All parents have been there: You are scrambling to get something important done when your child comes up to you and says they are bored. You want to drop everything and do something with them or take them somewhere fun, but you can’t.
It’s not a bad thing simply to let children be bored. It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention, but so is boredom. These days, however, totally ignoring a bored child is a good way to get them into the habit of mindlessly staring at a screen or scrolling social media looking for drama. It’s a good thing to give your child healthy alternatives to this sort of behavior.
I have found that it helps to have projects and project ideas stashed around the house that kids can do independently.
Here are some things we do (and some ideas that we may eventually do):
- Kiwi Co. Tinker Crates and Atlas Crates – Kiwi Co. is a subscription service where you pay a flat fee every month and they send you a box with projects in it. They have a wide array of subject-matter on their site, but we’ve chosen their engineering and geography crates. Most have been excellent. There are endless robotics kits and Legos that you could keep secret until the “I’m bored” comes out.
- High quality children’s magazines – We grew up with Highlights for Children, but Cricket Media has a wide range of children’s magazines that blow Highlights away in terms of quality. They have magazines devoted to literature, history and archaeology, STEM, and so on. (We like Spider and Ask.) Zoobooks and Ranger Rick are also excellent for young children that enjoy nature.
- Books with art projects and science experiments using household items – It is not difficult on Amazon to find children’s books that are just collections of projects. I would recommend Harlow and Morgan’s 175 Amazing Nature Experiments and Kohl’s Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters. These are books you can just hand to your child to read and they can work through the projects. Also, the old show Mr. Wizard’s World can now be streamed on Amazon Prime. It’s dated, but our daughter still loves replicating his experiments.
- Nature journals – Your child can explore outdoor spaces in your neighborhood and write and draw pictures of what they find. You can even get them a set of watercolors and heavy paper.
- Scavenger hunts – Our daughter absolutely loves anything that resembles a quest, and we’ve put together elaborate ones for her. We hide clues all over our house and property with a prize at the end. If you ever want to surprise your child some weekend morning, start them out with a scavenger hunt as soon as they wake up. Or make it some mystery they have to solve, like something’s gone missing and they have to find it.
- Write letters to distant friends and family members / have a pen pal – Writing letters is not something many people do anymore, but it’s a great way to pass otherwise idle time. For a twist on the pen pal idea, share the project of writing a book with a friend. You write one chapter leading to a cliffhanger, then they write the next chapter, then you write the next one, etc.
- Compose a piece of music or write a poem – Also a great gift for older relatives.
- Random acts of kindness – Do you have an elderly person in your neighborhood or a new mother who could use some help around the house? Send your child over to read a book to them or help with the laundry. When I was a teenager, I signed up to volunteer at a nursing home, and I would walk there on weekends to read the Bible to an old lady there. I’d also write letters to her son that she would dictate to me. She was completely blind and could not do these things herself. And she really loved having a young person to talk to.
- Start a club – When I was a kid, I formed an environmental club and we made a newsletter about environmental concerns that we gave out to our family and neighbors. Kids can organize clean-up or conservation projects. Or start a theater club that write and stages plays. (I don’t remember what gave me this idea as a child, but I am going to guess it started with Little Women.) Or start a Dungeons and Dragons group, where the Dungeon Master has to invent a plot.
- Start a business – Is your child old enough to mow a lawn or handle chores and maintenance jobs? They could make fliers and drum up business around the neighborhood, which would teach them about saving money and budgeting as well. You could even open a custodial brokerage account in their name so they could research stocks and play the market. It doesn’t have to be chores, either. If your child is good with computers, they could take on projects for older neighbors. When we were younger, we helped convert an elderly professor’s memoirs into a manuscript for him to distribute to his family. If your kids ask people what they need help with, you never know what skills might be advantageous or easy to develop.