There’s an old saying that goes,”Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” Or workshop or something like that. The point is that if one is not busy, one will get into trouble. Perhaps it is this way of thinking that has spawned the kids’ craft industry and the untold number of websites and Pinterest pages devoted to making things with popsicle sticks, paper plates, and toilet paper rolls.
I’m not knocking kids’s crafts. I’ve done my fair share of crafting with my kids. My children and I have melted crayons to make Christmas ornaments. We’ve glued rice and pinto beans to particle board to fashion works of art. We’ve strung macaroni necklaces, and made our own play doh. Quite frankly, I’m sick to death all of it. Really, I’d rather glue popsicle sticks to my eyebrows than to ever make anything else involving pipe cleaners again. Ever.
Sure, when I happen across a Pinterest page featuring a cute picture of some happy children posing (usually in a suspiciously clean kitchen) with their latest creations, I feel a little twinge of guilt, but then I remember my own childhood. I had an absolutely marvelous childhood, and I don’t recall my mother ever doing crafts with us – except for that time my grandmother bought me Shrinky Dinks. My mother didn’t craft with us, not because she was lazy or lacked creativity. She didn’t craft with us because we were outside. Or reading. Or playing a game. She didn’t craft with us because it wasn’t her job to entertain us.
But today’s moms are different. We are afraid to let our kids get bored, as if bored kids are somehow the sign of a slacker mother. We supposedly encourage creativity by buying them craft supplies, toys, and electronics. We take them on outings to museums, amusement parks, and water slides. We want to have happy kids, and we want to be good mothers, so we entertain them or we buy things to entertain them. We keep them busy.
But here’s the thing. I’m starting to think that all the activities and all the stuff might just be turning our kids into consumers of fun rather than creators of it. And the fact is, it is a lot easier to consume than it is to create. It’s easier for kids, and in some ways it’s easier for moms too. Sure entertaining our kids takes up our time and our money, but it keeps those idle little hands busy. We stay in control. Letting them entertain themselves, on the other hand is messy. It’s messy and risky and often annoying.
I don’t want a mess and I don’t want to be annoyed. But I also don’t want kids who don’t know how to make their own fun. I want kids who are having a happy childhood, not because I am manufacturing one for them, but because I am helping them to create one. So I let my kids get bored. I wait for it. I welcome the boredom. When I hear, “Mom, I’m bored!” I know that the magic is about to happen. Because sometimes idle hands aren’t the devil’s playground. They are the artist’s inspiration, the musicians instrument’s, or the builder’s tools.
Here are some things my kids and nephews did last summer because when they said, “We’re bored.” I said, “So, what are you going to do about it?”
1. They formed a band. Believe me, listening to Queen’s We Will Rock You accompanied by a stockpot and an old recorder is not my idea of a relaxing summer afternoon, but I was really committed to letting them entertain themselves.
2. They wrote and acted out plays. Okay, so Chet’s play was entitled A Murderer Named Slit, but at least they were creating. And there was a bartender named Barrel who served my seven year old nephew pretend whiskey but a little pretend whiskey never hurt anyone.
3. The fought. Kids fight. It’s annoying, but along with not entertaining them, another service I do not provide is referee service.
4. They made pillow forts. Ha! I wish. What they really did was pull all the cushions off all the furniture and made barricades to protect themselves from flying Nerf darts. But hey! At least it was live simulated violence and not electronic simulated violence.
5. They played Mad Scientist. This one really wasn’t as creative as it sounds. They just used this game as an excuse to mix together a bunch of different soft drinks and juices to see how they would taste. I believe this is what we 70’s and 80’s kids called a suicide. It was fun then. It’s fun now.
6. They fought.
7. They built a stuffed animal city. Just when I thought it was safe to start pitching out the stuffed animals, they found another use for them! Dang!
8. They spied on the big kids. Letting them entertain themselves was not only a pain in the neck for me.
9. They fought.
10. They played outside. What did they play? I don’t know. Something with toy guns and maybe some swords. I peaked out the window now and then. But my policy on outdoor play is that as long as no one is bleeding or on fire, it’s best to keep them out as long as possible. Somehow checking on them seems to draw them back in. It’s as if they are stuck out there until I appear in the doorway and then they remember how to reenter the house. I like to postpone reentry as long as possible.
11. They sat in the shade. What do a seven, nine and ten year old boy talk about under the shade of a big magnolia tree? I would love to know – but not enough to risk reentry.
12. They caught crawdads. So, I talk big about letting them entertain themselves, but this one is hard for the helicopter mom in me. The creek is not far – just below the house. And it’s not deep -mid-calf deep at the most. But there are snakes. And slippery rocks they could fall on and knock themselves out and drown. I struggled with letting them go alone. But I talked myself down of the what-if ledge, and we compromised. I gave them walkie talkies. Cool for them. Peace of mind for me. I also slipped down to the creek and did a little spying of my own.Cousins and Crawdads
As it turns out, these kids are pretty good at entertaining themselves, but one of the keys is for me to back off. It isn’t easy. They make messes. They get loud. They get into fights. And I don’t get to hover over tidying up and taking pictures. But I think it’s worth it. In fact, I’m sure of it. They are having a childhood full of simple pleasures, and that’s worth a few messes. Let the summer begin!
The original version of this post appeared here in 2013. My kids are still getting bored and still finding loud and messy ways to entertain themselves.