In Defense of Boredom


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After a romantic getaway unexpectedly turned into a family vacation, thoughts of a five-hour drive filled me with dread. Images of adult conversation and NPR quickly turned into cries of “I need to go potty,” and “Are we there yet?” For a very brief moment, the idea of borrowing a friend’s portable DVD player seemed appealing; however, I decided against it.

Portable DVD players are on my list of things that bug me. For one thing, since when are children incapable of behaving and having to entertain themselves in a backseat for a few hours? And for another, too many people use DVD players as a “pacifier” while they’re running 15-minute errands.

I think more than anything, it’s a fear of boredom. We’re afraid our kids will be bored and whiny, and we’re afraid we’ll become bored and agitated. After all, a screaming fit from the backseat as I drive through heavy traffic on I-40 is one of my least favorite vacation activities, but perhaps we underestimate our children. Maybe a little boredom is what we need.

First of all, kids won’t die from it, and neither will we. Secondly, if you want to encourage a kid’s creativity, critical thinking, reading or general conversation skills, a few hours in the car are a great opportunity. Here are a few ideas to keep the “I’m bored” refrain out of your next road trip.

*Books: My husband and I both recall long car rides with our favorite books. For school age children, this is an easy one. We often make a special trip to the library before vacation to pick out completely new books for the ride. For my six year old, this often includes beautifully illustrated picture books that can be “read” simply by looking at the pictures. For proficient readers, this is an opportunity for them to read to themselves or younger siblings. We’ve even picked up chapter books that can be read by one parent as the other drives. It’s a great way to introduce your children to literary classics or your own childhood favorites. And for toddlers, colorful board books will keep the younger reader happy as the miles fly by.

One of our favorite read-aloud books is Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children by William F. Russell.

*Audio books: If reading aloud is not your thing, you can always check out the latest audio book from the local library. Most libraries carry children’s tapes and CDs, and they can certainly get them for you if they don’t. Audio books are a nice break for mom and dad, and they can be played on the car player for everyone to hear, or you can let your child have his or her own portable CD player. You can pick one of these up for $10 at Wal-Mart.

Our six year old loves hers and carries her very own CD case, which includes a bizarre mix of princess stories, nursery rhymes, kid songs, girl bands of the 1960’s and mouse detective stories.

Although it requires some screening on your part, adult audio books are another option. It’s a great way to introduce your child to the vast collection of classic literature available to them. Older kids might enjoy some of the stories of Ray Bradbury or Mark Twain, and even younger grade school kids can appreciate Greek mythology and the stories of O. Henry.

*”Old School” Toys: In the shadow of Wii and Playstation, low-tech toys may seem obsolete, but most kids I know still love the classics. Invest in an Etch-a-Sketch, a ViewMaster (with a variety of disks), magnet boards, and card games. Even my two year old can flip the lever on the ViewMaster, turn the knobs of the Etch-a-Sketch, and name the letters of the alphabet when his sister shows him her flash cards. They’ve even been known to make up their own games with letter and number cards.

*Stop for Lunch: If you’re traveling with kids, plan on stopping for a picnic lunch. On this particular trip, we got off the beaten path somewhere in South Carolina and found, quite unexpectedly, the South Carolina Train Transportation Museum. Although it was closed when we got there, that didn’t stop the volunteer who was there from showing the kids the trains, teaching us how to change the signals and use the track switches and allowing us to unload our cooler and have a picnic on a blanket right there on the grounds.

Not only did our two year old spend some time examining one of his favorite things on earth, we also saved money and unnecessary or empty calories by not eating fast food. Even rest stop picnic areas can be fun when you’re six.

*Conversation: You want to know your kids? Spend a few hours in a cramped car with them. What better way to connect to your children than to talk to them? Most kids love to hear stories about “when you were little,” and all of them like to talk about themselves. Tell stories, practice jokes, and ask questions. The time will fly in unexpectedly wonderful ways.

While our vacation didn’t turn out as we had originally planned, we ended up spending a very relaxing week at the beach with the loves of our life. And best of all, we all survived the trip there and back.

Stacey Libbert is a mother of two in Elkin, N.C. In addition to her busy schedule teaching at Surry Community College and taking care of her family, she also finds time to write and edit for a variety of publications.

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