CMA Blog

Why Boredom Matters

What happens when boredom sets in

For our first “Musings from the Center for Creativity” I wanted to focus on an aspect of creativity that has been the catalyst for some of the greatest ideas in history… boredom. Two years ago I began asking adults to recall moments of great creativity from their childhood.  Story after story would recall fort building, bridges across creeks, traps intended for younger siblings etc., but most of those ideas began from a place of boredom.  These were kids forced to fill their summer with ideas all of their own.

As an educator obsessed with the diminishing creative opportunities for students in school I am constantly considering the ways we as teachers can foster question development, curiosity and risk taking. But as a mom with a 7- and 3-year-old, I realize I may be hindering their creativity. We live in a society where children are used to being entertained by television, electronic games and overly structured time.  So this summer I vowed, I would make way for BOREDOM.

Kids need practice with unstructured time, or they’ll never learn to manage it. As a mom, I address boredom in three ways…

1.  Actively engage – demonstrate creative ways to fill time.
EG: Build a bus in the living room (see above), or visit the Wonder Room together.
2.  Provide a challenge.
EG: Make a scooter obstacle course  or make a dozen Lego ships with special powers (see above).
3.  Encourage idea generation.
EG: Read below.

Over the long weekend, I strategically decided to engage my children in #3. I desperately needed to work in the yard. I booted the kids outside, and my mere instruction was to play. When I went to check on them, I found them standing inside two tubs filled with water from the hose.  The mom in me screamed, “Don’t you know you can drown in just two inches of water!” But, I calmed down as I deconstructed their process.

My kids had a problem.  They were bored and hot.
They activated a number of creative thinking skills as they worked through the boredom.
1.  Solving the problem started by spraying the hose and filling buckets with water (fluency of ideas).
2.  Realizing that the garage organization tubs could be made into mega buckets (flexibility of ideas).
3.  Finally realizing that the tubs were big enough to be personalized… swimming pools! (originality).
This simple example demonstrates the type of thinking kids are going to need in the future.  Neuroscientist and author, Jonathan Lehrer, tells us that during the boredom, the brain is busy generating new connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. The brain, rather than going quiet, is actually growing!

So this summer, make way for boredom and see what happens.

Over the past 18 months, in preparation for opening CMA’s new Center for Creativity (on Jan. 1, 2011), the entire education staff immersed ourselves in research on creativity, particularly what is necessary to cultivate creativity.  Musings from the Center for Creativity is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts on this topic.  Please share your views and resources with us, as well.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Cindy Foley, Director of Education

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About Jennifer Poleon

CMA's Digital Communications Manager, writer, artist, traveler, film fanatic and local foods lover, former magazine editor turned arts professional, and creator of the CMA Photo Hunt Project
Posted in Musings from the Center for Creativity

One Response to Why Boredom Matters

  1. Yolanda R. Brown says:

    Good Thinking TeacherMom! The challenegs you presented your children were marvelous and no daunting. My son is a 3D thinker and we had many days that call us to shift in our thinking and support our son move through the patische of boredom. I gleaned this fact from watching him grow and learn (he is now 30). Many creative problems were solved in a 3D manner. He could have drawn a map, instead he made a topographic map with elements that were tactile and moveable. For an assignment on soil erosion, he built a earthen environment and then read his report and showed with pails of water what would happen to his built environment as a result water contacting and creating the soil erosion. My son did not enjoy school and had we not challenged him to think of the assignments and learning opportunities in more expansive ways he may have had a lot of sad school days. Kudos to you and the kids!

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