Every evening, my younger son returns home from school on the verge of rage. After a few minutes of quiet time and some protein to balance his blood sugar, I sit him down at the table to do an hour of homework. One hour! He’s in grade one.
The exercises include reading monosyllables over and over again, a rapid phonics method I’ve seen work well to teach kids how to read. But, to quote my six-year-old, “it’s so boring.” And then there’s the math – reading numbers from one to 40, then one to 60, then one to 100 on a grid. “It’s so boring.”
Presumably these are the same exercises my active son has to endure day-in, day-out in the classroom. Midway through the second month of the term, he stood up in protest against this assault on his senses. “I’m not going to school anymore. It’s too boring. I don’t want to read le, la, me, il. I want to read real books. I don’t want to sit and listen to everyone in the class read this over and over again. I’m staying home and you can’t make me go to school EVER again.”
Yikes! Really, I couldn’t blame him. It got me thinking about the way in which our kids are forced to spend their days -- being chronically bored.
A few weeks ago in this space, I wrote about the value of boredom – the idea that allowing kids unstructured time forces them to tap into their creativity and discover interesting activities. But in a new film, entitled Boredom, Montreal filmmaker Albert Nurenberg argues that too much boredom – especially enforced boredom -- will kill you. He asserts that long periods of boredom equate to a form of chronic stress on our bodies.
“The moment you become bored, there is an increase in the stress hormone cortisol,” Nerenberg told TheMonitor.ca.
Anyone who knows anything about cortisol will understand it’s linked to increased cholesterol, raised blood pressure, obesity and heart disease. The experts interviewed in Nurenberg’s film go further, connecting prolonged periods of boredom to risk-taking behaviour, (think of teenagers left too long to their own resources), restlessness, drug and alcohol abuse, extreme depression and even suicide.
Nurenberg apologetically takes on the public education system as an institution that fuels an atmosphere of chronic boredom, forcing inherently active children to sit still and do rote learning for more than six hours each day.
“You take a child who’s full of energy and full of curiosity and you make him sit at the same desk hour after hour after hour controlled by the clock and by the bell,” quips one interviewee in the film. Others cite the fearful outcome of this – violent, depressed, drug-addicted teens and adults. It’s enough to scare any parent.
What to do? I’m reluctant to take on a public education system that I see working for most, including my eldest child. But I do see a reason to tackle my youngest son’s boredom in the area I have the most control – homework. Instead of sitting down for an hour to repeat numbers and letters over and over again, we’re taking monosyllables and mathematics outside. Shoot a basket, read a syllable. Run around the yard, read a syllable. Slide down the slide, read a syllable. Play hide n’ seek, count to 100 (over and over and over again). It may take twice as much time, but at least my son and I will keep our cortisol levels in check and perhaps it will prolong our lives as well.