How Summer Boredom Fosters Creativity in Kids


Three children sit, bored, at the kitchen table

The end of the school year can be a stressful and busy time for many moms. Celebrations of learning, teacher appreciation gifts, planning summer camps and vacations, and end-of-the-season youth sports parties fill up our calendars. I tend to lose steam at the end of the school year. In August, my kids’ school lunches started out with carefully crafted sandwiches, fruit, chips, and a cookie. By the time May rolls around, they’re lucky if they get a piece of toast. So, when the last day of school arrives, I feel the same elation and freedom as my kids. I get a break from the hustle and bustle of busy mornings and afternoon traffic jams! But once the dust settles from the end-of-year festivities, there they are, staring at me, hungry, bored, and hungry again. Summer, and summer boredom, is now upon us.

Keep Them Busy

“It is better to keep kids busy.” This is the standard parental mantra. And while I can only speak for myself and my offspring, when left unattended, screen time prevails. The television, cell phone, tablet, laptop, or gaming console can all occupy my kids’ time all day every day. Keeping my kids busy means minimizing screen time. I used to strategically enforce screen time breaks and plan something to do with my kids during this time such as playing a game or doing a small project together. While I do enjoy spending that one-on-one time with them, I can’t be a one-woman show and fill up all their free hours with life-enriching experiences.

woman holds son outsideThe summertime overflows with free time for children. As a mother, if I am not filling that time with cultural, educational, and developmental activities every minute of every day, then I am failing as a parent. Isn’t it up to me to keep them engaged at all times so they don’t fall behind in the summer? The answer to that is a big fat NO!

I don’t want to dwell on the days of my unattended childhood summers filled with watching television and staying outside until the streetlights came on. The world that our children are growing up in now is completely different. Without screen-time, what will happen if I don’t keep them busy? Will summer boredom just lead to endless screen time?

Kids Become Bored Creative

Boredom leads to creativity. When children are left to their own devices, they tend to build, mix, imagine, and play. They will build forts out of sheets, binder clips, and chairs. At times, I will find their sinks filled with a soapy and colorful concoction. The playdough becomes a weird brownish-purple color with random action figures poking out of it. They will even find their recorders or Dad’s old guitar and start playing something that resembles music. The gears start turning and the ceiling is lifted with all sorts of cool things at their disposal. I am truly impressed with the resulting product of their own personal choices without the influence of a screen or an adult. Allowing my kids to use their free time however they want to (without a screen) opens a window into what truly interests my child. They are open to make more personal choices and they learn so many intangible characteristics that are valuable for success in life.

lump of playdough of different colors mixed together

Pros:  Reinforces independence, resourcefulness, problem solving, and fosters creativity and critical thinking

Cons:  Can become messy and noisy

Kids Fall Asleep Refresh Themselves

child taking a nap on the couch

Who doesn’t love a spontaneous afternoon summer nap? How many times have these kids wanted to take a nap in the middle of the school day but could not? While kids fight naps at all ages, being bored can lead to an unplanned respite that rejuvenates the mind, body, and soul. Children are bombarded with stimulation, especially during screen time. I would relate taking a nap to a type of involuntary meditation. Your child can get a needed break and maybe even begin to understand the importance of slowing down and taking time to take care of themself in this hurry-up-and-go world. The necessary sleep allows kids to let go and rest even if they don’t want to. Their bodies will do what it wants and it is ok. The best part about an afternoon nap is the peace and quiet that you, the parent, will enjoy and relish. Just like when they were babies, the satisfaction of a sleeping baby/child never gets old.

Pros:  Health benefits of resting the mind, body, and soul, and guilt-free peace and quiet

Cons:  An energy-filled kid that may have a hard time falling asleep at night

Guilt-free Me Time

woman sitting on bench with coffee and a bookI created over-scheduled summers that kept me busier than I was during the school year. By adopting a hands-off free time plan for my kids, I am spending less time shuttling my kids back and forth to activities and saving money. Summer camp fees can be outrageous and add up quickly. Free play contributes to the normal development of children. Children that actively engage in free play on a regular basis can become more adaptable and adept at dealing with whatever life throws their way. Insert a well-deserved nap here or there, I can see the benefits of unplanned free time knowing how busy my kids are in their routine school schedules. I feel good about it and I capture more time for myself, guilt-free.

I still do schedule summer camps and activities, just not as much as I used to. A balanced approach that includes a mix of scheduled activities and camps with free play is optimal. For the full-time working moms that depend on scheduled summer camps for childcare, you can still reap the benefits of free play in the evenings and on the weekends.

I remember my own personal golden days of summer filled with building a house of cards, pranking my brother, pretending I was an Olympic gymnast, and building towers out of bottles of nail polish. I had no time limits, and I wasn’t productive. During the school year, many children must be very productive with little downtime. Children don’t have much of a choice because they must study for school, go to tutoring, go to practice, go to rehearsal, go to school, and do chores. Produce, produce, produce. I know I get tired of it, imagine how a child feels. Summer boredom is not always a bad thing!

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Monica Bell
Monica was born and raised in New Jersey. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Penn State University and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Cal State Fullerton. She spent several years working, living, and playing in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Virginia, Philadelphia, and back to New Jersey again before settling down in Katy in 2009. She has been married for over 24 years to her soulmate Atiba and together they have three children and a dog that help her stay young, strong, and active. She has been on both sides of the fence as a full-time working Mama and stay-at-home Mama and everything else in between. When she isn’t carting her kids around all over Katy, she works part-time as an engineering consultant. She is a staunch supporter of chocolate and coffee any time of day and binge-watching trashy reality TV shows. Some of her favorite things include cooking up new recipes, writing, Penn State Football, and anything satirical. Monica believes that motherhood continues to lead her through a challenging journey of personal growth, gratitude, and constant chaos.


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