In Praise of Boredom and Daydreaming

6 Jul
The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house on that cold, cold, wet day.
I sat there with Sally. We sat there we too. And I said “How I wish we had something to do”
Too wet to go out and too cold to play ball. So we sat in the house and did nothing at all.
So all we could do was to
Sit!
Sit!
Sit!
Sit!
And we did not like it, not one little bit.
 

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss is one of my favourite children’s books. It is superficially simple but complex underneath with layers and many possible interpretations and meanings. What you take from it probably says a lot more about you than it does about the author.

One of the themes I see in The Cat in the Hat is the role of boredom in creativity. Sally and her brother are sitting at home, obviously very bored, and out of that boredom the story of an incredible cat springs forth. Like Sally’s brother (he’s never named) I spent many days of my childhood staring wistfully out of rain streaked windows (it rains a lot in Lancashire). I too became bored and from that boredom sprang daydreaming, creativity and a rich imaginative inner world. Science is now confirming what Theodor Geisel and many of us intuitively knew; boredom and daydreaming are a useful and necessary path to creative thinking.

Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler, psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara put daydreaming to the test in a 2012 study. Baird and Schooler’s research discovered that subjects were more creative if they daydreamed before tackling a creative thinking task than if they spent time thinking or did a physical task. Baird and Schooler believe that daydreaming (or “positive-constructive daydreaming” as they call it) allows us to engage in “…future planning, sorting out current concerns, cycling through different information streams, distributed learning (vs. cramming)…” as well as creativity.

Dr. Teresa Belton of the University of East Anglia researched the role of boredom in creativity by interviewing a variety of creative individuals. She concluded that boredom is “…required for the development of a capacity to generate and pursue ideas. To be creative we need time for thought, free of the bombardment of attention grabbing external stimuli to the eye and ear.” Belton encourages children who are bored to engage in creative activities rather than devices, that “tend to short-circuit the development of creative capacity”.

Over this summer vacation I hope that children have an opportunity to say “I’m bored!!” without an adult immediately trying to distract them. I hope they’re in an environment where they can’t just grab a device or turn on a screen. I hope they have the chance to sit with boredom and see what comes next, to find out what they can create on their own. The chance to be productive rather than consumptive.

This summer, and into the school year, I want kids to have the opportunity to develop their creative skills, to go through the creative process. They are growing into a world that increasingly needs and values their creativity and it’s critical that they understand the role of boredom and daydreaming in that process. As the Cat in the Hat said:

 It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how
 

4 Responses to “In Praise of Boredom and Daydreaming”

  1. katriter July 6, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    I am new to blogging. Drawn to you by The Cat in The Hat and Dr Seuss. My daughter is an educator but I have 5 grandchildren and 2 children of my own and I agree with you that being bored long enough to daydream is a really great idea. Daydreaming is becoming a lost art with the constant stimuli these days for our children. Every moment is either scheduled or use on ipads, wii, iphones, or the like. I remember being bored as a child and it forced me to use my imagination and yes, daydream.

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