Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Does Boredom give birth to creativity? (and Provocations)

I have seen that this image and quote going round facebook recently... but its not the first time that I have seen boredom and creativity being put together... and yes I have kind of said it myself too... but is it boredom that creates creativity or is it that we as adults should not be afraid of the phrase "I'm bored" ? Because, when I have given myself the time to think, and rethink... really they are two very different things...

Being bored is not the most creative state to be in - but having unscheduled time and space to allow children (people in general really) to get creative is different - and maybe we should start thinking more about the word "BORED" and what does it mean.

If I am a child at school and I am bored and I have to sit through boring lessons, and I am expected to listen and pay attention... I hardly think that it is going to increase my creativity... in fact there is the HUGE risk that it is going to have the opposite effect... it will demotivate.

This is quite the opposite of summer - when emptying the days of activities decided and lead by adults gives the time to the children to GET CREATIVE - to start thinking about what THEY can do... the potential of the things around them... and in the beginning when children are not used to thinking for themselves, when they are used to having their time filled by others (school, afterschool activities, clubs etc etc) then at first there is the risk of the children saying "I'm bored".

I don't think they are really bored... they just don't know what to do... and maybe what we as adults need to do is not interpret the children as bored as the children are saying but that these children need  more space to practice filling their own time.

I like rest time for children... not only does it allow children the time to sleep if their body and minds need it.. but it gives children (all people) the time to feel comfortable with their own thoughts... to explore their own thoughts - to develop their creativity...

While I was in Canada I got talking with Diane Kashin and some others about "Provocations" -
are they really provoking thought in the children - or are they filling time? Are they an opportunity for creativity or are they the product of teacher creativity on the children's behalf? I have no answers, I am just thinking and rethinking... have some provocations become a glorified template where the activity is pre-selected by the teacher (the colours, the resources, the material, the topic etc etc) and all the children need to do is sit down and do it as they would have if colouring in a pre-made picture, or filling in a worksheet? How is the balance of thinking... are the children doing enough? Is there scope for the children to develop the provocation - to be creative - and is there documentation as to why that provocation has been put out... what is it that is being provoked - and afterwards was it successful as that kind of provocation... or did it provoke something else?

Instead of provocations on the table etc... could children be provoked by emptying their schedule...

I did that with a group of 24 seven to eight year olds once... we sat together at the start of the session and let them know that for the whole afternoon no toys or equipment was to be used in their play. That was all that I said. They sat there "bored" not moving for ten minutes at least just complaining... then one got up and asked if some others wanted to play - and they started role-play games, chase games in the outdoor area (as they could freely move in and outside) and the following 3-4 hours were filled with amazing collaborative play - and the children went home happy - some even saying it was the best day ever...

I had to be prepared that the children would just sit there in silence and whine for the whole afternoon... and some sat there longer than others until the laughter and play drew them off the meeting sofas and into the creative play. I was not afraid of the children having nothing to do, I was not afraid of them going home and saying they had been bored - because in the end I knew - I knew, I believed in their competence - that they would be able to fill time with their imaginations... either sitting or playing together.

I handed over TIME to the children, something I think children seldom get to have power over, for one reason or another...

So no, I don't think boredom is essential but I do think TIME - unfilled time for the children to fill themselves is. I also believe that when children exclaim  "I'm bored" it often means that they have not been given enough time to think through the possibilities... or enough practice at filling their own time

allowing children to just sit and watch... and sometimes someone else will want to come and sit and observe too

allowing children the space to go off and sit a little distance from the group to collect thoughts and to reflect on the sky, the clouds, the trees, the play - on life... (aren't zooms marvelous?)


  1. Thanks for making me think and rethink ;)

  2. Great post! I agree - time would be a more useful word than bored to use.

    1. let's hope that it encourages more tachers and parents to give children the time they need to get creative

  3. Our children seem to fall (for the most part) on one of two groups. Group one is comprised of children whose parents fill much of their time with activities, playdates, sports, groups, on and on... They often have difficulty with self-direction, creativity, self-satisfaction...a diminished ability to just 'be'. Group two is comprised of children whose parents don't engage with them in a different way. They are left to electronic devices, present but unengaged parents... While they are stronger self-starters (for the most part), they often have difficulty with self-expression, social problem-solving... Time is such a precious commodity! The well-rounded 'whole' child is that child who is given the time to 'be' with the support of the present and engaged 'responsive' parent and educator. Fading in and fading out and always nearby. Thank you for sharing your insightful perspective. Jocelyne Brent

    1. I agree, too much time without adult scaffolding is not optimal either...
      it is always a balance... and that balance will be unique for each child...

      thank you for your thoughtful and valuable feedback

  4. Your work always challenges my own practice for the better! I'm thankful and grateful for your continued inspiration

  5. I believe that creativity is a mindset and different in each child.
    My own children were all creative in different ways,with a unique and individual ability for lateral thinking,that enhanced their problem solving.
    One was wonderful at building with Lego,without a plan,another amazing in amateur theatre and my daughter too.
    All were positive thinkers,confident and social ,from an early age. None of them ever said they were bored,to me at least,I do not ever hear my grandchildren say it either,

    1. I so agree Vivian... creativity is something that goes across the board... socially creative, mathematically creative, creative in cooking, creative in solving problems, creative with building, creative with.... it is so much more than art... and yet the word is nearly always exclusively used or associated with that...

      I truly believe that if you give children time they will fill it themselves, and do that confidently... the sad thing is we barely give ourselves time, never mind the children...

      Only my son will say he is bored... but really he is saying "I want to play computer games" - but he always fills his time once I have given him enough to think through there are others things to do
      (my son has autism, so sometimes is feels a long and negative time before he manages to do that, and he can get angry with me too... but I KNOW that he can fill time with all sorts of amazing and creative things... and he does!
      It is about believing... and standing ground... and that is not always easy!! Some have it easier than others... and children who are used to computer games or adults filling their time will need support at first in how to fill their time and to train up that creative muscle again...

  6. Agreed! I also wrote this on 'boredom'
    four years ago..