Last week we hit THAT stage. You know, the one where the kids no longer think the whole "emergency remote learning" thing is fun any more, cookies have been baked, muffins have been baked, rocks have been painted, books have been read, yada yada yada and every afternoon starts and ends with "I'm sooooooo bored.". Yeah, that one.
Not gonna lie, at first those words were like nails on a chalkboard. "What do you mean you're bored?! You have schoolwork to do and toys to play with and grandparents to call, and and and!" In between Zoom calls and emails, I was not really in the mood to find them things to do (and out came grouchy mama, who, let's be honest, no one really likes).
But then, I sat with it a bit and realized that this was exactly where I wanted my kids to be. Bored out of their trees.
Yes, it was totally annoying at first and yes, it made for some tense discussions ("No, I do not know what you should do right now, just like I didn't know 10 minutes ago!") but once my kids realized that they were on their own, they began to get creative. They spent hours up a tree in the backyard, hauling up notebooks & snacks so they could design the tree house of their dreams (also, I'm pretty sure they were spying on the neighbours). They built Lego and made up stories and discovered stop motion animation. They built forts in the front yard and made up dance routines and re-read books and learned about science on Wonders with Charlie. In short, they got creative.
Research tells us that there are benefits to boredom. Among other things, it has been shown to spark creativity, develop problem-solving skills and enhance interpersonal skills. Coincidentally (or not?) these skills are what make up the so-called "soft skills" or "21st century skills" that schools are embracing and employers are demanding. By letting my kids be bored, I am literally preparing them for the future.
Let me repeat that - By letting my kids be bored, I'm giving them the very skills they need to be successful as adults.
In our hyper-scheduled, tech-filled lives there isn't a lot of space for boredom. We bounce from activity to activity, pulling out our phones any time we have to wait for even the slightest amount of time. Rarely do we just sit and stare off in to space, rarely do we have lazy Sunday afternoons where the kids roam the backyard while we pull weeds. Paradoxically, our attachment to technology is actually making us more prone to boredom, as we never give ourselves the chance to actually practice being bored (who knew it took practice?). By never letting our kids (or ourselves) be bored, we are preventing them from developing the skills that they need to be successful as they get older.
Boredom has also been shown to improve mental health, which is undeniably important in this day and age. Although it can seem uncomfortable at first, boredom allows our brains (and our children's brains) to process thoughts and feelings, instead of pushing them away by mindlessly scrolling our social feeds. It allows our kids to work through social challenges by encouraging them to seek out other kids and negotiate the terms of reference for play. And it gives us all a chance to rest and recharge by being alone.
So the next time your kid says "I'm bored", don't hand them your phone. Respond like we do in our house - "I'm sure you'll figure something out" or, my husband's personal favourite, "There are dishes to be done and toilets to be cleaned" (the kids disappear faster than you can say go with this one). Give them the opportunity to rattle around the house and the yard, picking things up and putting them down, bouncing from one activity to the next before they finally settle on something (and not the TV). Feel good about the fact that you are actually helping your kids by not entertaining them every minute of every day.
Because maybe we need to focus on letting kids be bored more than we need to "teach" them 21st century skills. Maybe our goal as parents in this time should be giving our children the gift of boredom so that they naturally develop the skills we have been relying on the schools to teach. Maybe the kids who are allowed to be bored through this will actually come out ahead, curious, creative and ready to take on the world.
Last week we fell off the bandwagon. The kids slept in later and later, my husband and I went to bed later and later, lunch was a maybe, dinner wasn't happening until 7 or 8pm...and we felt it. We were all out of sorts, not sure what to do with ourselves (even though there was lots to be done) and getting on each other's nerves because of it. So this week, we are pulling our socks up; we are dialing the routine back in so that we can be out best selves.
Now my kids haven't hit their teen years (yet) but I teach teens and I know that there is a lot of sleeping in going on these days. And while there's nothing wrong with a good sleep in, not having a routine is hard on the human brain. You see, we're wired for patterns - our brains seek out patterns (and connection!) all the time. When you remove familiar patterns, the brain isn't quite sure what to do and it gets discombobulated (I love that word). And, friends? Discombobulated brains are grumpy brains. Ugh. No one wants a grumpy teen (or tween, or husband, or toddler, really).
I created the graphic above to help you help your tween or teen add some routine in to their days. You might want to start by getting their butts out of bed a bit earlier, then feed them a healthy breakfast, before helping them set up their list of Need To Dos and Want to Dos for the day. I like this structure because it's basically a grown-up version of a "First...Then...Next" - first, I do something that I NEED to do, then I do something I WANT to do, next, back to another NEED to do. This helps teens learn healthy, productive work habits that will serve them well as they grow older and it provides a sense of control for those kids that are prone to anxiety. If you have a child who struggles with executive functioning skills (attention, focus, organization, planning), you may need to use a First-Then-Next structure or you may need to help them lay their day out in time blocks to be sure everything gets done.
I was up nice and early this morning and I can tell you that I already feel better - more energized and ready to face the day, rather than sluggish and searching for caffeine. My kids will be up shortly and we'll lay out our days together, building in time for work and time for play. Now that's a routine I can get behind!
Wow! What a ride these past couple of weeks have been. School has been cancelled across most of North America, many (most?) people are working from home and businesses are closed everywhere. While it has been a trying time for many, I'll admit that I've stuck my head in the sand a bit, consciously focusing on the fact that I, and my kids, are actually on Spring Break and not yet subject to the craziness of work and learn from home. We needed a rest and I am doing my best to guarantee we are getting it, even if the world has gone haywire.
But. I've been watching.
I've been watching as parents take to social media to rant about how challenging it is to teach & work & parent. I've been watching as school districts scramble to figure out how to provide "continuity of service", manage equity and access issues and support our most vulnerable learners. I've been watching as teachers do their damndest to learn new platforms, adapt materials and connect with students in meaningful ways.
And I've been wondering how I can help. I've been wondering what this might look like in my own home when the time comes. Over and over again I've seen parents frustrated that their kids won't stay focused on the task at hand, that the work being sent home is too challenging/not challenging enough/confusing/in another language (literally. A friend posted that they were unable to do some of the assignments because the instructions were in Spanish and no one in their house spoke enough Spanish to understand them). Which leaves me wondering:
It's that last question that really got me thinking. What CAN'T wait until September? What do our kids, everyone's kids, need to be learning and doing every single day, even without a coronavirus-induced isolation? What can parents support with a limited knowledge of pedagogy and curriculum?
My answer came in the form of my main teaching mantra (you can read more about what a teaching mantra is here) - Literate, Numerate, Curious & Kind. This is what I want all kids to grow up to become and what I try to ensure I have targeted each day, each week, in my teaching. As you can see in the graphic below, I added Healthy to this list, as in times like these I believe it is fundamentally important that we also focus on our physical and mental health. I think that parents can support their kids in these areas in simple, fun and meaningful ways. It may not be what they would have been taught in school, but it might just be what they need right now.
So, without further rambling, here it is - things you can do at home that will help your child (or your students, please feel free to send this to parents) stay Literate, Numerate, Curious, Kind & Healthy, while simultaneously maintaining your sanity. Just click on the image to download a copy.
You can find links to a wide variety of high-quality on and offline activities in each of these categories by clicking For Parents above. My hope is that these activities help you navigate this work-from-home-learn-from-home reality in a way that gives everyone in your family the time, space and grace that is needed to keep doing what you're doing in the best way you know how.
I hope this helps! As always, but maybe more so now than ever before, I would love to hear from you. Your comments keep me from feeling like I'm shouting into the void.
Stay sane, stay healthy,
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!