By Neil Anderson, Head of School
Summer has set in with its usual severity. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge
We are in the thick of summer. It’s hot. Our kids’ friends are on vacation. There is no camp or VBS this week, and our children’s initial enthusiasm for summer’s liberties has morphed into groanings of its terrible shackles. Cries of boredom ring through the house, answered by a threatening list of chores from mom that might help one get “unbored.”
Have no fear. Boredom is our friend. Don’t you dare let your children guilt you into generating new plans to accommodate their boredom. Boredom is a gift. I often pray for an opportunity for boredom, as I’m sure do you. For our children, boredom is a breeding ground for discovery. Boredom is the place where kids act most like kids. Chesterton says that “there are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.” Our houses are full of interesting things when you have an interested person. The objective is to get our kids to be habitually interested in what many would assume uninteresting.
Author Bill Bryson recently wrote the book At Home: A Short History of Private Life in which he, as a reviewer notes, “with his signature wit, charm, and seemingly limitless knowledge, takes us on a room-by-room tour through his own house, using each room as a jumping off point into the vast history of the domestic artifacts we take for granted.” In a lecture I attended, he said the book came into being while staring at his salt shaker at dinner, wondering how we came to use these things. The book is wonderful. Our houses are lands to be discovered if we could figure out how to commission our little explorers.
Some children have innate curiosities along these lines. I remember one of mine not being able go to sleep at night until I could help him understand how a battery works, which I couldn’t. For others, their curiosity extends no further than “what’s for dinner?”.
We may need to do a little prodding to coax these curiosities out. So next time, instead of responding to the boredom cry with Netflix, try something like this. Give your child a chocolate chip cookie. Tell them to study the shape, texture, and taste. Lay the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies out on the counter. Now charge your child with the task of reproducing the chocolate chip cookie using only those ingredients and no recipe. Have them write down the recipe and steps for the first batch and then let them bake. Don’t tell them anything! No oven temperature, cooking time, nothing! Have them make small batches, adjusting the recipe each time until they come closer to something that looks and tastes like a chocolate chip cookie. Laugh at the inedible ones and set them aside as a prank for when Dad gets home. And of course, celebrate the ones that can be consumed without serious risk to your health.
Or better yet. Let them be bored. We both know they will not remain that way. It is ultimately not an option for them. They WILL do something and chances are it will be more profitable for them than what we would have provided to just stop the complaining. My wife resisted our children in this manner the other day and they eventually resolved to use my drawer of unmatched socks to have a competition to see who could put the most socks on one foot. This then evolved into using these sock boots to ice skate on our wood floors. Brilliant. I would never have thought of that in a million years.
Lest you think these examples as proof that I am a super boredom combatant, please unthink that. We often fall short in this regard, bowing to their boredom and providing something less than ideal to pacify their cries. But it sure feels better when we let boredom reign. It’s a gift to the kids that they’ll thank us for later.
The Book of Proverbs says that an intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge (18:15). That’s an interesting phrase as the ESV puts it–an intelligent heart. I would like for our students to have one of those. We hope they’ll learn to acquire knowledge to the glory of God in all types of ways throughout their lives. I’m suggesting that one place to start is summertime chocolate chip cookies.