“Mommy, I’m Bored”
By Rahima Baldwin Dancy
There’s a notion today that “Boredom is good,” and to the extent that it reflects a counter-motion to over-programing children’s time by leaving enough time and space for their own creativity to arise, I would agree. However, I would also suggest that boredom is foreign to the young child’s world: it is a cultural construct they learn from older children or their parents.
The young child is totally into exploration and play, which has been called “the work of early childhood.” For the young child, everything is new, and anything can become transformed into something else by the child’s active imagination. In recognition of this, the “plain old stick” was inducted into the “National Toy Hall of Fame” in 2008, recognizing that “The stick may be the world’s oldest toy.” Or take a minute to enjoy the fun two toddlers are having playing with rubber bands and the knobs on the cupboard doors. Bored? I don’t think so! (Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSzIRTVsnTE )
However, our children can forget how to play if they are kept passive for hours each day in front of the television or are constantly stimulated by interactive screen apps or told what to do by teachers or other adults. So one of the great gifts of a “Waldorf” or “LifeWays” environment is the emphasis it places on fostering creative, imaginative, uninterrupted play.
This is accomplished in (at least) nine ways—all things which parents can do at home to support their child’s play. Jane Healy, neuropsychologist and author of Your Child’s Growing Mind, reminds us: “The brain tends to seek out what it needs at each stage of development. Why not trust the child’s brain to seek out the stimulation it needs from a naturally enriched environment?”
Some ways to provide a naturally enriched environment for your young child:
- Have play times fit rhythmically into a regular structure. (e.g., meals, activities, rest, play, and bedtime occur at expected times every day; activities occur regularly, on a certain day each week).
- Allow time for free play—home life can be fully as valuable as taking lessons! When your child is playing, observe more, interrupt less.
- Provide areas for play, with things arranged in a way that invites the child’s involvement (such as child-sized furniture for a kitchen area, a workbench, art area, etc.).
- Provide simple toys that require the child to complete them with his or her imagination (such as items from nature, cloths, costumes, simple dolls and “archetypal” toys).
- Provide examples of real work for imitation. As children see and help adults transform things through work, this will become transformed in their play. (Real “quality time” is time when you’re present, aware of your child and doing something—you can be folding the laundry or baking instead of doing puzzles).
- Provide plenty of contact with the world of nature and opportunities for play with sand, soil, water, and air.
- Provide artistic activities that allow your child to express freely what lives within him or her (coloring, painting, beeswax modeling).
- Value “orality” with the young child. Have good communication cycles, but don’t explain intellectually or reason so much with him or her. For the very young child: lots of nursery rhymes, finger plays, movement games, simple stories (“The Gingerbread Boy,” “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” etc.). For the older child (4+), provide nourishing images from stories the child hears. Sing often, to and with your child—this is much more valuable than recordings!
- Limit “screen time” (television, video games, computers, phones, tablets and VCRs), both because of the effects of the media on the child’s brain/senses and the effect of the content/images coming to your child.
“In addition to altering society, new technologies also have a disconcerting habit of changing the mental skills and even the brain organization of people using them…Fast-paced, nonlinguistic, and visually distracting television [and other screen images] may literally have changed children’s minds, making sustained attention to verbal input, such as reading or listening, far less appealing than faster-paced visual stimuli.” –Jane Healy, Failure to Connect. How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds–for Better and Worse
Rahima Baldwin Dancy is a founding board member of LifeWays North America and internationally known as a Waldorf and parenting educator and author of You Are Your Child’s First Teacher.