Education Cheat Sheet: Battling Boredom

Why you might want to leave your kids with nothing to do.

Photo: Thinkstock

Editor’s Note: The “B” word first crept into Cassera’s vocabulary in the first grade. One day, while I was cooking dinner, she walked up, wearing her serious-frown face and said the two words I wasn’t expecting for a few more years. “I’m bored.”

The girl who made up elaborate stories with her uniquely named stash of tsum tsum friends, who was surrounded by Play-Doh sets, craft kits, a swing set and slide in the backyard and a whole cache of her toddler sister’s toys that she found fascinating, had nothing to do. My in-the-moment reaction was to list all of these items, then tell her “Find something to do!” So often, as parents, we try to find the solution. Educators say sometimes, it’s best to do nothing at all. Joy Ripperger from Hongwanji Mission School dives in a bit deeper.

Boredom has become a bad word. Even before the advent of electronics, parents stuffed their children’s rooms full of Barbie dolls, action figures, play sets and games. That’s only for when kids had a spare moment from a frenzy of lessons, activities, and sports. 

It may be a result of parents’ expectations. Many adults don’t value downtime as a moment to reflect, process, or simply rest, but is seen as unproductive time. Although brain studies have shown that sleep is crucial to proper memory function, some parents sacrifice a regular sleep schedule for themselves and their children instead of limiting after-school activities.

This societal fear of boredom has infiltrated classrooms as well.  Teachers are pressured to put on a constant show to maintain students’ interest.  Those who write songs, produce action-packed videos and dance their way through the curriculum are lauded.  The effort is admirable, but the pressure to keep kids entertained can lead to teacher burnout. Not only that, but it doesn’t necessarily teach children how to learn without a song and dance, especially those less flashy basics including grammar and multiplication.

In this age of computer-generated imagery in video games, movies, and television, and students favoring graphic novels over pictureless chapter books, there is added value in learning how to focus to complete a task or learn a skill without such a bombardment of stimuli. I often tell my students that knowledge will not fall from the sky and magically land in their brains, and that they need to work to incorporate the information taught in class. Once students embrace this sense of self-directed discipline, they truly become independent learners.

Outside of the classroom, boredom can actually be a positive thing. Studies have shown that a bit of boredom can actually boost creativity. In a Pennsylvania State University study, researchers said  bored individuals approached creative tasks more eagerly, because it was a change from their inactivity. Others say boredom enhanced daydreaming, which can lead to inventive thinking.

Parent Homework:

Next time you hear the phrase “I’m bored,” let your child figure it out by his or herself. You can assist by providing some tools to spark the imagination. Help younger children design an emergency “boredom kit.” This can be as simple as a filling a shoebox with paper, crayons, scissors, tape and craft items. A pack of playing cards can inspire hours of card-house building or games of solitaire. Look for ideas on websites such as

For older kids, start with a trip to the library to search for interesting “how-to” books. Origami, simple physics experiments and other science investigations provide ideas for keiki that don’t require elaborate lists of materials.

If all else fails, my parents always found it effective to provide me with a long list of chores when I complained about being bored. I learned very quickly to entertain myself!


  • Explain learning isn’t always flashy, but you expect your child to learn.
  • Encourage your child to explore his or her interests at home.
  • Create a space with simple tools and supplies where kids can make a little noise and mess.


  • Drop everything you’re doing to entertain your keiki.
  • Expect school to keep them constantly entertained.
  • Over-supervise play after you’ve set initial ground rules.
  • Focus on the result when kids are exploring new crafts or skills. The creative process isn’t always pretty!
  • Think you’re a terrible parent because your child complains of boredom.

Joy Ripperger is a fourth-grade teacher and the curriculum coordinator at Hongwanji Mission School.

Education Cheat Sheet is a collaboration between HONOLULU Family magazine and Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools to help Hawai‘i parents understand the educational trends and terminology in today’s classrooms. You can find a new column on every third Monday of the month. Click here to read more.