“Mom, I’m bored!”
Spring break was only a few hours old when I heard those words issue from my seven-year-old son’s mouth. I resisted the temptation to get annoyed or angry. Instead, my reply was simple:
There’s an old saying that goes “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In my experience, there’s a useful variation on that saying:
Boredom is the mother of IMAGINATION.
I often talk with parents who say they don’t take their kids outside because the kids get bored. Maybe I’m unusual in saying this, but I believe it’s when the kids get bored that they’re most open to imaginative possibilities. Once upon a time, children played with simple wooden blocks and were happy for hours. These days, unless the blocks walk, talk, and do backflips, kids are bored.
Kids aren’t the only guilty ones in this discussion, though. In general, our threshold for tolerating boredom has decreased substantially. We expect someone—or something—to entertain us. We stare at blinking screens all day, absorbing content. We hate to wait for anything, pulling out our phones even when we’re out for a walk or over dinner with friends. We’ve grown used to constant stimulation.
When we get outside, if we put away those electronic devices and really just be there, we aren’t sure what to do with ourselves. We get bored. I’ve talked with plenty of people who say they hate camping because there’s nothing to do but sit around. That “sitting around” is a gift—a moment away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a chance to reconnect with family, a quiet moment to reflect.
The outdoors present a great opportunity for us to be bored—and for our IMAGINATIONS to do some of the work usually accomplished by those blinking screens indoors.
How Does Being Outside Stimulate Our Imaginations?
First, the outdoors is open ended and never ending. There are no real “rules” as to how to play or what to do. Age limits don’t really exist. The choices are limitless, which gives our imaginations time to kick in and provide all sorts of possibilities.
Second, when we’re outside, all of our senses are engaged, from touch to smell. With so much sensory information, our imaginations can run wild and lead us to explore new places or try new activities.
Finally, our usual forms of indoor entertainment aren’t right in front of us so it’s up to our imaginations to help us provide our own entertainment from the world around us. Suddenly, branches become walls for a castle, feathers adorn the turrets, and shells are a road.
I encourage you to get outside for a while today and resist the temptation to give in as soon as someone says “I’m bored.” Let your imaginations run wild!
(But if you really must give in to that boredom nudge, check out the imagination-spurring outdoor family activity ideas on Pinterest.)