Blog Post: The Gift of Boredom
Author: Christine Avey, Principal
‘I’m bored’ are two words that strike fear in the hearts of all educators and many parents. After tirelessly creating lessons and activities that aim to accommodate all learner’s needs, these two little words can bring us to our knees. Of course, it’s an unrealistic expectation to be able to please everyone all the time, however, we want very much to be able to engage all of our students in interesting and challenging ways.
So what is really behind these words?
There are, in fact, a multitude of possibilities. For some students, the level of challenge could indeed be too little, leading to true boredom. However, often the words ‘I’m bored’ indicate other issues such as a lack of skills or unmet needs in other areas. Sometimes the reason behind boredom (for both children and adults) is as simple as being too tired to engage due to not getting enough sleep the night before. Along the same lines, when some students feel the challenge level is actually too much (or more than they are used to), they begin to feel a mild to moderate stress response. This stress response can lead to fatigue and/or a lack of engagement (shutting down, quitting, avoidance) which can be mis-identified as boredom by the child or the adults working with them.
After working with gifted learners for the past 20 years, I have noticed that it is not uncommon for a gifted child to have this kind of initial reaction to tasks that are slightly out of their zone of proximal development or comfort area, especially if they are used to things coming easily to them. Additionally, gifted students may not see the importance or point of a task and/or may lack the motivation to participate if the topic is not an area of high interest. Finally, sometimes feeling bored at school may have little to do with the school lessons or activities. Instead it may be related to feeling a lack of deep connections with other children or the adults at school (particularly common for gifted and other neurodiverse children). Children don’t always have the words to articulate complex feelings and emotions which often results in a general ‘I’m bored’ comment. Regardless of the reason, educators and parents alike become very concerned when we hear that a child is bored at school.
“The good news is that school boredom is something that can be resolved. There is not one approach to resolving the issue, but it takes creativity, patience, empathy, and flexibility,” says Tameko Hairston-Piggee, a licensed clinical social worker.
So what can we do? Many of the programming strategies that we employ at the Calgary Changemaker School already naturally help to prevent and mitigate boredom.
- Our teachers use a top-down programming approach that incorporates cognitive stretch by increasing rigor, and complexity, with a focus on higher-level thinking skills.
- Project-based/problem-based learning requires complex thinking skills and requires active engagement.
- Students are offered ‘choice, voice and challenge’. When students have ‘choice and voice’ they have agency over their learning and are invited into the process. When students are offered challenging opportunities on a regular basis, the stress response to challenge decreases.
- Teachers use differentiated instruction to honor a variety of learning styles and areas of interest. Engagement increases when one is able to learn in the way that best suits thier needs and in areas of passion or interest.
True boredom is not always a bad thing!
“Boredom leads to one of these two things: more boredom or more creativity”. – Matthew Kobach
Benefits to being bored…
- Boredom can increase creativity. A study by Mann (2018) showed that with mundane activities we discover useful ideas. In the absence of external stimulation, we use our imagination and think in different ways.
- Boredom can improve mental wellness by allowing one to relax and destress in a stimulus-rich world (Bench and Lench, 2013).
- Boredom is essential for the process of innovation. The search for novelty and a willingness to challenge established ideas and practices is essential for innovative ideas to percolate (Heshmat, 2020).
- Boredom improves self-regulation skills. According to Dr. Heshmat, the development of self-regulation skills is directly related to one’s ability to handle boredom. “Learning to endure boredom at a young age is great preparation for developing self-control skills (regulating one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions)”.
So, as a parent, what can you do when your child says they are bored at home or at school?
Do: Ask some key questions such as: Which activities did you like the best? Which activities made your brain sweat? What was challenging or hard today?
Do: Help them put “boredom” into perspective. Understanding that boredom is beneficial and not always a negative thing can help one to embrace periods of boredom.
Do: Help them practice using other words that more accurately identify and articulate their feelings.
Don’t: Try to solve it for them. When we swoop in to ‘fix’ the problem we deny our children the chance to practice critical problem solving skills. We want to remind them that they are capable but we are there to figure it out together.
The words ‘I’m Bored’ or ‘School is Boring’ can have many different underlying meanings. Helping our students to understand and articulate their feelings is key to encouraging them to advocate for themselves and getting the most out of their school day. More often than not, ‘bored’ actually means ‘hard’. Experiencing boredom can be the impetus for growth, creativity and innovative thinking. Learning to embrace, normalize and practice boredom can actually increase productivity and improve self-regulation and wellbeing.
“Being bored is more useful than being busy”– Maxime Lagace
Christine Avey is an award-winning educator and school administrator with over 20 years of experience working with students in public, private and charter schools. She specializes in gifted education and STEAM and has been serving as principal at the Calgary Changemaker School for the past 3 years.
Bench, S. W., and Lench, H. C. (2013). On the function of boredom. Behav. Sci. 3, 459–472.
Heshram, S. (2020). 5 Benefits of Boredom in Psychology Today.
Morin, A. ( 2022). “Why Kids Get Bored at School- and How to Help