The Beauty of Summer Boredom - Recapturing the Golden Days of Childhood
by Lisa Gromicko
Remember those endless hours of imaginative play during your youth—tree climbing, making mud pies, flying kites, fishing, building forts/tree houses/lemonade stands, swimming, watching clouds, playground swinging, tea parties, making and then launching sailboats in the creek, catching fireflies/butterflies/frogs, playing jacks and pickup sticks, jumping rope, hopscotch, rolling down hills, daisy chains, skipping rocks, backyard camping, neighborhood baseball games (with self-made rules), twilight games of hide ‘n’ seek and flashlight tag?
The summers of childhood are potent, enabling children to find their personal bliss and cultivate interests and memories that can last a lifetime. The gifts of less-structured summer days are precious, allowing time and space for the possibility of magical activities. Both children and parents benefit from unscheduled breathing room to revisit the forces of creativity and restore resiliency.
Yet, according to a University of Michigan study, today’s children have as much as 12 hours less free time per week than 30 years ago. Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting – Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, urges parents to simplify their children’s schedules, to establish for them, “… islands of being, in the torrent of constant doing.”
We all require downtime to function well. Payne maintains that, “Rest nurtures creativity, which nurtures activity. Activity nurtures rest, which sustains creativity. Each draws from and contributes to the other.”
More, boredom is a gift for children, “… a rare fuel to propel them forward,” writes Nancy Blakey, a columnist for Seattle’s Child magazine.
Bonnie Harris, author of Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids, cites a lack of boredom in children today as the reason that many graduates flounder in the “real” world. Boredom works to spark the discovery of one’s own passions, inner resources, ingenuity and ability to be self-directed—all critical lifetime skills.
Overscheduling often substitutes stimulation for experiencing self-discoveries that unlock the tremendous stored potential of a child’s inner resources and imagination. Remarks Payne, “A child who doesn’t experience leisure—or better yet, boredom—will always be looking for external stimulation, activity or entertainment… [and] a culture of compulsion and instant gratification. What also grows in such a culture? Addictive behaviors.”
So, how do we find our way back to those simpler days? Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, likes, “The dugout in the weeds or leaves beneath a backyard willow, the rivulet of a seasonal creek, even the ditch between a front yard and the road—all of these places are entire universes to a young child. Expeditions to the mountains or national parks often pale, in a child’s eyes, in comparison with the mysteries of the ravine at the end of the cul-de-sac.” He recommends allowing children the time to be in nature to take walks, listen, play and learn. Time in nature allows the senses to become enlivened again.
Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood and 21st Century Boys, observes, “The loss of outdoor play and everyday adventures is particularly significant for children who have a tendency to be easily distracted or impulsive.” One of the biggest benefits of a slow summer, for everyone, is ‘play’ itself. There is compelling evidence of the essential need for this age-old childhood pasttime. So, encourage children to engage in the simple pleasures that will potentially create and strengthen the most glorious, blissful and ‘boring’ memories of their childhood summers—and we’ll likely rekindle our own.
Lisa Gromicko has been a Waldorf early childhood educator for 16 years and has enjoyed spending many long summers with her sons, now 21 and 18; she looks forward to many more. Connect at [email protected].