The Beautiful Art of Boredom

Boredom is just the reverse side of fascination: both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to the other.  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

“Daaaaaaaaaad…I’m bored.”

Yep. With the winter holidays finally seeing its end, this has been audible a few times over the past two days. It is, of course, a very common, and as recent research supports, a very natural part of being human. As I type and shout over my shoulder, “That’s a good thing, honey. What are you going to do about it?” And followed by, “You could check your ‘busy beaver’ files [a recipe box that contains over 50 different ideas to combat boredom that resides in an easily accessible kitchen drawer].”

[from across the room in a somewhat disappointed voice] “OK…thanks, dad.”

A quick Google search reveals hundreds of blog posts and nearly 40 years of research links revealing the benefits of being bored. Everything from being the birthplace of much of our creativity; to developing one’s own mindfulness; to fostering greater appreciation and gratitude for what we have. All are important, whole-child developmental elements, so often neglected (and rarely demonstrated) in our homes and in schools by teachers and parents, alike. And our home is no exception.

There has been much published about the beauty and purpose of boredom including a Boredom Proneness Scale. Yep, you can measure you propensity for malaise and boredom. And researchers haven’t fully agreed on a single definition and characteristics of what it means to be bored. Some have even identified five different types of boredom. Philosophers have even gotten into the action with their calls to arms about the necessity of boredom. Even the greater thinkers, artists, and creators of modern times believe in the importance of boredom.

Simply put, being bored is good thing and we shouldn’t fear. We shouldn’t worry about it. And most importantly, we can (as parents and teachers) embrace and model it. From writing, to reading, to playing the guitar to simply sitting on the couch with a cup of  my favourite reishi/chaga tea. I do my best to share when “I’m bored” and model how I’m going to address (or not address) my temporary malaise. More frequently, when I am approached with, “Dad, I’m bored and there’s nothing to do…” recognizing that I’m being asked to solve their dilemma, I have adopted a new practice: I simply stop whatever it is I’m doing, face my child, nod, and say “And that’s OK [enter child’s name], I know you’ll find something to do. You always do.”

Boredom is a choice. Like tardiness. Or interrupting.  ~Mike Rowe

At our school, we have a forty-five minute passions time that all students devote time to do whatever they feel they want to do. Well, there is some scaffolding and nearly 70% have a community mentor. Think Google’s 20% time. Selected passions included self-directed learning to code, game design (most are using Scratch), visual arts through drawing and painting. A pair of students completed a wonderfully written short story; another pair are learning archery; a small group of students have dropped into carving; three are engaging in woodworking; another learning organic chemistry; still another was dedicated to replicating numerous simple chemical experiments. And a trio of musicians even came together to learn and perform a Coldplay song.

A result of Rosie’s passion time: a cardboard doll house.

Of course, after all of the planning and resources brought to bare to support Passions time, there was a small group of students that claimed to not have a passion (or a field of interest) or found their ‘thing’. Our response? See my ‘boredom beater’ practice above.

Which, as an educator, raises some pedagogical and accountability questions: Do we allow our students to be bored during the school day? Are we negligent if we don’t fill their day with activities in the name of learning? And while we run our kids from gym to math and languages and socials and  science (oh, and don’t forget art, drama, music) are we missing out on opportunities for creativity? For 20% time? For boredom?

Recently, my teaching partner and I met with each of our 48 students in our program to outline their new passions time for the upcoming term set to begin in January. At the time of this writing a fully 75% of the students have committed and organized for this daily piece. The other 25%? These might be cases of boredom. We can only hope.

In a strange way, I feel like we need to cultivate more boredom in our lives: like, boredom needs to be okay again. It needs to be seen as a good thing, and I think it’s definitely a good thing for relationships.  ~Mark Manson

And finally, one pedagogical pillar of any quality teacher-training program involves the importance of sharing one’s learning with others. And that’s where our highly valued ‘celebration of learning’ evening for families plays a pivotal role in the Passions time. Learners share their passions, what they’re working on. It feeds personal accountability and empowerment. In front of parents. In front of the community. In front of each other. We desire our learners to move from boredom to passion to learning to celebration of their learning.


A beautiful thing.

And if we’re not careful, it might actually prove to be a valued commodity of learning.




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