How (and why) to teach your kids to entertain themselves
Montessori Teacher, Christina Clemer, talks about why it’s important to allow your child to feel boredom. Magical things will come of it.
In contrast to what most experts say about ideal class sizes and student-teacher ratios, Maria Montessori wrote that Montessori classes should be large with a limited number of adults.
This may sound odd, but it’s because Montessori education heavily emphasizes independence and too many adults can mean too much interference.
This is one reason it can be so hard to help our children become independent, and to learn how to entertain themselves at home. We are often easily accessible and will find ourselves playing with and entertaining our children all of the time, but this may not be best thing for anybody.
Helping your child learn how to entertain herself fosters both his independence and creativity. If a child is entertained every waking hour, he never experiences the kind of harmless boredom that allows her to discover her passions.
It is often in the “boring” times when children become the most creative, when they come up with the wildest stories and most interesting games. Children need this time when nothing is happening, when they’re “so bored,” to discover the power of their own imaginations.
But how do we give them this opportunity? Here are six things to try.
- Give her time alone
It’s natural to want to spend your limited time at home playing with your child, soaking up her precious childhood. But it’s also important to give her a little time alone, or with siblings, each day. She will discover that she’s okay when you’re not there and that she doesn’t always need you to play with her.
- Wait to respond
As long as she is safe, don’t always respond to your child right away. Perhaps she has been lost in her imagination for 20 minutes and now she wants you to play. Tell her you’re almost ready, or you’re going to finish whatever it is you’re doing and then will be available. This will gradually stretch the amount of time she’s comfortable entertaining herself.
- Be accessible, but look unavailable
You can be in the same room as your child, accessible to him if he needs you, but not completely available. Try sitting in his room and reading a book or writing out a to-do list while he plays. Having something you’re physically working on signals to the child that you’re not available for play. This is especially useful if your child is at an age where he cannot safely be left alone.
- Include him in the community
A new baby is so precious and so completely adorable, it can be hard not to just sit and stare at him, to drop everything whenever he’s awake. This habit often continues as a child grows.
Children naturally want to be part of the family community though. They learn from watching us do things around the house and interact with each other. It’s okay to do work while your child plays nearby. You’re not ignoring her, you’re allowing her into your world and showing her what adults do.
- Embrace the boredom of waiting
Electronic devices have made it so easy to keep children entertained when waiting in line. But try, at least sometimes, to put the devices away and show them how to entertain themselves. Take turns making up stories about things you see around you. Play ‘I Spy’ or ’20 Questions’. If you have more than one child, start the game and then back out so they are the ones playing.
- Provide toys that engage, rather than entertain
Look for things they can build with, like these rainbow blocks, toys for imaginary play, like this train set, and music items like this drum. This stacking tree is great for learning color and shape variations as it can be stacked in various ways to create new tree shapes.
Arts & crafts are also great for stimulating the imagination some simple non-toxic crayons will also suffice. Simple toys, free from lights and sound effects, actively engage your child rather than passively entertaining him. This develops his creativity and imagination so he can entertain himself even when there are no toys around.
Giving children a bit of space and freedom within limits, allows them to discover the power of their own minds through creative play. It may take a few adjustments to help get them there, but it will be so worth it when you see their creativity, imagination and independence soar.