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“I’m bored” is a phrase millions of parents are more than familiar with. Kids get bored, that’s just the way it is. And as parents, we spend a lot time trying to find ways to get them something to do, to make them feel less bored. But what if the answer was to let them handle some of their boredom on their own?
Science says that boredom can be constructive for children. We now know that letting your child take charge of their own boredom can help them strengthen their decision-making skills and increase their creativity.
In one study, a group of researchers were convinced that addictive behaviors in adulthood began in childhood because of children’s excessive dependence on toys and on the presence of adults (parents, teachers, etc.). They therefore conducted a study to try and understand how reducing the number of toys and the dependence on adults would influence children’s behavior.
The study took place in a day care center in Germany. All the toys (even pencils, papers, etc.) were taken away from a few children for a period of three months, leaving them with only the necessities (furniture, blankets, etc.). The adults were asked not to intervene and to let the children deal with their boredom on their own.
The study found that although these children were initially lost without their toys and without being able to rely on adults, they quickly began to come up with activities that revolved around role playing, building projects, excursions to collect sticks and twigs to build with, and so on. They also learned to play and work together around common ideas. In this new arrangement, adults were responsible for organizing materials and manipulating tools when the children had new ideas.
The researchers found that the children who participated in this study were more creative, better balanced, and more sure of themselves and of their abilities.
Should you let your child get bored?
According to one study reported on BBC, “children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”
In other words, you don’t have to feel guilty about not entertaining your kid. That being said, boredom can lead to frustration in children because many children are unable to manage unstructured time by themselves.
According to Professor McNamara who has worked extensively on children’s boredom in school settings, “children need guidance, role models and activities that help them connect and maintain their friendships.” What this means is that while you do not always have to step in when your child is bored, they need an unstructured but nurturing environment to spark their creativity. They need to experience what is referred to as “constructive boredom”.
What to do when your child says they are bored
To foster your child’s creativity and enable them to solve problems on their own, they must have access to several resources and an appropriate environment. Once this is in place, you have to allow them to choose their activities by themselves.
Constructive boredom means providing opportunities for your child to use their creativity and imagination. An “I’m bored box” is an easy solution that can help them cope with their boredom on their own. This box works because it provides a framework and then leaves them free to choose what they want to do.
Using an “I’m bored box” for your bored child
Although boredom can facilitate the development of skills such as creativity, most children need guidance to effectively deal with moments of boredom. An “I’m bored box” makes it possible to propose several activities to your child and therefore allows them to choose the activities they are interested in to deal with their boredom.
First, find activities that your child enjoys doing and can do on their own. Ask them questions about their favorite activities but feel free to propose other age-appropriate activities. When you have a list of possible activities, print them out and put them in a box or jar. For our children, we chose a small cardboard box which we painted and then decorated. You can also use pictures if your child is not reading yet.
Remember that for the box to work, they must be able to easily access the activities proposed. To make it easier for young children to access the activities proposed (books, puzzles, mandalas, etc.), consider placing them on low shelves.
How to make the “I’m bored box” an effective tool for kids
It is important to lay down some basic rules for your child’s “I’m bored” box to be effective.
- First, decide how many times your child can pick the cards from the box. For example, you can let them choose 2 cards and pick one of the two. Any rules you decide on are okay, but letting your child know what is expected helps provide a framework to guide their actions.
- Also, it may be helpful to set a minimum time for each activity selected. In general, young kids have an attention span of about 15 to 20 minutes. Consider providing them with an hourglass or an alarm clock to make them time themselves and feel all grown-up.
Here are 100 ideas in response to your child’s common “I’m bored” phrase. At the end of this article, you will find a free, printable version of these activities along with empty templates that you can use to add ideas more suited to their interests.
What to do when your child is bored: 100 activities to keep your child busy at home
FREE DOWNLOAD AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE
Here are 100 activities for both bored boys and girls. The good news is that most of them require minimal intervention from adults.
- Print these activities
- Place the printed papers in a jar (like a mason jar) or in a box.
- Place the jar where your child can access it easily. Whenever they are bored, they can pick an activity to do.
- Do a puzzle
- Make an animal sculpture out of clay. A Little Bit of Dirt has awesome ideas to help reconnect children with nature.
- Play LEGO. Get tips on how to choose appropriate construction toys here.
- Invent a secret language or a secret code
- Play with Playmobil
- Fold origami. You can find free instructions for origami for kids hereor get Creativity for Kids Origami
- Write a story
- Create a picture story
- Be a reporter for a day (come up with a storyline/interview family members)
- Make a video
- Make a documentary about things found in your external environment (garden, park)
- Make a documentary about things in the house
- Paint seashells
- Use a Bug Catcher to explore your environment
- Use Youtube to learn a magic trick
- Plant a garden
- Color a Mandala. You can make some yourself, download free models here or get the Kids’ Magical Mandalas
- Plan a meal that doesn’t need cooking
- Prepare a meal that doesn’t need cooking
- Grab your “I’m bored resources”
Creating a box of resources filled with activities that your child can do is a great idea to help them deal with their boredom by themselves. You can fill the box with coloring books, mazes, puzzles, jokes, books and so on. Here are some ideas that they may like:
3- to 6-year olds
6- to 8-year olds
8- to 12-year olds
- Do a nature count: Take a walk and count all the insects (animals, trees …) you see.
- Create something using recycled material
- Take a picture of insects in your environment
- Pick and dry leaves
- Make a rainbow. You can find easy instructions here
- Write a comic strip
- Measure grains (such as rice) to learn about volume
- Put up a teepee tent using sticks and old clothes/material
28) Read. If your child is an avid reader or if you want them to become one, then the award-winning Bookroo box is for you. Whatever your kid’s age, Bookroo will deliver books to your child every month that will make reading exciting.
- Prepare a picnic
- Finger paint using Washable Paint
- Take a walk and name all the colors you see
- Play hide and seek
- Make shapes with dry spaghetti and play-doh
- Paint rocks
- Play with leaves
- Pick flowers
- Put up a tent using recycled carton
- Play “I-spy”.
39) Do an exercise that requires concentration. The exercises in the guide “Nurturing Constructive Boredom: Over 101 fun activities to boost your child’s concentration and autonomy” are specially designed to
– increase your child’s ability to concentrate
– learn to stay focused on specific information and ignore others
– increase their ability to “think then act”
– Increase their ability to correctly choose specific items from a group of proposed items
– Help your child to practice certain scientifically validated tasks
- Invent a board game
- Explore using a magnifying glass. The Curious Kid’s Science Book has over 100 great ideas for 4- to 8-year olds
- Play a board game
- Make a costume
- Make ice lollies
- Make a monster from recycled items (tin foil, cardboard, old clothes)
- Record a song
- Make leaf prints. Easy instructions here
- Invent a ball game
- Play a ball game
- Draw a picture from a model
- Play with stickers
- Make a still-life painting
- Make a pearl bracelet or necklace
- Draw using rice grains
- Organize an obstacle race
- Use Google Maps to find favorite places (your home, relatives homes, school, library, etc.)
- Organize a treasure hunt
- Participate in a treasure hunt
- Build a den with recycled carton
- Make a string phone using paper cups
- Make a robot from recycled items (tin foil, cardboard, old clothes)
- Try the “does an orange float or sink” experiment
- Play inside a cardboard box
- Start a collection (stamps, coins, insects…)
- Participate in a scavenger hunt. 30 great free printable scavenger hunts for kids available here. Scavenger hunts the whole family can participate in are available here.
- Pretend you’re an explorer
- Do a craft activity
Subscription boxes for kids provide all the material your child needs to create, discover and have fun. They offer creative, educational and manual activities to occupy them and help them learn more about a predefined theme. Here are a few subscription boxes for both girls and boys that you may want to check out.
- Subscriptions for the nature lover: Green Kid Crafts
- Subscriptions for the arty kid: We craft Box
- Subscriptions for the kid into coding: Bitsbox
- Invent a card game
- Draw a picture of the house’s exterior
- Make a kite
- Make fruit skewers
- Come up with a dance choreography
- Prepare a skit
- Prepare for a show (make tickets, prepare snacks)
- Use a globe to find five countries in each continent
- Search the Internet to find out how people from a different culture live (how they dress, what they eat, etc)
- Make homemade bubble solutions. Different ways to make solutions here
- Make sandwiches for lunch
- Write a poem
- Make a mask from cardboard and other recycled materials
- Find the capital cities of 10 countries and memorize them
- Draw a portrait
- Draw an imaginary planet
- Create a pretend restaurant
- Make a lemonade stand
- Make up a song
- Organize a family night
- Design and build a house using recycled materials
- Come up with a puppet show
- Disguise yourself
- Invent a scent
- Do a crossword
- Speak “in rhymes” for the next 20 minutes
- Learn how to create something from Youtube
- Invent the next episode of your favorite program
- Turn recycled water bottles into bowling pins. Ideas here
- Make a postcard
- Make an animal using paper rolls
- Do a paper collage using recycled paper
- Cut out shapes (or trees, or flowers…) from old magazines
- Grow butterflies using this great Butterfly Growing Kit
- Play Simon says
Still short on ideas? Check out 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids or other great ideas to develop your child’s creativity.
HERE ARE YOUR FREE “I’M BORED CARDS” TO DOWNLOAD
What to do when your child is bored
Numerous studies suggest that boredom can be constructive for children. Even though we now know that you do not have to constantly intervene in your child’s boredom, it is not always easy to know how to help them handle such moments more independently.
What if you could encourage your child to deal with some of their boredom on their own AND foster skills such as concentration, decision-making and independence? The “constructive boredom” kit offers:
- Over 100 illustrated activities• Specially designed worksheets to help your child manage their boredom on their own• More than 100 exercises to do and redo• More than ten tested and illustrated recipes• A guide for parents with additional activities that are easy to set up• Additional concentration exercises
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