It’s the summer holidays – when we tell our children and anyone else who cares that they get bored by the second day. If it’s true, and I’m not convinced it is, then it’s a new thing.
I wasn’t a child who adored school. It was just something you had to do. It was OK but I’d far rather have been somewhere else: at the swimming bath with my friends, playing in the park or curled up on my bed with a book and a Mars bar, for example, as I did day after day during the glorious holidays. Boredom was rarely an issue.
Today’s children, for all sorts of reasons – some spurious, some driven by commerce and some very sensible – are less independent than we were. And the loss of freedom to do things unsupervised seems to have led, for some, to inertia and boredom. And that, I think, is a very sad, pretty destructive thing.
On the other hand, it has led to the burgeoning of a wide range of holiday activities for families who can afford them. There is, for example, some sort of performing arts summer school local to almost every child in the country – they’re run by theatre venues, local branches of chains such as Stagecoach and Theatretrain, drama schools and specialist organisations. Typically participants work together for a week or a fortnight learning skills and then present a mini-show for family and friends. There are also US-style holiday camps, such as PGL, where they can undertake activities including art, drama, sport and more. Look out for entrepreneurial local independent providers too. I recently interviewed the man who runs the very successful Holiday Drop Off in south London – lots of sport and happy children (and parents), it seems.
So the boredom-busting industry is alive and well. It’s also doing a good childcare job – another relatively new requirement now that in so many families, both parents have to work. Although, unusually for my generation, my parents both did too. We lived, literally, over the shop so they were always around and able to keep half an eye on us as we wandered through en route for a friend’s house or the library for another half dozen books to gobble up.
Twenty-first century school holidays seem to be a matter of “Time is something to be killed. Every minute must be filled” as John Betjeman pithily put it. I think that if children could only be left to their own devices just a little more during the long summer break then they might be a) more enterprising and imaginative than some of them are and b) better refreshed for next term. Boredom can self-sort if it’s allowed to. Life is not meant to be rigidly structured 24/7.