You’ve heard it before: “I’m bored! I already know all
You’ve seen it before: Kids fidget, zone out, and harass others
— or you.
You’ve felt it before: Glassy eyes, lackluster responses —
your kids are bored, bored, bored!
Most churches today strive to engage kids. Still, kids say — and
we see — that they’re bored.
Think about your day. What bores you?
Waiting at the doctor’s office?
Sitting through a meeting that doesn’t apply to your work?
Standing in line at the grocery store?
What’s boring for a child?
Listening to an adult correct someone else?
Listening to a sermon that uses big words?
Practicing the piano?
Not finding any friends online?
It’s true — whenever we’re not engaged in an activity, we get
bored. So what’s a teacher to do to keep kids from getting bored?
How do you transform your ideas and lessons so they captivate kids?
Is there a way to eliminate kids’ boredom? The answer is yes — but
first we must understand why kids say they’re bored.
Engage the Disengaged
In The Dirt On Learning video training series, a teacher
tells the story of Mary and baby Jesus. She reads from a picture
book that’s visible to her alone and written in King James English
of 1611. Viewers can discern the clear signs of boredom among the
kids. One girl picks dirt from her fingernails. A boy fidgets with
his coat. Another boy doodles randomly, choosing to engage in
something rather than endure the monotony. The kids are passive
while the teacher — though well-intentioned — is losing
Does time drag while you’re at Disneyland? Do you feel slighted
when an entertaining movie ends sooner than you’d like? Activities
that engage us and give us meaningful interaction cause the clock
to speed. Grab kids’ attention and get them engaged with these
Help kids understand biblical events and teachings by applying them
to their real lives. How?
- Know the main point yourself! Teach one thing, not several
disconnected truths. Focus on practical help for kids’ lives.
- Form smaller groups than normal so you can actually listen as
children process information and apply it.
- Coach through kids’ roadblocks by offering suggestions or
prompting them with helpful hints. Roadblocks come from kids who’ve
heard it all — and thus have built immunity to just how
interesting God’s truth is to their lives today.
Involve everyone-not just a select few who happen to be listening
— in the lesson. How?
- Recognize that kids think faster than you speak. Therefore get
them to read and pray and ask their neighbor a question.
- Avoid demonstrations and show-and-tell activities. Get all kids
involved in your lesson by letting them experience it — not by
telling them about it. Even when a story is familiar, kids perk up
if they get to be vitally involved in it.
- Listen while kids act out the key tension in the story or
lesson. When the key tension comes — that place where meaning
meets a child’s world — it’s critical to observe whether a child
gets it. If you see blank looks, hear answers or conversation
unrelated to your topic, or sense that a child is disconnected, the
child may not understand. If boredom is simply bluster for lack of
understanding, then adjust your delivery or accommodate the child
by using some other compelling delivery method.
- Use quality, contemporary video clips or music to illustrate
the lesson. Kids live in a media-driven world; it’s a language they
speak. So use media and music intentionally, sparingly, and with
- Enhance your lessons with articles, atlases, Internet
connections, or interesting people to encourage kids’ curiosity and
Children who think they’ve seen it all or who are unwilling
participants can be bored by our best attempts at originality and
stimulation. A child who chooses not to participate makes the
choice to miss out. Over the years, I’ve seen teachers get so
worked up over a child who won’t engage that they overlook the kids
who are engaged. This kind of reaction by adults prevents the
logical consequence to a child who willfully ignores an opportunity
to have a great time and learn.
For preschool and early elementary kids, isolation is nearly
unbearable, and they isolate themselves when they withdraw from
participation. A young child who’s isolated by his or her behavior
may make noise to regain attention, or he or she may sit and sulk
for a while. Eventually, though, young children often want to
engage in learning because they want to belong with peers and have
a good time. So when you find yourself facing a young child’s
boredom, don’t overreact. Gently invite the child to rejoin the
group, and say that everyone wants him or her to have fun, too. If
a child remains withdrawn, though, you can provide activities he or
she can do alone or pair the child with an adult volunteer.
Older elementary and preteen children who choose to disengage
probably won’t be impacted by isolation, so separating them from
the group isn’t your best solution. Instead, try giving kids who
say they’re bored responsibility and leadership positions. It may
be the last thing they’re expecting, but challenges such as these
often erase their symptoms of boredom.
Break the Monotony
This past Christmas I observed our 5-year-olds as the teacher
talked about what happened at the first Christmas. She used some
visual aids-an easel with flannel graph figures. What caught my
attention wasn’t her storytelling — it was the children’s
The teacher described how difficult it was for Mary to ride the
donkey all that way because of its bony back. She shared how tired
Mary and Joseph were when they reached Bethlehem.
“Why was she tired?” blurted one indignant boy. “She got to ride a
donkey the whole way!”
While I stifled laughter, the teacher went on, undeterred by this
interruption. In fact, she “shushed” the boy, then pointed out that
there was no room in Bethlehem because it was so crowded.
“Like the new Wal-Mart!” another boy chimed in. An amazing
observation if you think about it-but the teacher single-mindedly
pushed on with her story. She placed a flannel graph manger and
talked about how it was a feed trough — not a bed-where baby Jesus
lay. The teacher gave up when yet another boy wanted to know, “How
did the baby come out?”
Now stop right there! Look at these 5-year-old “interrupters” and
observe what they’re doing. They’re learning. But because their
responses-and let’s face it, preschoolers love to respond — were
shut down, ignored, or scolded, they became bored.
Monotony is what happens when we disregard kids’ interests and
instead focus on how we want to teach. Kids learn in different
ways, and they process things differently. Introducing variety into
the classroom — through varied teaching methods, learning
opportunities, and individual interaction — engages kids and
captures their attention. We each have innate capacities that help
us learn. Those capacities (appointed by God) are unique and
require classrooms to provide learning opportunities so each child
in the classroom can engage.
Look at it this way: A trip to the antique store for one person may
be the entire point of a Saturday afternoon. For another, it’s the
definition of dullness. The key is to provide options that engage
all learners rather than those that are only fun to the teacher.
- Provide options simultaneously rather than consecutively. Staff
multisensory areas of your room with small group leaders who can
- Provide controlled options for children to rotate through or
stay put. Staff areas with enthusiastic people who’ll be
cheerleaders for kids who tend toward boredom.
No amount of teacher-produced enthusiasm or smiles will make a
child who hates coloring like it. Likewise, no amount of rewards or
bribes will get another child to enjoy acting out a role if he or
she is repelled by that form of learning. Reach kids according to
their unique designs.
Rx for Affluenza
There’s another cause of boredom that’s unique to our modern
culture. It’s the issue of excess.
Bruce Barry designed our facility at Shadow Mountain. It’s rich in
visual variety and contemporary cuteness. Over the
between-the-floors-slide stands a mechanical bear holding a large
stone with a rope. The bear moves back and forth to keep the stone
from dropping on those below as he greets people. You’ll see the
same type of thing in the ride Pirates of the Caribbean at
Disneyland where the mechanical pirates raise and lower a barrel
over those riding the boat. Okay, fun, right? But for my welcome
crew — who listens to the bear-holding-a-rock every Sunday morning
— it’s monotonous and deadening. They’d like to turn off the bear.
Too much of a good thing results in another form of boredom:
affluenza! It’s something we see in the headlines every day: The
self-destructive lifestyles of some actors and rich-and-famous
result primarily from a boredom that comes from having too much of
everything. Since many of our children get precisely whatever it is
they desire, we’re often faced with the dilemma of the
ever-increasing push to impress.
But even in an atmosphere of excess, there are still things kids
crave that never change and don’t become tiresome. Capitalize on
these kid cravings to keep your classroom boredom-free.
Play-Play never gets old, does it? In a former
ministry, we practiced a drama with kids all over the world.
Wherever we were, one thing was the same: Kids got tired and bored
after three hours of practice. When we gave them a 15-minute break,
what did they do? sit, rest, or catch a nap? Hardly! They wanted to
run and play. Five minutes earlier they complained of exhaustion,
but they now had energy in abundance.
Introduce play into your classroom with:
- Block activities where building becomes a creative outlet and
application tool for lessons.
- Painting activities where great gobs of goo get children
engaged and moving.
- Kitchen areas where kids can practice lesson applications while
they pretend to make dinner or play house.
- Dress up area where costumes, mirrors, and a stage help kids
- Science area where experiments (mechanical or visual) and
exploring God’s creation are the focus.
- Sort-and-count area where kids can practice the important (and
fun) skills God gave them.
Friends-Kids spend as much time with their friends
as they can. When I see kids bring a friend to church, I can almost
guarantee that this Sunday, they won’t be bored. We can be a wet
blanket on this one when we separate children. Encourage
friendships. Use activities that acquaint kids. Focus on building
relationships with your group and between your group members.
Relationships-My kids would rather drive than fly
to a far-away destination. Why? My kids like spending that time in
the car with my wife and me, and driving means more time. My
initial instinct is to think that longer time in the car equals
more opportunity for boredom, but my kids see this differently.
They see the chance to connect with their family. So nurture your
relationships with kids, and equip them to nurture their own
relationships. Kids who feel connected to you and each other are
less likely to become bored in the relationship vacuum.
Keith Johnson is the author of Take-Out Training for
Teachers and Teacher Training on the Go (Group Publishing,
Inc.), and is a pastor to children at Shadow Mountain Community
El Cajon, California.
Often boredom translates into kids’ less-than-stellar behavior
choices. You can curb boredom-onset behavior problems with these
helpful discipline tips.
Discernment-Move on to new activities when
kids’ interest is fading.
Interest-Select stories, songs, and activities
that build on kids’ interests.
Silence-Alternate active and quiet times to avoid
monotony and to give kids a wiggle outlet.
Compassion-Children are children, not adults.
Children learn more from compassion than punishment.
Imagination-Ignite kids’ imaginations and help
grow their faith through engaging, exciting classroom
Prayer-Guide children to pray with confidence.
Help them learn that prayer is their constant connection to
Love-Know your children. See and hear what they’re
saying, doing, learning, and feeling.
Identify-Describe your behavior standards. Applaud
kids’ efforts to uphold those standards.
Nurture-Keep kids safe, healthy, whole, and happy
while in your care.
Enthusiasm-Love what you teach.