Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

Hurray for Boredom!

When I was child, a protestation that I was bored or had nothing to do always got the same response from my father.

“Go bang your head against the wall.”

The absurdity of his suggestion was meant to reflect back to me the absurdity of my complaint. He was really saying, “Think harder, son. There is always something interesting to do.”

And of course, there always was.

As I grew, I no longer needed my father’s head-banging reminder. My internal mantra became, “If you’re bored, you’re boring.”

I took responsibility for my boredom. I came to understand that if I were bored, it was I who was not thinking hard enough.

There is an upside to boredom, explains renown psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, in a blog post entitled, Why Boredom is Good for Your Child:

Dr. Laura Markham

We respond to our kids’ boredom by providing technological entertainment or structured activities.   But that’s actually counter-productive.  Children need to encounter and engage with the raw stuff that life is made of: unstructured time.

Unstructured time gives children the opportunity to explore their inner and outer worlds, which is the beginning of creativity. This is how they learn to engage with themselves and the world, to imagine and invent and create.

Unstructured time also challenges children to explore their own passions. If we keep them busy with lessons and structured activity, or they “fill” their time with screen entertainment, they never learn to respond to the stirrings of their own hearts, which might lead them to study the bugs on the sidewalk (as Einstein did for hours), build a fort in the back yard, make a monster from clay, write a short story or song, or organize the neighborhood kids into making a movie.  These calls from our heart are what lead us to those passions that make life meaningful, and they are available to us even beginning in childhood, when we are given free rein to explore and pursue where our interests lead us.

I agree with Dr. Markham. I have learned that the first glimmers of boredom can be a spur to creativity. Before the sour blandness of boredom can ferment into negativity, I alchemize it into curiosity. And because I believe that curiosity is one of the most valuable aspects of childhood, I gave that trait—in spades!—to Cheesie Mack, the title character of my series. He is rarely bored. There is always another question to ask, another curiosity to explore. Here’s an example from the first book, Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything. Cheesie and his best friend Georgie are actively attempting to solve a mystery. Georgie speaks first:

“What’s that under the mat?” he whispered very loudly.

A white corner peeked out. I reached down, lifted the mat, and there, next to a bunch of sow bugs, was a small white envelope.

I know you want to know what was in the envelope, and for sure that’s more important than sow bugs, but sow bugs are my favorite insects, mainly because they are NOT insects. I have included two drawings, so just in case you don’t know what a sow bug is, you’ll know what non-insect I’m talking about.

A sow bug is also called a roly-poly or a pill bug depending on where you live. (If you use a different name, please go to my website and tell me. I have a whole page about sow bugs.) They don’t have wings. They are brownish or gray and have seven pairs of legs. They also have tiny overlapping armor plates that make them look like little armadillos. I like that. And they roll up into little balls when disturbed. I like that, too. But here’s what’s so cool. These non-insects are actually crustaceans and are close relatives of shrimps and lobsters.

Okay, I love to eat shrimp, and I really love lobster. Gloucester is famous for lobster. We have tons of lobster fisherman who go out in their boats and set lots of lobster traps—they call them pots—in the Atlantic Ocean. You can buy lobsters right down at the harbor.

So here’s the question I have not had the courage to answer. If someone cooked and ate a sow bug, would it taste like shrimp or lobster? Or would it be disgustingly gross? I am not going to try it, and the people who published this book don’t want you to try it either. So…DON’T TRY IT! AND DON’T EMAIL ME!

All children get bored…but Cheesie is always thinking, always finding interesting ways to view his child’s world. My stealthy authorial goal is to set him as a model for my readers. He is smart and curious…and his life is better for it.

 

One Comment

  1. David Sylvester says:

    In my family it was a more direct “Only boring people get bored.” Thanks for the perspective on unstructured time. So how much of intellectual curiosity is inherited versus learned?

    You can bet that my grandsons will get exposed to Cheesie at an early age.

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