You would think Thea, my 5 year old, would be in her element. Long lazy days to do whatever she wants. Beautiful afternoons to spend at the playground next door. Time to read, play, draw, dance, even watch TV. Heaven…except it’s not. Thea is bored. And she tells me frequently whenever I am not playing with her. Whenever we are not doing something.
At first, I jumped into action. Boredom dispelled with fun activities. Boredom banished by mama and her wallet. You want a dog and pony show, coming right up! Except it wasn’t enough, it never was. I found myself searching the web frantically looking for more great activities. Running to the store to buy more stuff. Turning on the TV as a last ditch attempt. Being a boredom buster became a full time job and I was exhausted. Since when did summer become one endless list of to do’s? If she was bored, well, then I was a bad mother.
This happens in our classrooms too. We think that if we aren’t putting on a show, we are not doing our job. That if students aren’t excited and loudly engaged at all times, we must be failing as teachers. We imagine that there will be no time to be bored. Students will practically skip into our classrooms, eager to start. And sure, some days they do. Those days are easy. It is the days where they drag their feet, have to prop open their eyes, stifle yawns and give you that look, those are the days where we really work.
Yet, much like I realized with Thea, it is not my job to be the boredom buster. It is my job to present learning opportunities that might engage, that might excite, that might spark an interest. But I can only do so much. I can only bring so much to the classroom, and at some point the students have to step up too. At some point, they have to embrace their boredom and find out what to do with it. How to work through it. How to be their own boredom busters.
We try to shield children from boredom and in our eagerness forget that being bored is a gift. Being bored is not a four-letter word. It is not something to avoid, nor something to ridicule. Out of boredom comes curiosity. Out of boredom rises innovation. If we do not give our students quiet time, time to reflect, time to be still, yes time they may see as boring, then we are robbing them of time to think.
We think that our classrooms should be loud at all times. That loudness equals learning. Yet, I have found that some of my most powerful teaching moments have been the quiet ones. Where students have had time to think, to be bored, to create, all without me putting on a show. Sure, loudness is important as well. But the true essence of innovation can often be found shrouded in silence, when students are asked to do something about their boredom.
So when Thea tells me she is bored, I ask her what she will do about it. She has run to her room and pulled on her princess dress only then to concoct an elaborate fantasy scene with parts for everyone in the family. She has quietly drawn pictures of things I would never imagine. She has gone to her room and sat with a book. She will never stop telling me she is bored, after all, it seems to be a rite of childhood, but I am no longer the one that rescues her. She is doing that herself. Let’s give the same chance to our students. Let us help them embrace being bored.
I am a passionate teacher in Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.