It’s Tougher to Be Bored Than Ever Before. And That’s No Good
I hate to be that guy. The guy who says stuff like this:
“Kids these days. They don’t know what they have. With all these new-fangled smartphones, kids don’t know how to play.”
I’m not completely that guy, but it’s obvious that young people today have different experiences than I did. OK, now to the point: With the start of summer, most children are out of school. And what should they do when they aren’t studying or going to class? My answer: Be bored.
No, wait! Boredom isn’t bad. In fact, it can be good. Sitting around with nothing to do is a great way to think about things that might not normally come to mind. It’s a time to bounce a ball off the wall or walk around outside looking for “stuff” without knowing what you are looking for. Being bored is what motivates you to take something apart just to see what’s inside, even if you may not get it back together.
And this is where today’s kids have it rough. It’s harder for them to get bored. In the blink of an eye, they can pull up a YouTube video or fire up a video game. Why be bored when there’s stuff to do? Of course, YouTube and games aren’t all bad. My daughter is watching the CPG Grey videos and my older son loves the Crash Course History videos. And there are some super awesome games like Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program. Still, none of them top boredom.
What can we do about this? You could of course ban technology, but I don’t have the heart to do that because I find this new stuff useful and fun. Instead, I encourage my kids to embrace boredom. I tell them not to simply switch something on right away, but to wait a bit and swim in the feeling. Embrace the lack of focus, because this fuzziness is where you find awesome things. And don’t simply consume, but create. Make a video. A game. A tutorial on using your favorite technology or demonstrating a successful game strategy. It doesn’t matter what you make, only that you make it.
The best kind of boredom is the pure “stare at the wall” boredom. However, that might be a little intimidating for some people. You might need to add a little sugar to your boredom to take away the kick. With that in mind, here are some starter suggestions for a summer of boredom. Children might not like these, but I think they are awesome.
Raspberry Pi / Arduino. Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer you can program to control stuff, and the Arduino is a programmable processor that you can use to build cool stuff. The possibilities are endless, so check out MagPi, the official Raspberry Pi magazine, to find something cool. (You might want to try a starter kit for Raspberry Pi or Arduino.) I could write an entire post introducing you to these platforms, but you won’t find it useful unless you’re interested in them. Go play first.
Just to show you how fun it be, here’s a quick video showing how I made some real buttons to control a Python turtle with Raspberry Pi.
Cardboard Armor. Although the Raspberry Pi is super awesome, you have to get a Raspberry Pi to start. If you want to do something with stuff you already have, try cardboard armor. Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like: armor made of cardboard. Google for ideas, or check out an instructables site like this.
Take something apart. This can be tricky for two reasons. First, you don’t want to break something expensive or useful. Second, there are some things you definitely shouldn’t tinker with because they’re dangerous (I’m looking at you, CRT TVs). However, there’s plenty of junk laying around that you can take apart. What about an old land-line telephone? But be careful with that screwdriver—it can really gash your skin (young Rhett mistake).
Learn to program. There are plenty of programming languages and resources available online. I can recommend two. Hour of Code is a great place for younger beginners to start. The curriculum uses graphical programming methods and covers a bunch of great stuff. I also like this short visual introduction to Python (trinket.io). It’s Python without having to install anything. Of course, the downside to these is your kid will still be staring at a computer screen.
Make something. Anything. Create a board game or invent a game that uses a ball. That’s not hard and might even be fun. Build a flashlight using batteries, an LED, and a paper towel tube (my daughter loved doing this). Add some duct tape just for fun.
Finally, a word of encouragement. Boredom is good for you, but it requires willpower. Next time you have a free moment, don’t reach for your electronic device. Just sit there and do nothing. Boredom is the source of superpowers for both heroes and villains (but don’t be a villain).