Photo by: Camera Eye Photography

Camp Boredom

Photo by: Camera Eye Photography

A friend of mine recently gave me an old copy of a book titled, “Where did you go?” “Out” “What did you do?” “Nothing.” It was published in 1957, and yet I am struck by its sentiment, which echoes loudly in today’s parenting culture. The book is a memoir of the author’s childhood memories juxtaposed with the childhood culture of his children.

He writes:

It is summer, and there are the long evenings under the street lamps to talk to girls, to watch the big kids talking to girls, to tease the big kids talking to girls, to be hit by the big kids talking to girls, to play Red Rover…It is summer and it is time to get a jelly glass and fill it full of lightening bugs and tie a piece of gauze over the top and take it to your room, and very late at night to see that you finger, where you touched the lightning bug, is glowing too. But not in our town. The kids are at camp, because, for Heaven’s sake, what are the kids going to do with themselves all summer? Well, it would be nice, I think, if they spent an afternoon kicking a can. It might be a good thing if they dug a hole. No, no, no. Not a foundation, or a well, or a mother symbol. Just a hole. For no reason.

I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately, during this time of sign-ups for summer activities for the kids. In this great city, there are roughly one billion enriching and awesome things for kids to do, and instead of feeling expansive while I’m activity shopping, I feel like I’m choking. Too many options–Dancing Dinos theater camp, T-ball, artsy-fartsy, golf, tennis, soccer, swimming lessons, and Camp This or That–all sound so fun and good.


All of these great options clash against what I know, deep down, and which is so oddly difficult to implement–Camp Boredom.

Our beautiful children need to be bored, for it is within boredom that we become inventive. Creativity is not exercised or possible under adult-led enrichment. The riches of childhood lie along the banks of creeks, in the sound of frogs in a pond, in a Dixie cup of tadpoles. The music of childhood is in the breeze through the trees, in that long, high buzz of the invisible beetle, in the rambling pretend dialogue between a dirty plastic dinosaur and a doll whose hair has recently been chopped off by the kitchen scissors that our kids aren’t supposed to play with. The magic of childhood can be found by pushing over a log to find “roly poly bugs” and centipedes and worms.

I think part of the problem is that in our current culture, spaces of time are something that need to be filled. We are so used to constantly be doing something that we have forgotten how to simply be. To lie on the grass and stare up at the shape-shifting clouds and find an animal. Or to sit down in the middle of a mess in the living room and read the paper and drink a cup of tea.

And we are unwittingly handing this problem to our kids, along with their packed lunches, as we drop them off at their next organized activity. It’s not that organized activities are bad. It’s just that they are squeezing out that most important activity for children–unstructured play. Idling, inventive, creative, meditative play. The landscape of their imaginations is so vast, so rich and full, but we no longer trust it. Is it because we, ourselves, don’t know what to do with downtime, so we assume our children don’t? Or are we teaching them the madness that has become our lives, where we rush off, across town, to get to our mediation classes so we can feel justified to sit down and do nothing. But even then, most of the time we are just concerned we aren’t even doing that right. We ask our gurus, “So, do I just sit and breath? What happens if a thought enters my mind?“

“Children have a knack for simply living that adults can never regain.”
Christina Schwarz, The Atlantic, April 2011

I’ve resisted signing up for Dancing Dinos, T-ball, and soccer (two nights a week for an almost-first grader seems like overkill) even though they sound really fun. Sometimes I suck in my breath thinking about the vast amount of time we will have for them to ask me if they can please, please, please watch PBS or play, to field their cries of, “What can we do Mama? We’re so bored?!” as if it is an affliction.

During those times, I will invite them to Camp Boredom, where they will eventually give up asking me about TV, sulk out the back door, and swing on the swingset out back until their toes touch the branches high up in the tree; where they will see two butterflies dancing and remember the milkweed plant in the front yard and go pick off a leaf; where they will find themselves an hour later sitting by an anthill and poking a stick in the little hole at the top to see if the ants crawl aboard.

Sounds like the perfect summer camp to me. And it’s free.

Janna Brayman Krawczyk is a writer, teacher, bike freak, cross-country skier, hiker, life-lover, and ever-evolving mother blessed with two children, a husband, and incredible network of friends in Minneapolis. She writes the blog Our Stories, Our Lives.

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