In Life Learning Magazine’s July/August 2004 issue, I wrote an article about how unschoolers learn and the benefits of boredom. I described how, in my experience, “if one is brave enough to hang out with boredom for a while (in oneself or one’s children), they will find that boredom can be the great motivator, a push to develop one’s inner resources.” I wrote about how I’ve found that what we call boredom can be tool for developing my creativity. I also found that my life learning daughters often looked bored but really weren’t; sometimes, lacking a window into our children’s brains – and prompted by our lack of trust in the process of learning – we can make assumptions about what’s going on (or not) with our unschooled kids.
So I was interested to read that a British academic agrees that boredom is a creative state. Dr. Teresa Belton interviewed a number of authors, artists and scientists in her exploration of the effects of boredom. She wasn’t, of course, talking about how unschoolers learn, but she concluded from the responses of her interviewees that “children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”
Unfortunately, children in school don’t often have the luxury of that time. As a result, boredom can mean something entirely different in that context. As writer Claire Madgwick notes in an article in the upcoming May/June issue of Life Learning Magazine, school can lead to a state of tedium. And she quotes John Holt from How Children Fail: “We ask children to do for most of a day what few adults are able to do for even an hour. How many of us, attending, say, a lecture that doesn’t interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Hardly any.”
Given that most of us experienced that type of schooling, it’s no wonder that a fear of boredom and a drive for diversion are embedded in our culture. Ironically, as adults, work and even many of our leisure pursuits often involve what seem like repetitive and boring chores. If we’re going to be good role models for our unschooling / life learning kids, we’d do well to provide ourselves with some regular “stand-and-stare time.”