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Summer break for kids can feel like two months of Sundays, and the dreaded “I’m bored” may be heard more than once throughout those 69 days.
A psychologist in St. John’s suggests that parents use the arrival of summer break to encourage children to embrace the boredom to assist in fine-tuning their social and problem-solving skills.
Janine Hubbard, a clinical child and adolescent psychologist, spends her days surrounded by figurines of “Toy Story” characters and a frisky rope fish, not to mention her office is a basically a giant eye-spy game of bright children’s toys.
So, it’s safe to assume she knows how to play.
“One of the things we have seen over the last decade or so is kids relying on adults to provide structured activities and routines for them,” Hubbard said. “We’ve lost the ability in a lot of our kids to engage in creative and spontaneous play, either by themselves or with peers. Even with their family.”
The Association of Psychology Newfoundland and Labrador (APNL) sent out a news release providing parents with a list of ways to encourage their children to embrace boredom and manage their electronics time. There’s a reason why the information came out when it did.
“We do know that this is a fairly common thing that is given as advice in the literature,” Hubbard said. “The start of the school holidays is a nice time to prime these ideas because kids are often at loose ends more, or sitting for longer periods of time and having the complaint of ‘I’m bored.’”
When asked who will be responsible with implementing these changes to better equip future generations, Hubbard knew exactly who it should be.
“This has got to be something that starts with parents, and what I think people are going to be amazed with is how creative and how much kids will embrace this when they get started. Kids are creative, it’s amazing, when given the right opportunities,” she said.
With technology present in almost every aspect of life, Hubbard understands that people still struggle with taking a technology hiatus. She struggles with that herself, she admits.
“I think the one thing that is important for all of us is to take electronic breaks, and that includes parents. Your teenagers will grumble about it, but you don’t need to do this all summer, but for a period of a couple of hours,” Hubbard said. “It’s too easy to get drawn into that and forget that we are out in nature with exciting stuff going on and that there is so much creativity and exploration that we really should be embracing and taking advantage of.”
Hubbard recommends sitting down with children and creating an activity jar for the summer. That way, if a child tells their parents that they feel bored, they have an outlet to go figure something out by themselves rather than relying on their parents to choose.
“It’s just about being more mindful of the choices we are making,” Hubbard said. “Some kids struggle with being very bossy and some kids deal with being very easily led. How do you negotiate all those skills that we need as adults?”
There is a school in St. John’s that is using the great outdoors to help negotiate those exact skills.
St. John’s is the home of Newfoundland and Labrador’s first forest school, Cloudberry Forest School on O’Brien’s Farm Road.
Besides all of the teaching and learning taking place outside, the forest school also has a child-directed curriculum where the interest of the children directs the content being taught.
Laura Molyneux and Nora Trask are the founders of the school and are both Atlantic Canadian trainers for the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada.
“Cloudberry uses unstructured play time as a basis for all its programming, from toddlers to school-aged children,” Molyneux said.
“The learning is deeper and the neural/cognitive connections are more meaningful. Children develop holistically and as such the strengths of all different learning styles and personalities are highlighted.”
Common activities at forest school are shelter-building, role-playing, team games and outdoor survival. Each activity is supervised by an adult, but is led by children.
“We find children act more collaboratively and persevere more with tasks presented to them if they have control and the educators trust the children's ability to guide their own learning,” she said. “All our curriculum comes from the play of the children and supplemented as we see pathways to learning outcomes.”
Hubbard agrees that when you let kids just free flow with their imagination and give them some lack of structure, most kids will thrive.
“But it’s a steep learning curve if it’s not something kids are used to.”
Suggestions from APNL
- Consider limiting time away from screens, and remember for parents to model limited screen time themselves
- If travelling, make sure at least some of the transit time is electronic free. Try the classic Eye Spy.
- Create an activity jar that the child can pick through when bored.
- For kids involved in structured activities, be sure to include some boredom time during evening and weekend.
- Keep in mind that some electronics time is still a key component of social contact for many kids and teens, so some time with technology is still needed.