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Doing nothing?

Part of children being able to create and think critically is that they should be given the opportunity to be reflective. This gives them time to make connections and create.  To foster this practitioners should, at times, stand back and allow children to be quiet in their play, as this can be an indication that they are thinking, processing information and planning their next steps in their play.

I remember this thought provoking anecdote from Vivian Hill, Director of Educational Psychology Training at the Institute of Education when she recalled the time she was called into a school to assess a four year old boy in the nursery department who spent his whole time day-dreaming, head in hands and looking out of the window. “His teachers were worried. I asked him what he was thinking about. ‘I wonder why it’s harder to pedal uphill than down?’ he replied.  He was thinking about elementary physics.” ~ The Sunday Times, August 2005

Vivian’s recollection links into this recently published article from BBC online education. I totally agree with the academics in this article that we should indeed allow children to be ‘bored’. One of the academics in this report Dr Belton said ‘children needed time to stand and stare.’  Although, me being me, I wouldn’t use the term ‘bored’. I would say we need to allow children to reflect, recharge and reinvent! This is what a quality setting incorporates during the day for children.

Image Copyright of Laura Henry Consultancy ©  Please do not copy without permission. 

So, within our settings, do we give children the time to be quietly reflective if they so wish to be so? How do we sensitively explore their ideas and suggestions? How do we give children the opportunity to own their creative ideas? How do you celebrate this within your setting?

Lastly, it is OK for children to be quiet and to have thinking time. You never know they could be the next Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey!

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  • psw260259

    So true Laura – I can remember as a child lying under my swing looking up at the clouds and thinking – no one bothered me, no one said would you like me to push you on the swing or why don’t you ……I was just allowed that time to think – I won’t say ‘do nothing’ because I was actually being very busy within my head!

    I think children today have so much of their time planned for them both within early years settings and schools and at home, that they are so busy taking part in all the activities, that they don’t have time to reflect, they don’t have time for their brains to store the information, to make those all important connections with other bits of information in their heads.

    In my setting I don’t plan the children’s day – as in activity after activity, I plan the environment so that they can then actively decide what it is they want to do and how they want to do it. Yesterday one of the children wanted to ‘dance’ so I put on a CD of actions songs and ring games. One child danced as if on a pony to every song, one child lay on her back appearing not to be engaging but careful observation showed she was listening (and therefore thinking) and would when she wanted to, join in with some of the actions from her flat on the floor position, one child did follow the actions as per the cd, and the fourth child kept talking about various related things from her experience – so during Mulberry Bush song – about how she had cleaned her teeth at home – including what mummy had said about doing the top and bottom teeth, how she did not want mummy to wash her face, in another song how she danced to this at ballet class. I wonder if in a more structured and planned setting if the children would have been encouraged to join in and to follow all the actions as per the cd – especially the child lying on her back appearing to do nothing?

    • laurachildcare

      Indeed, Penny. Hence, the title, some adults think children are ‘doing nothing’ if they ‘stand still and stare.’
      You are right children have to many activities and experiences planned for them, within settings and out of settings. There is still too much over planning taking place, within settings and at home at times parents taking their children here, there and everywhere!

  • Katie

    Fab blog entry, and so true. There is so much pressure for children to have a balance of activities across the 7 areas or a range of environments focusing on the continuous provision of the Early Years setting but we don’t allow children to have reflection time or space to just be.

    I would love to offer more free play / self initiated activities but I fear Ofsted will look at me and say I’ve not done anything to support the children’s individual needs / next steps / interests.

    • laurachildcare

      Thanks, Katie.

      Regarding Ofsted, you should have confidence to be able to communicate to them what you are doing is linked to the 7 areas and development matters. Central to this you have identified children’s starting points, tracked their learning and development and planned uniquely for their next steps.

      In fact, taking this approach Ofsted should praise you for being child centred. Focus on the children and don’t worry what Ofsted think, as the children will not be worrying! As long as it is quality and children are making progress, you will have nothing to worry about!

  • Naomi Richards (@thekidscoach)

    I love boredom – it breeds creativity and fun. My children often say they are bored – it means I need to just not go to them but let them find something to do

  • riff

    As a child i remember being bored and now after reading this article and reflecting i miss it. We live in a very fast moving lives, with work, school, homework, after school activities……and so forget to slow down and relax and often pull our children along with this pace. I worry that we are not giving them enough chill time. If being bored means relaxing and slowing down then i love the idea.

  • laurachildcare

    Thanks, Riff. So important that we allow children the time to relax and slow down.

  • Laura Leigh Davies

    No child or person can be expected to be on the go all day, play is work and work is hard and tirering. Sometimes we just need to stop, reflect, catch a breath and relax to allow the new thought provoking question or idea make its way to the forefront of our mind so we can explore it with as much energy and enthusiasm as we can. So important for spaces for relaxing and reflecting are in our settings indoors and out. “Boredom” creates creativity…. embrace it we must 🙂

  • Susan McGhee

    Love this piece Laura. I feel so strongly that quiet time to reflect, imagine and just be themselves is vital for our children yet so many people are scared of it and over plan children’s lives. Let’s spread the word…sometimes doing nothing is truly the best possible thing to be doing. PS. I also believe the same applies to us as adults and as a nation we need to place more value on chill time. Xx

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