Is Boredom A Good Thing?

It was a recent conversation with my teaching partner, Paula, that inspired this post. She has helped me reframe “boredom.” Let me explain.

For years, one comment from parents that I always found hard to hear was, “My child’s bored.” As an educator, I prided myself on creating engaging lessons and follow-up activities. I always included lots of choice and was open to students creating their own options. How could somebody be bored? I think that I took the comment personally, and felt the need to speak up against this apparent “boredom.” But now I’m wondering if I went about this all wrong. What’s the learning value in being bored?

I’m not necessarily talking about all kinds of boredom here. I don’t want to create conditions where students are bored because the work is …

  • repetitive.
  • too easy.
  • or lacks any apparent value. 

This is not the kind of boredom that creates the conditions for learning, but I think there’s another kind of boredom that does.

I think about our outdoor learning time each day. Our time begins with two Kindergarten classes outside together, and then slowly leads to one class heading indoors while we stay outside for longer. During this long block of time, we usually begin with a selection of materials outside (from cars to hula hoops), and then when the first class goes inside, we put away many of these items. This makes it easier for clean-up, but I also think that this is when we get the more creative, deeper learning. It’s when less is outside that students have to work through a little “boredom.” 

I even think about when Paula takes some interested students out to the field to give them more space to run around and explore. She often brings with her a ball and sidewalk chalk. It’s the lack of materials that get students to slow down, explore nature more, use items in creative ways, and engage in more meaningful conversations with peers. I can’t help but look at our outdoor learning time from this morning. Below is a collection of photographs and videos that highlight the amazing creativity, thinking, and collaboration that happened with a few less objects and a bit of productive boredom.

Math and #problemsolving in this boat construction today. #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

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Loved this learning that happened outside this morning! #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

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The interesting thing about this boredom is that even after only a week in school, students will rarely say that they’re “bored”: they’ve learned to get creative with what’s there. I can’t help but reflect back now on how I approached teaching and learning in the past, and the amount of micromanaging that I used to do. Did I truly believe in kids? Did I give them enough opportunities to get creative? When boredom happened, did I solve the problem for them, or allow them to work past the boredom? I think that the fear of “being bored” worried me so much that I never embraced it for the value that it has. My thinking is changing now though. Maybe we all need a bit of this good boredom. How do we create these opportunities for our kids? As adults and children, how do we become okay with being bored? Our Board’s tagline includes “creativity,” and I wonder how much more creativity we’d see if we put out less, sat back more, and let students turn “boredom” into “possibility.”


2 thoughts on “Is Boredom A Good Thing?

  1. Hi Aviva,
    There’s actually some pretty good research out there to support your findings that boredom (and/or daydreaming) is actually very helpful in bringing out people’s best creativity and problem solving skills. This time where the mind can rest gives it a chance to play around with ideas and put them together in new and different ways. That said, I also struggle with being okay with a student being bored in my classes. I think sometimes when students claim to be “bored,” they may actually just be tired of focusing and need a break or a change of pace. What do you think?

    • Thanks Melanie! I vaguely remember reading some of this research before, and Andrew Campbell shared some more with me this morning (through Twitter). I think that you make a great point about considering why students say, “they’re bored.” I can’t help but think about Stuart Shanker’s work and cognitive stressors. Could this also be a part of the equation? There’s a lot to consider. I wonder sometimes if our response to boredom also matters. Do we need to ask questions such as, “What’s making you feel that way? What might make things better?” Could questions help students problem solve and figure their way out of “boredom.”


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