Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Don’t try to ‘fix’ the child’s boredom – rather, let the child find his or her inner resources. Julia Cameron
It’s summer and schools are out. It’s nice to see kids outside during the day enjoying themselves on skateboards, with their dogs, or walking with friends. Not that kids do all that much outdoors these days, with the allure that personal electronics have indoors, but I’m guessing that soon many of these kids will be ferried away to summer camps of all sorts and sizes. Their potential for boredom will be usurped by carefully planned activities and experiences, leaving little room for self-discovery.
My summers were freckled with boredom, but also with possibilities. Those first few days out of school brought a burst of relief, an exciting rush of freedom at the thought of whole days to myself. But then a wave of boredom would hit. I might be missing friends from school or at a loss for something interesting to do, at which point the long summer would stretch ahead like a hot, dry road with no end in sight. That wave would pass, too, however, as my boredom would give rise to a creative idea, a book I wanted to read or a project I wanted to try. I’d get distracted and before I knew it, hours or days had passed. I’d roll into the slower, easier rhythm of summer with a new appreciation for simple things: swimming, bicycle rides, baking cookies, a walk with a friend to the corner store for a Sugar Daddy or trading out finished books for fresh ones from the city library. Summer camps weren’t the norm for our family or my friends. Mostly, we just hung around our family farm or our neighborhood (we moved from the farm when I was thirteen), being part of the summer sunshine and finding our own things to do. Weeks free of imposed instruction allowed flickers of self-discovery to kindle, which often led to creative learning otherwise tamped down by the demands of school.
With that background, I certainly didn’t feel that camp was essential for my kids. Not only did I not mind if they got bored, I felt it was an important part of childhood, a precursor to creativity. Some activities did follow the school calendar — ceasing during the summer months — but otherwise summer days for us were the same as the rest of the year, just hotter and longer. I didn’t need camp to serve as childcare and my kids didn’t crave being away. They felt more freedom to follow their interests at home. Did they experience boredom? Yes, but not all that often. (I took those opportunities to point out a list of household chores that could fill that available time, so it’s possible that they learned not to come to me when they were bored.) Life went on as usual with friends, crafts, reading and playing.
Lots of people would ask me if I gave my kids the summer “off”, which always amused me. This question gets right to the heart of the difference between schooling and child-directed learning. Kids that are schooled — told by someone else where to be, when to be, and how to be — are (understandably) deemed to need time “off” from that encumbrance. This would apply to kids in school and even many homeschooled kids. In contrast, kids who are self-directed don’t require time off. They are always choosing their activity and they are free to change anytime they want, so time “off” is a meaningless phrase for them. Time “off” from doing what you want? It would be as though someone asked if you took time “off” from your vacation. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of a vacation?
My own experience with summer freedom was a part of what led me to feel confident that unschooling could work. Providing my kids with year-round freedom instead of only a few months just made sense to me. Like vacationers, unschoolers are doing what they want to be doing all the time. That freedom to pursue their own interests allows real, in-depth learning to occur, something that happens best when kids are left alone to discover and work things out by themselves.
Happy kids who are learning all the time — would I want time off from that? No way.
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