Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is boredom good for kids?

Gifted kids learn things quickly. Left in a class with their age peers, they spend a lot of time waiting for other kids to catch up. The result: boredom. Which raises a question: is boredom good for kids?

I was thinking of this while reading a post on this topic at the blog Grumpy Rumblings of the (Formerly) Untenured (blogger NicoleandMaggie sometimes comments here). Some well-meaning sorts acknowledge that gifted kids might get bored, but they tell concerned parents that learning to cope with boredom is an important life skill for kids. After all, not all of adult life is scintillating. It's like learning to cope with difficult people too.

But the problem is that as an adult, you have more choice about how you spend your time, and you also have other options for changing your environment. If you are thoroughly bored with a job, you do have the option to find another one. It's a bit harder for a 2nd grader to, on her own, remove herself from a boring classroom.

Adults also get to draw on more strategies than we tend to allow children in schools. Bored on a train? Pull out your iPhone. Bored in class? Often not allowed.

Furthermore, much of adult life is far more ability-grouped than school. I wrote a post several years ago here about an academic researcher who was vehemently against grouping...but whose university department bragged about how selective it was. So, there's that.

Personally, I think that one of the worst things we teach gifted kids in "regular" school is that learning should be easy, and also boring. Discovering new things is actually quite exciting! But it's also a lot of work. When children think they should be able to figure out anything required of them quite quickly, and then wait for the rest of the world to catch up, they miss an opportunity to learn how to stretch to understand something that seems just outside their reach. That's why we need to challenge gifted kids, rather than bore them.

How does your child handle boredom? What do you tell him or her about boredom?

13 comments:

Sara said...

This post reminded me of how I removed myself from a boring math class in high school to the library -- by being a pain in the butt to the teacher. (I feel sorry for her now, but...)

I can see my youngest being the sort who "acts out" when she's bored (at 2, she starts making trouble when she's chewing a tough piece of meat at the dinner table!).

In other words, the downside to being bored can be bad behavior.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, we've had this message in regard to our daughter and it's a load and a crock and it stinks to high heaven. Sure, adult life is full of boring stuff: dishes, laundry, progress reports, taxes. However education should never be boring because learning shouldn't be boring and learning is -- duh! -- the point of education. I'm perfectly capable of teaching my daughter to cope with boredom at home thank you very much. She is currently being bored by household chores, waiting for holidays, etc.

Davidson Institute Staff said...

This Psychology Today article covers the same topic: Giftedness and Classroom Boredom: Maybe It's Not All Bad.

nicoleandmaggie said...

@Davidson

We reject this, "Sometimes, in an effort to advocate for our child’s happiness, we forget that being bored is a part of life—and that extremely valuable lessons can come out of facing it head on." Let that life lesson be learned, as Anonymous says, in instances in which it is necessary. There are enough of those instances in regular life to make any instances in school extraneous and unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

Boredom is the daily dish my gifted 17 year old labours with each minute of his school day. He manages the first 6-10 minutes of each class and then entertains himself reading or playing on his laptop while other students catch up. Not a v. efficient use of time or his energy. He is well trained, fit, eats well, sleeps well, is quiet, calm and polite but v.v.v.v. bored. He is doing the IB Dip course in a Swedish high school.

Anonymous said...

Boredom in adulthood usually produces results--house cleaning, organizing files, grooming, etc. They are all for a purpose. Boredom for the sake of boredom because nobody wants to treat you as an individual is not something that is good for anybody, adult or child.

Davidson Institute Staff said...

Hi nicoleandmaggie - thanks for the comment. The author did also write this on Page 2: “Lest I leave you with the wrong impression, let me be clear: classroom boredom that is merely the result of lazy instructional decisions is not desirable… and in the next article we’ll discuss how to address this effectively. But, truly, handling boredom properly—reinterpreting it, even bending it to your own will perhaps—is a life-long skill.” Feel free to post a comment directly on the article, as the author is pretty responsive.

La Qu said...

I honestly think boredom is bad for kids, it teaches them not to work.

as adults we 'self select' our groups and work with others like ourselves. it is not a normal state of being.

this is why i homeschooled my daughter, she learned how to work hard, carry a rigorous course load and achieve. she knows how to work hard for what she wants and that hard work is respected.

i think if she sat on her duff looking out a window she would have never gotten into the same colleges she did.

Barbara said...

While students don't deserve to be bored at school, I see a great deal of value though in children learning to self entertain at home. Sometimes it seems parents of gifted kids have gotten the message that it is their job to prevent boredom and to at all times keep their kids engaged. I believe for many kids there needs to be some amount of boredom as part of the process of doing anything creative or interesting. That's a danger of nonstop access to media engagement (games, video, Internet). It may not allow the space kids need to have the downtime that leads to really being creatively engaged and challenging themselves.

Anonymous said...

Hi! This post reminds me to ask (if anyone has read related research): why do some gifted persons get bored and why do some gifted persons never get bored? Also, there is an adorable video through SENG (which might be related to Davidson?) on YouTube with two young ladies explaining how it feels to be a gifted person from their viewpoint and its easy to find.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I think there is a difference between being allowed to entertain yourself and being forced to be bored so as not to be "a distraction to others."

Anonymous said...

I was not bored in class, as I always had a book or ten to read. My son got turned off reading for a while in first or second grade (he actually lost about 3 or 4 years of reading ability, we think, by being reintroduced to the alphabet for as long as it took the slowest student to get it), so this was not a solution I could recommend to him. We were fortunate to find schools where boredom wasn't exactly an issue, even if the work itself was not always challenging. [As teachers ourselves in other settings, faculty and staff soon learned not to prove to us that they were lazy or incompetent. I believe our son may have learned to limit his perceived misbehavior over time in order not to be embarrassed by his parents in this fashion.]

nother Barb said...

Carrots. In kindergarten and second grade, the school held out the carrot that "in third grade, he'll be in the gifted class". (but till then you have to be bored. Oh, and the reason he wasn't bored in first grade? He and 4 classmates went to the 4th grade teacher for math. Can you say "inconsistent programming"?). But once in the gifted class, he was simply slightly less bored. The curriculum is only one year above grade level, based on age. Then, then carrot was "in eighth grade, he can take the Advanced Algebra and Trig Honors at the high school at 7:20 a.m.". Ah! Now he's not bored! Loves the class, excited every day do go to class, do the homework, review, take the exams. (makes getting up early worthwhile, if not cheery)

Fortunately, he's of a pretty cheery disposition. He would play math games for himself in class, have little games and competitions going on with a couple of classmates, composes music in his head. This year, it is all about the math class. And the LA class is exceedingly challenging (be careful what you wish for!), especially after a lax year. Unfortunately, there is no saving the science class. There is no gifted ed for science here ("We differentiate" No, you don't) and he is, sadly, assigned to the teacher who doesn't teach. My son usually does his LA homework during science. There is simply nothing to do.