I keep seeing this theme on various home education groups from parents yet to de-register their kids.
“What if they get bored.”
“What if I’m boring.”
My knee-jerk reaction tends to be
“So let them.”
As though being bored was the worst thing that could happen to a child. It isn't, it is the base, the bed-rock of almost all creative efforts. It is the place that we children and adults alike find their own motivation. Now in general I tend to hold the idea that if my Mum did something I should do the opposite (this stands with most of my life) yet her attitude about boredom is one I adopted. If me or my sister ever complained about being bored she would give us extra chores to do, and this is something I do also.
With no television my daughter is almost never bored. She reads, makes things, draws, cooks, gardens, plays music, and when she was younger she would just play.* You see I believe the whole “bored” thing comes from this idea that we have to “entertain” our children. As though we have to tell them what to do, what to be, every single second of the day or they won’t be “enough”. We won’t be “enough”. This social anxiety of being comfortable with our own thoughts and feelings is pretty huge. There is a wonderful performance poem by Tanya Davis called How to be Alone. It is both beautiful and moving. It’s interesting because it starts out small, about how to be alone and comfortable in your “aloneness” in small quiet place, then to take yourself out to dinner or the movies, then out dancing or a trip alone. Somewhere in all that we find where our comfort line is. We find where our “alones” anxiety kicks in. The thing is this is why home education is subversive. Even on your worst day (and we all have them) you discover, you are enough. In a world that makes money from your anxiety and self-loathing and has a vested interest in “keeping you busy”, on a rainy Tuesday morning, you discover you are enough.
Boredom is a super power.
“ How we envy you, envy you! Lucky humans, who can close your minds to the endless deeps of space! You have this thing you call... boredom? That is the rarest talent in the universe! We heard a song — it went 'Twinkle twinkle little star....' What power! What wondrous power! You can take a billion trillion tons of flaming matter, a furnace of unimaginable strength, and turn it into a little song for children! You build little worlds, little stories, little shells around your minds, and that keeps infinity at bay and allows you to wake up in the morning without screaming!” Terry Pratchett- Hatful of Sky
Boredom is the starting place for “I wonder…” and “Why does…” and “How could I…” These thoughts are natural human curiosity. They underpin play and true learning (as opposed to learning it quickly to pass a test). It is full of failure (maybe that is why we are told to be anxious about it.) Again failure is how we really learn. It’s how we teach adults, from driving to cooking and even adult maths, and no-one bats an eye-lid.
Playing and doing
Play* is a hugely important part of the social development of children. We are social mammals and all social mammals learn through play. Children mimic what they see (not what you tell them to do) just as all mammals do.
Dr Stuart Brown would tell you better about play than I but it is important. Not only for children. The opposite of play is depression, according to Dr Stuarts Brown’s extensive research. Our depression epidemic in children can in part be traced back to this deprivation of play. Depression physically changes the brain, the body chemistry and physical functions of the whole body. This is not “feeling sad” this is an illness, like rickets being brought about by a lack of something fundamental to human beings.
Constructive “doing play” must always be balanced with free play. I read a book when my children were tiny about it and used it to get my hubby on board with unsupervised free play. (I wish I could remember what it was but it was 12 years ago). I organised my daughter’s life around structured learning (she was copying letters before the age of two) and being left in her kid safe room with her toys. After the “tidy up game” she would have a drink and a nap. If she missed her free play, she wouldn't want her nap. It was as though her brain needed to digest her play. We also had “noisy” play and “quiet” play, from about that age too.
This has had some odd effects. She has never been a screamer. She has never had to yell and whoop to get my attention, should just knew I would listen to her. I also never begrudged her, her noisy play. (I grew up around musicians).
So here is my spurious advice. Play. Not just allow or encourage your child, but you, grown-up, worried, sensible you. Play. Turn the sofa into pirate ships and throw paper cannon balls at each other. Make up washing up opera (what will happen to the tea-spoons?) Home education is far too important to take too seriously.