Banishing boredom this summer

The chances of flying away this summer and getting away from everything are still pretty slim. In these challenging times it feels like we need that more than ever. So if your summer holiday plans are not what you had in mind, Elaine Halligan, London Director of The Parent Practice shares her top tips for banishing boredom and staying sane this summer.

Ordinarily you may really look forward to the school holidays –ditching the routine, sleeping in a bit later, no home schooling hassles for a while, and dreaming about getting away to warmer climes.

However for many of us, the thought of a summer holiday by the beach is a mere pipe dream. This is no ordinary summer. As we enter phase 3 of lockdown here in the UK, exactly how we play Entertainment Director - driving kids to some sort of activity, organising play dates - whilst maintaining the one metre plus distancing rule, and how we devise things for them to do at home despite the fact that we have work to do too is anyone’s guess. The thought of it may fill you with panic and dread. Or do you end up abandoning your good intentions, and let them have even more iPad time and wonder how on earth are you are going to get them detoxed from screens? Of course many of us have let our kids have more time on a device over this lockdown period, recognising this is a short term solution to save our sanity, which may cause a long term problem.

Of course there is much that is good about modern technology - we’ve all been using it for educational purposes, for entertainment and for socialising, but we also need to limit the time they spend in front of a screen because there are many other things they need to be doing, most importantly interacting with other human beings, discovering themselves, and using their brains. Many video games encourage children to seek greater levels of stimulation with their hits of dopamine and their fast paced action discouraging the development of sustained thought. All of this makes it less likely our children can focus for any length of time and solve problems in creative ways.

But our children don’t just need less screens, they need less adult organisation generally if they are to be able to think for themselves. Your solution to holiday ennui may be to enrol them in day camps, and indeed there are some fabulous  creative offerings from our friends at Oppidan Education ranging from Movie Star Magic, to Powerful Parliamentary Debates, to Aviation through the Ages. There’s nothing wrong with those sorts of activities and they provide great opportunities to be physical and social and learn new skills, but if your child is always being directed by someone else, they can lose the ability to think for themselves. It is only in moments of quiet when they are not engaged in structured play, whether on a screen or not, that children learn to think for themselves and be creative.

Get your children used to thinking for themselves in these 5 ways:

  • Don’t answer all their questions. Instead turn the enquiry back to them and ask them what they think. Often a question is not really a genuine request for information but a bid to connect with you. Smile and engage with them. Get them to really think about it before turning to Professor Google.
  • Don’t tell them what to do all the time. Instead have written routines and charts that record what they need to do. These should be created with input from the children. Direct them to those. This reduces the amount of nagging you’ll do. Yes, I know you mean to remind them, not nag, but that’s how they hear it.
  • Provide them with creative playthings. Ideally kids should have toys which allow them to create their own narrative or build their own structures or devise their own games. Obviously pencils, paints, beads, fabric and modelling clay encourage free expression but so do building blocks without a designated outcome of a specific vehicle or structure.
  • Develop a culture of tolerance for mistakes. There are no wrong answers and not just one way of doing things.
  • Value their ideas. Ask them for their opinions and acknowledge their feelings.

So if you hear the dreaded words ‘I’m bored’ what should you do? When my children did that I would be delighted and tell them that was wonderful as their brains would now grow! Yes, they found it irritating too. How much help your children need to get their creative juices flowing will depend on how old they are and how much they are in the habit of thinking for themselves. Do empathise with them but don’t take over. Instead before the holidays arrive or as soon as possible have a family meeting to brainstorm some ‘blitz the boredom’ ideas.

Develop some rules about electronic usage in holiday time. But it’s not enough to limit your child’s time on a screen – you have to have alternatives.

We recommend you have a Boredom Buster jar filled with ice cream sticks. On each one you write down one idea for things to do, generated by or with the kids. Then when they say they are bored these ideas will help to jog their thinking. Here are just a few suggestions: 

  • Make a kite and fly it
  • Build a bird box
  • Go round the family/neighbourhood and ask each person for one joke to put in a joke book
  • Create an obstacle course in the garden and have family Olympics
  • Build a pillow fort or den
  • Do a ‘Tik Tok’ dance challenge
  • Establish a regular board game night – check out The Dark Imp for a free game download
  • Make paper airplanes and race them
  • Make parachutes out of hankies and tie them to pegs or little figures and drop them over the stairs
  • Make a house out of a cardboard box
  • Write a short story or comic book
  • Make a colourful baking soda volcano
  • Indoor gardening or plant a herb garden
  • Decorate a T-shirt
  • Make glass lanterns out of jam jars, food colouring and paste or glass paint ( old nail varnish make great glass paints)
  • Make your own modelling clay/play dough
  • Have a water pistol or balloon fight outside
  • Make a healthy smoothie or make pizzas
  • Make a family tree with photos
  • Create a family journal with items for each family member like dates and place of birth, favourite colours, songs, foods and activities, best skill and any funny of meaningful stories.

You are only limited by your imagination, so get the kids thinking!

Elaine Halligan, Director of The Parent Practice- delivering practical solutions to enable parents to bring out the best in their children

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