Wide Open Days

There is something very special about bright and warm spring days spent almost entirely outdoors. Taking advantage of wake-up temperatures already in the 60s, we headed outside early with a fully stocked picnic basket, books, and a plan to spend most of the day playing outdoors, in nature.

We spent a long while in a quiet corner of nearby Harvard Yard. My littlest one napped in the fresh air while the big kids climbed trees, played hide-and-seek in the shrubs, and made up their own creative games underneath shady branches and in hidden corners in front of old buildings.

While picnicking, we said hello to a passing acquaintance and her children. She remarked that she had been neglectful in not planning well for this April school vacation week and was seeking ways to fill their days to stave off boredom. As I write this week about "natural learning" ahead of Sunday's Earth Day celebration, this conversation reminded me of a fantastic quote in Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods: "We need to draw an important distinction between a constructively bored mind and a negatively numbed mind. Constructively bored kids eventually turn to a book, or build a fort, or pull out the paints (or the computer art program) and create, or come home sweaty from a game of neighborhood basketball."

As parents, we can sometimes be overly-focused on making sure our children's days are fully enriched with dynamic classes and activities to keep them from being bored, when, in fact, boredom--and the important ability to overcome it independently--can be an even greater lesson for our children. I think that if we parents can overcome our anxiety about our children's potential boredom and unstructured time, then we will see that children have an amazing talent for making their own play, for finding interesting ways to occupy themselves, for unleashing their imagination -- especially outside, in the natural world, on warm, wide open April days.

Louv reminds us how important it is to understand and embrace boredom. He states: "Most of all, children need adults who understand the relationship between boredom and creativity, adults willing to spend time in nature with kids, adults willing to set the stage so that kids can create their own play and enter nature through their own imagination." There is so much to do on these wide open April days, so much nature to explore, so many trees to climb, so many opportunities to create, to wonder, to dream.