How often do you hear those famous words? What is our job, as a parent, when our children complain of boredom? We tend to want to tell them “when I was a kid” stories – how activities for them weren’t scheduled throughout the day, every day. How we had one car for our WHOLE family, and dad took it to work. How we didn’t lock the door to our house, and we could leave at 9 in the morning in the summer, stop home for lunch at noon, then stay out until 9 p.m. and the fireflies were dancing around the house with us. I remember riding my bike to our local park alone, about 8 blocks from my house, to play on the swings. Typically I would run into several friends, who also had found their way, all by themselves, to the one park in the area for us to play. On rainy days, I made the most amazing tents between my sister and my beds with various blankets in the house. Complete with a flashlight, pillows for comfort, books and dolls, we could nestle in the hot tent for hours, imagining together with my sisters. We had an agreement too. If I played doll families with them for an hour, they would come outside and play HORSE basketball with me. The tomboy of the family, I would shoot baskets, hit tennis balls into the garage door, or toss a baseball in the air to catch into my mitt for hours on end.
Another game I played as a child with my sisters, and I am sure we all “cheated”, was “FIND THE BALL”. We kids would close our eyes and make noises. My mom would toss a kickball-sized ball somewhere into the yard. We would then walk around the yard, eyes closed, searching for the hidden ball. My mom would yell directions (“Sheri, go left”, “Susan, tree in front of you”) until one of us would come upon the ball. Yes, we all peeked, but no one shouted “unfair”. We played and laughed, bumped into each other, and took turns as the “direction caller” from time to time.
Life WAS different then. We weren’t structured from morning until night, we didn’t need carpools or playdates or plans. And we knew how to create something from nothing. I remember the one time I said I was bored, and came into the house one too many times during one summer, my mom locked the screen door and told me to come back at lunchtime! How do we bring back the imaginations, the spontaneous enjoyment, and the healthy exercise for our children, and teach them to entertain themselves?
First of all, we do need to supervise our children differently than we had to back when we were kids. The parent who sends her child off into the neighborhood without knowing exactly where they are would be considered negligent. Too many reports of children gone missing or sexual predators living among us have taken away the security we all felt in the past. This is one of the main reasons that children are over-scheduled today. Talk to any grade school child, and they will recite from Monday through Friday what activities they have after school. The second reason kids are in activity after activity is that parents don’t want their child disadvantaged in their abilities in a sport or activity. To keep a competitive edge on the others for potential high school playing time or that coveted college scholarship, parents have their children “in training” at very young ages. However, this doesn’t mean children can’t play as we used to. And participating in structured activities, while developing a sense of teamwork, is not the only way to provide healthy physical, social and emotional developmental opportunities for your child. We need to give them the tools to use their imaginations while keeping them within our eye and earshot.
So your job is to let the creativity begin. While the internet and gaming systems offer lots of exciting visual graphics and sounds, help kids to work on social skills through interactive game playing, we need to encourage cooperative vs. competitive games and imaginative toys as well. Cooperative games are ones where there is no individual winner, where participation, teamwork, and interaction are emphasized. Examples include The Secret Door by Family Pastimes, building a tent, creating an obstacle course, and any arts and crafts projects. If you visit google.com and type in cooperative games, you will find a list of resources from various websites to learn how to unleash the imagination and bring on the games and fun!
Sometimes, our children do need our guidance in getting started. They are so used to someone dictating the agenda, and having scheduled chunks of time, that we need to help them fill the gap time with enjoyable, social fun. Some easy ideas are water balloon fights, sidewalk chalk, Chinese jump rope, bike riding (map out where you want to ride, use common land markers for the kids to spot, then go on your “treasure hunt”).
As a child, my favorite party memory is Halloween at Mary & Kay’s house. My friends used to have the best Halloween party. The highlight was the story. We would gather in their basement, and each person would be given a word, which requires a sound or action. Whenever that word was spoken during the story, the person with that word would have to provide the appropriate sound or action. I remember the ghost sailing past us all on the clothesline each year! Learning how to use down time for imaginative play, and enjoying the interactions between friends is what we need to remind ourselves to share with our children.