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It’s very possible that we may find ourselves confined to our homes in the coming weeks and months due to the spread of Coronavirus. If that should happen and you need ideas to entertain the grandchildren, there is help.

Illnesses aside, children today often need prompts to motivate them to engage in active play. They tend to extend screen times to many hours a day and all the experts agree that this is a negative trend. Kids need to engage in active play, both indoors and out. They need to run, pretend, read, and create. So what is boredom and how do we counteract it?

According to Psychologist John Eastwood, PhD, of York University in Toronto, “A bored person doesn’t just have nothing to do. He or she wants to be stimulated, but is unable to connect with his or her environment—has ‘an unengaged mind’.” In other words, boredom is an unfulfilled desire for engagement in a satisfying activity.

So, what does it mean when children say they’re bored? It can mean different things to different individuals. It may mean…

  • The child needs direction or ideas. He or she is not able to come up with an activity without help.
  • It may mean, “I’m lonely. I want some attention from the adults in my life.”
  • It might be a case of overstimulation and a need for a break, a nap or some quiet time.
  • It may mean, “I don’t like what I’m doing right now.”

As a former teacher, I often heard parents say their child was more capable than he or she was performing in class because “he was bored.” I learned to take this complaint with a grain of salt. A child not performing in class might feel disengaged, but there are many reasons for that problem. It could be:

  • He or she needs redirection. Attention and focus are lifeskills that require some practice. Getting off-track is not the same as needing more difficult or challenging work.
  • He or she may, indeed, need a greater challenge.
  • The learner may need guidance in order to proceed with a task. The parent or teacher then takes the role of a coach.
  • The child may be in the habit of negative thinking when it’s time to work. Work ethic is another lifeskill that takes time to master.

Today’s children live in a world of near-constant stimuli. Television, videos, games; all entertain at the push of a button. There is very little opportunity for our kids to practice coming up with their own ideas for fun. They lack experience in using their imaginations, entering into creative play and being independent in their play. And this is a problem, because play is the work of childhood.

What to Do?

There is no doubt that screen time needs to be managed and limited. The addictive nature of online play is more than evident. And while computers and screens are here to stay, they can’t be allowed to overshadow all other forms of play and entertainment. 

Children are happiest and most fulfilled when they engage in self-directed play, learning to explore both their inner and outer worlds. They need to imagine, invent and create. 

Here are some ways you can encourage healthy, creative play:

  • Ask questions. Do you know what you’d like to do? Would you like to…?
  • Provide materials for creative play such as art supplies, dress-up clothes or simple do it yourself projects. 
  • Teach an old-fashioned game such as jacks, hopscotch, tag, or capture the flag. Kids don’t know how to play these games anymore.
  • Be willing to help your children brainstorm fun things to do. Create an activity jar filled with slips of paper, one fun activity per slip. Then when a child needs a new idea, they may pick three slips of paper and must choose to do one of them. (Check out boredom buster jars.)
  • Encourage active play out of doors every day. Bodies are designed to move, not sit still for hours.
  • Direct your grandchild to a quiet activity such as reading, drawing, or writing.
  • Talk with your grandchildren about the need to grow in the ability to play independently and develop important lifeskills such as creating and finishing a project on their own.

In extraordinary times, we grandparents can still be a positive force in our grandchildren’s lives. We can encourage an active, engaged play life. We can encourage creativity and imaginative play and set the tone for calm in a time of storm.

I believe our readers could really benefit from this guide. Check it out:

Homeschooling during COVID-19: How One Family is Doing It