by Candice Watters
It may be the most dreaded phrase of the summer. Spoken with a sing-song-y whine, the insistent, “Mom, I’m borrrred!” strains the ears, surprisingly early into summer vacation. Just days after final tests are taken, kids who couldn’t wait for a break from school seem utterly unable to amuse themselves in the face of long, unstructured days. Implicit in their complaint is an assumption that the problem is Mom’s to fix.
It’s awfully tempting to rush to fill the void. But that’s precisely what you must not do. 19th century educator Charlotte Mason said, “When our children complain, ‘There is nothing to do!’ they really mean, ‘Please amuse me.’” Our current culture provides endless, mindless options for amusing the little ones. From video games to televisions to iPads and laptops to smartphones, the range of digital amusements is staggering. The ease of the “plug-and-play babysitter” is often as good for Mom as it is for child: he’s satisfied, whining ends, and she can get back to what she was doing.
But is peace and quite at the price of mindless entertainment worth the expense? There is a better way. A wise older friend once told me that when kids get to the “I’m bored” phase, that’s when the real fun can begin. In her Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola writes,
Amusing oneself with idle pastimes all day is not really doing anything. A little amusement is fine, but boredom will be transformed into real interest when your children are given meaningful tasks of recreation or of service. They like to see and measure results of their activities. A frequent request at our house is “Mom, look what I made.”
How can you help your kids shift from complaining about not having anything to do? A small amount of planning can go a long way to teaching them how to figure out ways to make use of the hours of potential boredom in ways that will stretch their minds, engage their imagination, build relationship, and expand their souls.
Make a list
Sit down together at the start of vacation to write down fun things to do this summer. It can range from craft ideas, to books to read, to people to host, to projects to tackle, to sports to learn, to games to play — each list will be as unique as the child compiling it. You might offer them some art supplies for making their lists — thereby giving them a head start on their creativity.
Keep it simple
A few dime-store squirt guns and water balloons, some sidewalk chalk, a box of old dress up clothes, worn sheets and blankets, such is the stuff of imagination. I started saving egg cartons, oatmeal cylinders, cereal boxes, and paper towel tubes for impromptu crafts. In one especially imaginative burst, our eldest once turned a Quaker oats container into a rocket booster with little more than some red and orange construction paper, foil, scissors, a belt, and a roll of tape.
Teach them God’s Word
We must strain against complaining. Philippians 2:14 tells us, “Do everything without grumbling or disputing.” It’s essential that we not only teach our children this expectation from God’s Word, but also that we help them develop the habits of mind and heart to help them obey. When your kids are tempted to complain, or for that matter, when you are, stop and pray together. Ask God to remind you of all He’s done for you in Christ and to fill you with gratitude. Give thanks to Him together. Then encourage one another to be good stewards of the day stretching before you. Each day is a gift. May we use our days well, creatively, to the glory of God.
Give an assignment
We’ve been at this in our home for many summers. Still, occasionally our kids forget that it’s up to them to invent activities to fill their free time. They’ll occasionally wander into the kitchen where I’m cleaning or cooking or reading, and with a great sigh, say, “I’m bored.”
“Great!” I’ll say cheerfully, “I was just noticing how much this floor needs to be washed!” Too late, they’ll realize their error. No matter how much they try to wiggle out of their predicament— “Oh, never mind. I’m not bored. I just thought of something to do!” — I follow through. “That’s good. You can get back to it as soon as you finish in here. The mop’s in the closet.”
I gain a few minutes of help and they gain a life lesson that no matter the circumstances, complaining is out of order. The more we practice this, the more they begin to see that boredom is a gift; a reminder that it’s time to put the mind to use, and an opportunity to make or do or see something creative.
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