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August 2, 2010

MONDAY'S MUSINGS - Guest Author Mandy of Just Gimme Coffee

Most folks dread Monday's but in my world, every Monday is a new beginning. And what better way to start off a new week with a fresh perspective? So ever Monday will feature the musings of someone new, fresh and different - a "Guest Author".

This week I am proud to feature the musings of Mandy, author of the blog Just Gimme Coffee. She endeavors to restore a little sanity to her life by celebrating the simple pleasures. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, tween son, preschool daughter and lovable mutt Jackson. Having worked with children all her life as a summer camp director, teacher, speech therapist and mother, she has come face-to-face with a lot of bored kids! So this week she's musing about kids and creativity. Just in time for summer vacation!


Photo by gfpeck

The same thing happens every year…the summer doldrums!  Every mother recognizes this stage in her children’s lives. The kids are far enough into summer break that the excitement of its newness has worn off, and “I’m bored,” becomes the new mantra. Who do these bored children turn to for a solution? YOU, of course! You are not only mother and chauffeur and cook and maid (and the list goes on), but you are chief entertainer as well!

So what’s a busy chief entertainer to do? Well, I’m all about passing the buck right back to the kids!

The American poet and satirist, Dorothy Parker, perhaps said it best, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

Our kids are bored and hassling us because their curiosity is broken. So why are their natural creative spirits not at work? Doesn’t every child come into this world with the potential for great creativity? Well, there may be a variety of reasons, but here are two leading causes:

1. A learned helplessness. Why think for myself? I can let others do it for me.

In our modern-day, technological, instant and hurried world, kids learn to let others be creative for them. They learn to sit on the sidelines when it comes to imagination and become spectators.

2. An unfounded fear. Why take a risk? My ideas may not be right.

Unfortunately kids learn quickly that the focus in our society is on being right and being the best. Anything else doesn't count. As a result, children learn to approach life this way. They hold back their thoughts and ideas for fear they may not be right, or accepted or good enough to pass.

So what can we do to combat this helplessness and fear in our kids? Unfortunately creativity does not grow overnight. It is a process, an attitude that develops slowly and has to be modeled, taught and nurtured by parents, just like all other values we seek to instill in our kids.

So, the long-term cure?

1. Make non-stimulating “down-time” a regular habit in their lives. Force them to think for themselves.

2. Provide and encourage more open-ended activities. Encourage them not to stress about, “getting it right.”

You know the saying, "If I give a man a fish, he will be satisfied for a day, but if I teach him to fish, he will be satisfied for a life-time." The same idea applies when it comes to kids' imagination and creativity. If I provide my child with the idea for a pre-defined, closed-ended activity,then he will be satisfied for a day (well not even a day, more like ten minutes); but if I teach my kid to seek out "down-time" to have the opportunity the create for himself, the he will be satisfied a whole lot longer!


Photo by zen


What are some practical ways to apply the cure?

1. They may design a new character for a show they have recently watched.

2. They could develop a whole new story involving familiar characters.

3. They could act out the new storyline using themselves or using toys.

4. They could create a new game to play, either live-action (like tag) or a board/card game.

5. They could create an alternate ending for a story they have read.

6. They could create a notebook about a topic of interest. You know, all those millions of questions they ask you on a regular basis! Tell them to look it up!
These are just a few examples. The sky is the limit! The key is to make regularly scheduled “down times” and to help your child think open-ended.

I'm not saying this will be easy. They will resist! Be prepared to invest a little more of your time and energy up front in both suggesting ideas and helping them follow through on them. However, despite the whining and complaining, you must be strong in your convictions. Set a timer if it helps, and refuse to allow them to engage in an activity where the creativity is provided by another until the buzzer goes off. As they come to accept that Mama ain’t playing around and she’s really serious about teaching me to use my imagination, curiosity and creativity for myself, then they will slowly give in and experiment.

Then celebrate their accomplishments! Show excitement for what they have done. Hopefully you’ll less frequently hear, “Mom, I’m bored!”  Then you can temporarily remove your chief entertainer hat, and go put on your chef hat, maid’s apron and chauffeur shoes and complete all the other jobs you already have on your list!

What about you? What ideas do you have about helping kids learn to amuse themselves? What has worked for you, or what hasn’t worked? Please share!