What does your child tend to do when they’re bored? Click the remote to turn on the television? Tinker around on an iPad? Or maybe play a video game?
There’s nothing inherently bad about any of these activities. It’s just that, well, these kinds of screen amusements are common “go-to” activities when kids feel “bored”. A mindful use of screen technologies can be appropriate for children above age two, but you may have noticed that once kids get into the habit of screen use, it can get overused.
Try this out: the next time your child complains about boredom, try replying with, “Wonderful!” or “Excellent!” But don’t be surprised if your child looks at you like you have spoken a language that’s foreign to them.
I use this technique with my students when I want to open the door to creative thinking possibilities. Creativity is one of the great powers of the human mind. And by the way, by “mind” I’m referring to more than just the physical brain. The mind includes the awareness of our experiences and our feelings about them.
Boredom is normal and natural. However if it’s a frequent complaint, it’s a sure sign that your child could benefit from some creative awareness building activities. Helping children generate creative acts and experiences is a wonderful way to support their learning at home – with little effort.
Consciously encouraging your child to use their own creativity can redirect their attention away from screens, which is an alternative to today’s norms of frequent screen use for entertainment and “edutainment” when boredom arises. Encouraging your child to use their own imagination, insights and reasoning without screens is a great way to develop their “multiple intelligences”.
What are “Multiple Intelligences”?
If you’re not already familiar with Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” theory, here’s a quick summary. In the 80’s Gardner, a psychologist and Harvard professor, developed a theory that claimed human beings have several modalities of ability and skill which he called “multiple intelligences”.
The most commonly referred to modalities of “intelligence” from Gardner’s theory are related to the following specific skills and abilities: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. Some teachers may talk to children about the “8 kinds of smart” or the “8 intelligences” that humans have and that we can all develop further.
8 Intelligent Ways Your Kids Can Learn Without Screens
Here are Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” using terms more easily understood by kids.
Quick tip: help your kids self-inspire and self-motivate themselves by challenging them to choose a focus area from among the eight modalities below.
1. Self Focus – this is all about being self-aware, self-reflective and internally-focused
A great idea to improve your child’s familiarity and comfort with their inner life is through mindfulness meditation. Get a timer and give it to your child. Challenge them to sit comfortably or lie down very still with their eyes closed for 5-10 minutes and to just notice their thoughts as they come up. Ask your child to tell you what it was like to be still and paying attention their thinking. Writing personal reflections or drawings in a journal, writing down personal goals and sharing personal feelings about a book, an experience or an event are all activities that shift a child’s attention to their inner world.
2. Nature Focus – this is all about tuning into nature and exploring the natural world.
A wonderful way to develop skills and understandings about the natural world is through gardening. Ask your child if they know how to start a garden and if not, challenge them to see if they can figure it out. Take them outside to explore nearby gardens to study them or simply ask your child what steps they think they have to take to get started with gardening. Alternatively, your child can sort pine cones, leaves, rocks and anything else from the natural world that is safe and interests them. The point is to be out and engaging in nature in some way.
3. Logic Focus – this is all about reasoning strategies and mathematical problem-solving
Have your child collect some harmless, everyday materials to explore scientifically. I know of one child who enjoyed spending a long time creating different “potions” with spices, baking soda and vinegar during imaginary play while parents sat nearby, but not interfering with the exploration. Many logical “discoveries” can arise from this kind of scientific investigation. Providing play money and encouraging your child to create a pretend shop is an activity many often enjoy when they are old enough to use small objects like coins safely. Creating riddles, playing chess and measuring ingredients while cooking with a parent are great ways to focus on logic with children.
4. Word Focus – this is all about reading, writing, listening and speaking
If your child is already reading independently, gather some appropriate magazines and advertising brochures that can be cut up. Have your child create a poem by first cutting out the individual words and phrases that interest them and then gluing them in an order that creates feeling and meaning in their poem. If your child can’t yet read, pour some sand or salt into a big, shallow container. Have your child use their fingers to trace simple words into the sand from their favorite story. Alternatively, non-readers can shape letters out of playdoh or copy letters and words from their favorite book. Playing board games like Scrabble, Scrabble Junior, Boggle and Boggle Junior are super ways to focus attention on letters in words while actively using a child’s known vocabulary.
5. People Focus – this is all about socializing and interacting with others
It’s often very easy to “hang out” with a child while looking at family photos. Try looking through a special family photo album and take turns telling a sentence or two for each photo the album. Ask questions about the photo if you don’t know much about the scene and encourage your child to do the same. You can also take turns reading riddles aloud and trying to guess the solutions. Having a regular family games night, organizing a party together and interviewing a grandparent, aunt or uncle about their life are other ways to focus on purposefully engaging in human relationships.
6. Body Focus – this is all about moving the body with physical control and coordination
Many children love P.E. (Physical Education) class in primary school. The focus tends to be on fun and the enjoyment of physical movement rather than on competition. Discover how your child responds to a parent-child yoga class. Hiking together, cycling and dancing are fun ways to get moving. Simple games of catch or kicking a ball around an open, outdoor space are solid ways to develop physical coordination skills. Playing with hula hoops, rackets, bats and jump ropes can be practiced solo or with peers and parents who can enjoy in the movement and exercise.
7. Music Focus – this is all about thinking in patterns of rhythm and sound
Invite your child to listen to some familiar and much loved music with you. Sing along if you feel inspired to. Learn some clapping games from your child or teach them some rhythmic ones from your own childhood. Your child could create a musical instrument out of clean, safe recyclable materials and then make some pleasing sounds with their creation and share their masterpiece with others. Perhaps your child can invent a family song or a cheer to celebrate a special event or routine in your home. Playing around with a real instrument, practicing on one they’re familiar with or beginning to explore a new instrument are all ways to focus attention on rhythm and sound.
8. Picture Focus – this skill area is all about visualizing things through drawing and building
Encourage your child to create “found art” mobiles around a theme by hanging objects from a hanger or a branch from a tree. Drawing ideas for room reorganization and then actually reorganizing the room is a special project that some kids will really enjoy. Putting together puzzles, building with Lego and playing with games such as Marble Run, Jenga and plastic gear sets designed for children focus attention in a visual-spatial way. Kids can also sculpt clay, mold Playdoh or challenge themselves with folding origami projects by following picture instructions in books.
Space for Transforming Moments of Boredom
It’s important to be playful, patient and open-minded when encouraging challenges like these to your child. As much as possible, refrain from leading or judging your child’s creative actions during these challenges. The aim is for your child to self-inspire, self-motivate and explore learning through these different modalities.
To help you support your child in transforming their moments of boredom into enjoyable learning experiences, I’ve created a PDF “cheat sheet” to help you remember the wide range of skill and ability areas that can serve as an alternative focus to popular screen habit when boredom strikes. Simply click here to download it and post it someplace visible to you and your child.
Get in the habit of responding with “Great!” when your child utters the words, “I’m bored.” Then ask your child in an encouraging way, “I wonder what you’ll choose to come up with to help your bored mind find some fun today?”
What’s another fun activity that fits one of the eight focus areas that you know kids enjoy? Please share your ideas in the comments below to inspire us with what you know!