Your guide to family events, stories and news in Western Wisconsin.


Summer is for Slow Days: 'Tis the season for kids to practice the art of being bored

Ah, Summer. A wonderful season chock-full of gorgeous weather, super-fun outdoor activities, and ... so very many free hours which my children expect me to fill for them. Sigh.

Every year, like many families, we go through a transition at the end of the school year. A reentry period of sorts as we remember how to be around each other for most of the day. And let me tell you, there are a lot of hours in a day.

Despite staring down these hours, my husband and I generally forgo signing our kids up for most of the classes, sports, camps, etc., available each summer. After a crazy-packed school year, I relish the idea of free time (and of not having to play chauffeur to my family all day, every day). This may seem counter-intuitive, considering all those hours of togetherness, but it’s a conscious choice we make each year.

“Eventually, one of them will decide to tell me about how BORED they are. Parents, I wait for this moment. I really do. Because this is my chance to gush about how lucky they are to be bored! When you’re bored is when the best ideas are just about to appear!”

We humans spend a lot of our lives hurrying here and there, from this activity to that appointment, and we hurry our children right along with us. Time moves so quickly (ask anyone), and I see an unscheduled summer as a fleeting chance to offer my kids the incomparable experience of “slow days.” Because even left unscheduled, even filled with slow days, these few summer months will fly by.

My children and I have a little dance we do each year at the start of summer. They spend the first half-day or so positively glowing with the idea of no school! Freedom! And so! Much! Fun! ... Aaaaand then they realize that no, we are not actually going to do something super exciting every single moment – nor even (gasp!) every single day.

And so begins the whining.

Eventually, one of them will decide to tell me about how BORED they are. (If the situation is extremely dire, I also hear how boring I am because I NEVER take them out to do anything exciting EVERRRR.) Parents, I wait for this moment. I really do. Because this is my chance to gush about how lucky they are to be bored! When you’re bored is when the best ideas are just about to appear! You have such great things in your near future, child! I can’t wait to see what you come up with! (This is their cue to roll their eyes at their weird mother and wander off to another room in search of someone more receptive to their plight.)

We do this dance a few times, my darling children and I, and do you know what happens as we move deeper into summer and adjust to our new togetherness? Well, for one thing, they realize whining to me about being bored is pointless (score), but also, they slowly begin to remember (and relearn) how to entertain themselves. They remember they have interests, and that they actually are capable of surviving without the constant busyness of the school year.

This is why I think it is so important for my kids to be bored. It’s important for them to feel a need to be creative, to solve their own problems and learn to entertain themselves. To be amazed by, and wonder at, the world. To watch an inchworm walk across a leaf, and observe the fledgeling bird currently finding shelter under our patio furniture. I want them to watch raindrops splash into puddles and witness the puddles on our street swell and recede with a downpour. I hope they memorize the sound of a slow breeze through the trees, and concoct the grossest mixtures they can in the kitchen, just because. I want them to watch ants building their hills, grain by grain, and to figure out the logistics of what it would be like to walk around on the ceiling of our house. I want them to have the opportunity to sink deep into a game they are playing – to be so absorbed in whatever has caught their fancy that the rest of the world falls away. I’d like to give them the time to follow whatever path they’ve found themselves on. I want them to have time to notice.

Because when we slow down, when we take time to notice, and become comfortable with just being for a while – and that’s when our imaginations kick in. That’s when we discover what we think about the world, when we find time to dream and to learn more about ourselves. It is when ideas are born, and we actually have the time to follow them to find out whether they are ridiculous or brilliant. Slow days – bored  days – are so very important.

This isn’t to say we don’t go out and do fun things during the summer (I’m not a monster), nor do I leave my kids twisting in the wind all day, struggling to fill their time. Honest. If one of my kiddos tells me they are bored, I do offer to help them come up with some fun things to do, but I try to remember that actually deciding what to do with their time is their job. I try hard to allow them space to just be – and to resist my urge to solve their problems for them. It’s an imperfect system, but one I believe in wholeheartedly.

One day last week, I heard my son take a running leap out of the bathroom. When I asked what he was up to, he simply said, “I had to get out to the hallway bench. The floor turns to lava while the toilet is flushing.*”

Ah. Of course, Love. As you were.

* When I inquired as to how he was able to wash his hands properly given the lava situation, he patiently explained “Well, I was on the rug so I was safe.” (Duh, mama.)

This was made by

Shannon Paulus  author

Shannon Paulus works in Youth Services at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library. She lives on Eau Claire’s Eastside Hill with her husband, two kids, and two cats. And a guinea pig named Hufflepuff.