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A Summer of Free Imagination – Let the Kids Be Bored and Play


“Mom I’m bored, can I watch something?” says my five year old like it is the most terrible thing that could have happened to her. We have just been out for a kid event and now five minutes later she is already bored. I feel highly tempted to turn on that pony show so I can get half an hour to get some stuff done. But I stand firm and say “No, it is good to be bored – now you can come up with something yourself.” She looks at me perplexed but leaves the kitchen. Sure enough, ten minutes later I hear her singing and talking while she plays with her dolls in the family room. Yet every time she catches a glimpse of me she tries to talk me into entertaining her and I have to neglect all my feelings of guilt and let go of my inner pressure to constantly stimulate her. It helps me to know that letting children be bored and play by themselves, or with other children, is actually one of the most important things in their development… Boredom is good! Or rather the free unstructured play that children come up with without adult input is crucial for their ability to think outside the box. This is how they absorb and process their experiences and learn to be creative and imaginative. In fact children need three hours of unstructured play, preferably outside, every day according to Angela Hanscom, pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook and author of Balanced and Barefoot (Article on outdoor play)

It is not only children who want to be constantly entertained instead of creating and imagining things on their own. I recently read an article on BBC.com about an airline that had responded to the ban on carrying electronic devices on certain flights by providing passengers with a list of 12 things to do without a tablet or laptop (read article here: Why Idle Moments are Crucial for Creativity)! Like read a book or daydream. I cannot believe that we are getting to the point of not knowing what to do without electronics! What happened to independent thinking and imagination? The irony of it all is that we all – adults and children – appear to be much happier when we put our iPhones and iPads away. Of course it takes a while to get over the cravings, just like with sugar or alcohol, but after a day or two it is actually very peaceful not to check the internet or text messages all the time.

Last week our family had staycation at our house where we left the iPhones attached to their plugs like old-fashioned landline phones and only checked them once a day. The kids did not watch any tv. Instead, we spent time relaxing together doing yard work while the kids played outside. It definitely also helped that their grandparents stayed with us for a while being fun and playful. This inexpensive vacation ended up being one of our best vacations! Everyone relaxed and felt happy spending time together instead of in some non-real world online. No deadlines, no schedules, no stress – or rather we just forgot about our commitments… and it was great!

So my goal for this summer is a “go-with-the-flow” attitude where we make the most out of not having to get ready for school every day. This is my chance to undo my own and my children’s screen addiction. Our chance to enjoy the freedom of long days of free play that is not squeezed into a tight schedule. I hope for a summer of fairies and dump trucks, dirt and flowers, endless amounts of berries and lemonade, lounging on the beach or by the pool. A summer where the mom (me…) will not care about sand or grass carried inside on wet shoes, about swimsuits and towels drying all over the house because her imagination has made her house into a “beach house” and she is on vacation even when at home.

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