What to Do When Kids Say, “I’m Bored!”
Published: January 10, 2013
You’ve heard it before: “I’m bored! I already know all this!”
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
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 them.
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 tips.
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 excellence.
- Enhance your lessons with articles, atlases, Internet connections, or interesting people to encourage kids’ curiosity and questions.
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 responses.
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.
Be Flexible in Teaching
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. How?
- Provide options simultaneously rather than consecutively. Staff multisensory areas of your room with small group leaders who can guide discussion.
- 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. Or worse.
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 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 make believe.
- 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.
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.
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.).
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