I believe in the power of free play. I believe that kids should have time to dream, and to pursue their own interests. I believe that parents should try not to over-schedule their kids, to allow time for these things. I have a daughter who doesn't like to be over-scheduled, and protests when she feels like the frequency of activities is too high.
And yet. Self-entertainment is something that frequently seems elusive. My daughter is an only child. Not only that, she's an only child who for quite some time had a mother who worked from home AND had a full time nanny. She is as a result more dependent than I would like on having someone to play with her.
We recently had a free Saturday together, our first in a while. My daughter spent what seemed like the entire day either asking me to play with her (which I did, some of the time) and/or complaining because none of her friends were available to play. She would have been happy to entertain herself (if you can call it that) had I allowed her to be on her tablet all day, but this I wasn't willing to do.
She tired fairly quickly of both reading and writing, and claimed that there was nothing else that she could do on her own. My suggestions of building something with blocks or cardboard boxes, coloring, playing a one-person logic game, etc. were all rebuffed. We ended up spending a big chunk of time sorting through her outgrown clothes, making up bags for Goodwill. Which was useful, but hardly the creative play that I had in mind for her (and hardly the chance to sit quietly and read for a while that I had in mind for myself).
It's not that she never plays on her own. She likes to read, write, draw, and build things. She'll sometimes play with barbies or her stuffed animals. But she'll only do these things on her own for short periods. Then she's back with "I'm bored. What can I do?".
Playdates are a huge help, of course, and I'm grateful for every single one. But there are always going to be times when no friends are available, and I want her to be able to entertain herself. Some friends have offered advice on Facebook: knitting, quilting, sewing, personal scavenger hunts (in which the items are super hard to find). One friend, Sandhya Nankani, shared an article that she published this summer about the benefits of saying "That's fine, be bored." Sandhya is totally right, and her article is well worth a read. But I'm still struggling a bit.
I'm a pushover for buying my daughter books (of course), notebooks, and craft supplies. She has Legos and other toys coming out of her ears. Clearly it's more of a mindset than an actual lack of things to do. The bottom line is that this is something we're going to have to keep working on, little by little, building up her self-entertainment muscles. I'm determined to do this not just because I want more reading time for myself (though I do), but because I think that being able to entertain yourself is a life-long gift.
I know this is something that many parents struggle with. The tablet makes it more challenging, because she is used to being entertained by a screen. [And no, I'm not ready to get rid of the tablet altogether, though I do restrict its use, especially in the car.] Being an only child makes it more challenging, because I can't say "Go play with your sister". [And no, I'm not going to provide her with a sibling at this point.] Not living in a neighborhood where a dozen kids are out roaming around and playing outside every day makes it more challenging, compared to my own childhood. [And no, we're not moving.] But I also expect that the "I'm bored. What can I do?" refrain is timeless and near universal. [The cover image shown above supports this theory, from the picture book I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi.]
Thoughts? Suggestions? Validation? As always, I welcome your feedback.