Some of us mothers are going to be sighing with relief as the kids vanish out the front door back to school tomorrow. Some of us will be treating it as just another day in our pre-schooling, home-schooling, or unschooling, lives. If you still have a child at home on Tuesday, Sept 8, you may be wondering what you’re going to do with her after you’ve run through all your prep for the day and are determined you aren’t going to turn on the idiot box.What if you hear that dreaded whine – “Moooooom, I’m BOOOORED…”?Boredom is actually the best possible tool for facilitating creativity!We as mothers feel we aren’t doing our job if we aren’t providing for our child every moment– physically, spiritually, mentally –but we will never allow them to develop independence and initiativeif we actually do provide everything.So – very first step – release any guilt you might feel when your child nags and whines.Second – be prepared to relax your control over her, the room, and the stuff you’re going to allow her into. She can’t learn to entertain or learn or amuse herself if you’re constantly hovering over her – which obviates the point of ‘on her own’ anyway – and you won’t get the break you need for yourself. Let go of your need to always keep the dining room table clear and spotless, and you may wind up with a child happily collaging her own vision board or dream house or fantasy zoo for the next two hours! Just make sure she can’t hurt herself or permanently damage the area around her (exercise reasonable care and some common-sense boundaries depending on your child’s age, abilities, and proclivities), and then stay out of the way. Kids are washable.
Third – ensure there is a rich and stimulus-full environment around her that she CAN access on her own. Here are some ideas to get you started!
A bookcase full of children’s texts at and above her level – also include children’s magazines, National Geographics, plenty of picture books, perhaps some comics/cartoons.
A little art box with papers, glue sticks, stickers, crayons, washi tape, and scissors if she can be trusted with them (ten or fifteen bucks worth of shopping at one aisle in the dollar store). Some activity workbooks (also dollar store – colouring, dot to dot, word search, etc. or appropriate-grade textbooks that are accessible on her own).
A mini keyboard, child’s wooden recorder, bodhran (natural materials are more pleasant sounding than plastic drums), and shaker set in the music area (even a sturdy storage container against the wall will do if you don’t have room to set things out)
If you have a safe back yard, create a ‘sandbox’ filled with natural material play things (better yet, go for a walk through the forest/on the beach and have her collect them with you): pine cones, driftwood, smooth stones, etc. Add circular cross-cut sections of tree stumps, larger rocks or stumps for seating, bark chips, dried grapevines, etc.
A ‘science’ area. Choose items you don’t have to supervise: a plastic magnifying glass, a toy telescope, a sturdy microscope, a bug collection kit (the dollar store is your friend!), a file folder for pressing leaves, a little notebook with attached pen… that sort of thing.
I’m not against screen time for children, so if you have a tablet, iPad, extra computer, etc. load them up with edutainment apps – many are free. My 11-year old makes her own websites using Weebly, for fun! There are design apps, programming apps, typing apps, math games….so much available that she could be learning. Just balance it with the other off-line resources above.
Cooking items. Not play food: give her a butter knife, stock some small snack foods, bread, spreads, fruit, etc. and let her create a variety of tea sandwiches for her own lunch. Stress clean hands and knife safety!
We also provided small but real tools when my daughter was younger: a hammer, nails, wood chunks, screws, and drivers. If she can be trusted not to practice on the furniture, go for it. Get a couple of free pallets and let her go to town.You’ve created a rich, safe, environment for her? Step back and let her realize that she is responsible for entertaining herself!Oh, and fourthly, that was just the entertainment section. I didn’t even mention her chores, household responsibilities, etc. I mean, I know ‘then go clean your room’ is a cliche, but she could be making her bed, setting the table, taking the laundry downstairs, etc. if she really has nothing else to do. Simply make up a list of always-necessary little household tasks and post it on the fridge. Require her to choose one daily and get it done.
If your child is old enough to handle money or go out on her own, serving others (even picking a bunch of wild flowers for a neighbor) is always a good choice, too! Create a ‘draw one’ service box – ideas are usually available on-line as either ‘secret santa’ or ‘advent calendar’: think of things like ‘buy a friend a hot chocolate / choco bar / juice box’ or ‘wash Mom’s car’, ‘make a get-well card’, ‘entertain your sibling for an hour’, ‘wash the kitchen floor’, ‘paint Sister’s nails’, ‘get the coffee ready in the morning for Father’, and so on. Who knows – one of those ideas might turn into a lemonade stand or another micro-business for your teen!Necessity is the mother of Invention, but Boredom is its dad.