course, you can check ours out on our Instagram @compleokids
- Write a letter to elderly in nursing homes who are not allowed to leave or have visitors
I challenge you to let your kids be bored this week! Tag @compleokids in the adventures they find.