Friday, March 21, 2014

Is it possible that being bored is a good thing for kids?

When I was a girl, I lived “off the grid.”  We were raised in small logging communities: no TV – or at best, one fuzzy channel on a clear day – no movie theaters or malls and even the radio reception was spotty. What’s more, I lived miles away from my friends – a long bike ride unless we could cajole our mother into driving us. Our world was slow. And quiet.

But now, even I wonder what we did all day. Weren't you bored, my youngest son often asks when I tell him about my childhood. I do remember sometimes telling my mom I was. Are you, she’d say in her dangerous tone of voice. Then I’ll find you something to do. And we’d scurry off, because of course she meant that she’d send us out to weed the garden or stack wood or pick up sticks in the newly plowed field.

I remember long, long stretches on a rainy weekend playing gin rummy with my brother or hours and hours of complicated Barbie play with my sister that included using the Sears catalogue, cardboard and my mother’s box of fabric scraps to create additional props. I’m reading Why School by Will Richardson right now. He extols the creative capacity and independence that virtual game play facilitates in our children. He shares the story of his son who, one boring rainy morning, learned how to play the online game Minecraft, creating, by the end of the day, a beautiful house, completely furnished, on top of a mountain. He marvels that his son figured it out on his own by reading online manuals, watching videos, connecting with friends. But, thinking back, no one taught Kim and me how to design our Barbie houses and we cobbled them together, not from pre-fabricated parts in a digital space, but from whatever we could find. It seems to me that the play we engaged in, even though it wasn't tweeted about, posted on Facebook or immortalized as a YouTube video, was at least as creative; we were certainly independent in our play in a way that gamers can’t possibly be. We created the game. We designed (and revised at our convenience) the rules.  We built the game pieces.

Richardson acclaims the digital world where “real learning happens anytime, anywhere, with anyone we like.” Certainly, given a choice, my brother would never have played with sisters and I wouldn't choose to play with a little girl three whole years younger than I. Our game play would have been much more sophisticated. Who would choose scraps of paper, fabric and cardboard if you could have virtual castles and luxurious furniture in any colour you wanted. But thinking back, learning to play with whoever is in the room and creating with whatever you've got are important skills, that even now, in the 21st century, I use daily.

On the other hand, I rarely have to fill long empty stretches of time. I have emails to respond to, a twitter stream to read, Facebook posts to ponder, Pinterest boards to peruse. I listen to the beeps and chirps from my phone, the notifications from my computer; I have a stacks of book everywhere and if the one I want isn't available, I download it instantly. I am connected to everyone, everywhere; I have instant access to everything. There are no quiet moments.

It’s easy to get used to being always busy. Just recently, while waiting for a ceremony to begin, I was sitting with a table of people I didn’t know well; I was peripheral to the desultory conversation and itched to take out my phone to scan my twitter feed. The wait was too slow. I was…bored.

Kids today, of course, have no qualms about taking out their devices. In Ontario, a school board recently moved to block Netflix and YouTube. One third of their bandwidth was being used by students to stream their entertainment, rather than for education. One girl said in the interview, that yes, she often watched her favourite shows on Netflix whenever things got dull in class or when she was finished whatever she was meant to do.

I hear it often from students. I’m “done.” What do I do now? They are uncomfortable in the quiet space between activity, the space of day-dreams and doodling, wondering, reading, adding, extending, pondering, consolidating, rethinking, and creating a whole new world with from nothing more than scraps of paper or bits of wood and whoever is nearby to imagine with you. And while the Internet is certainly a place of connection, creativity and passion, it is more often used to effortlessly consume, to fill time, to pacify our mind’s search for meaning and meaningful activity.

One of the great criticisms of school is this: it’s boring. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a bad thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment