Why We Don’t Let Our Kids Read Books

(That title is meant to be provocative, by the way… we do let them read, just not whatever they want or whenever they want.  The “whatever they want” is covered here.  The “whenever” is what I want to cover in this post.)

“I think she’s bored,” a friend said recently, regarding my oldest daughter.  At almost ten, she’s getting to that stage where playing with toys and climbing trees isn’t as fun as it used to be and since we don’t watch television very often or play video games or let her read books during the day (those are reserved for bedtime, and hopefully you’ll see why by the end of this post), she doesn’t have many of the typical recreational options available to her that other kids have.  Since my friend mentioned this, I’ve been watching my oldest daughter carefully for signs of boredom.  And you know what?  My friend is right.  I think my oldest daughter IS sometimes bored.  But is boredom a bad thing?

Here is what I’ve noticed, about our “Bunchkin,” as I’ve monitored her for boredom…

She doesn’t stay bored for long.  And she doesn’t alleviate her boredom in what I would imagine are ways typical for children her age.  She occupies herself by organizing closets, cleaning the basement, doing the laundry, giving her baby sister a bath.  She’s not big on art, so while her brothers and sisters will sometimes get out the crayons and paper when they’re tired of playing with cars or dolls, Bunchkin will jump on Daddy’s computer and type.  She’ll do her math work before it’s time to do so, or practice her violin.  Keep in mind that she’s doing all of this on her own.  While she has chores she’s responsible for each day (all the kids do, you can read about our reasons here, but I hope we haven’t gotten so lazy in America that I need to explain why the kids do chores), none of her responsibilities include giving the baby a bath or cleaning the basement.  Those are the things she does to entertain herself.  And she loves it!  At least once a week, she’ll ask if she can stay up past bedtime to “do a late night,” what she calls a night where she puts on worship music at a blaring volume and swiffers the kitchen floor, dusts the living room, washes the windows, vacuums the floor and a host of other domestic duties she finds for herself to do.  Sometimes one of her sisters will do it with her, sometimes she asks to be alone to “spend time with God.”

So I go back to my original question: is boredom a bad thing?  My daughter fills her time and alleviates her “boredom” by occupying herself with domestic duties.  That isn’t to say that I don’t have some responsibility in alleviating her boredom… I need to do better about giving her things to do, like teaching her to sew or knit or crochet, all things she’s expressed interest in that I haven’t gotten around to teaching her.  And these are actually the things my friend was suggesting when she alerted me to the fact that my daughter is often bored (she doesn’t subscribe to the idea that kids should be entertained by TV or video games all day long, either.)  But being alerted to this fact (which I think is more pronounced when she’s at my friend’s house than when she’s at home, simply because she does keep herself busy at home with things she wouldn’t feel comfortable asking to do at someone else’s house [ie clean out a closet]) has made me think about how we typically view boredom in our culture.  It’s enemy number one in most American households.  Give a child a video game to play, a movie to watch, a television mounted inside the car so that they don’t have to go fifteen minutes down the road without being plugged in to something that will “entertain” them.

Am I the only one seeing the horror of this?  Too many kids have lost the ability to entertain themselves.  Worse, many parents think that kids SHOULD be entertained during all their waking moments.  The very idea that my oldest daughter is doing the laundry when she’s bored is going to horrify some parents.  They’re going to think that she slaves away all day long because I’m forcing her to do chores instead of go outside and play. For those parents, please read what I said earlier… she does the laundry because she wants to.  She has fun doing the laundry (horror of horrors!)  My daughter thinks that housework is a fun thing to do when she’s bored.  How many millions of ways is that going to serve her, as an adult!!!  How much easier and more enjoyable will that make her job as a homemaker (whether we have careers or not, all women who live in houses are “homemakers”), in ways that shoving a book or a video control in her hands never could?

There is a very good reason that we reserve books for bedtime and other “down times” during the day (when the baby is taking a nap, for instance.)  We don’t want our children to escape into a fictional world any time they’re “bored.”  We want them to learn to occupy themselves, find creative things to do and learn to express themselves and find enjoyment in everyday activities. That’s not to say that we don’t set aside movie days for them every now and then, or that ALL reading is done at bedtime (she’s allowed to pick up a bible or a school book any time she so desires.)  And that isn’t to say that I don’t need to do a better job about finding recreational activities for her, as I’ve already mentioned.  But I believe that this idea that children should constantly be entertained is setting us up for problems.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that ADHD has risen to the levels it has in this generation.  Kids simply don’t know how to rest their minds anymore.  They can’t sit still when we need them to, because we so rarely require it of them.

So, my oldest daughter is sometimes bored** and I have some things I need to work on.  In the months ahead, I plan to busy her hands with crochet needles and quilt pieces and a violin bow (she’ll be officially enrolled in lessons next semester.)  Not in an effort to entertain her, but to give her another outlet in which to occupy herself in ways that will contribute to her life as an adult, resting her mind and expressing her creativity rather than entertaining her mind and escaping reality.  I plan to give her something else to do, besides putting away laundry or washing the windows.  Not instead of, but in addition to.  I plan to expand her domestic repertoire and give her more fun things to do when she’s “bored.”

I’m convinced she’ll be a better person for it.


**After I wrote this, I read it to my older kids (we like to involve them in the reasons for our parenting decisions, whenever we can, and we hadn’t ever talked with them about the way we handle boredom before) and my oldest daughter wanted to clarify something.  She suggested that I change something that I wrote, because she wanted to explain that she is NOT bored.  In her own words: “I just like to do the laundry because I like to pretend that it’s my responsibility.”  I asked her if she was ever bored when she visits at our friend’s house, and she said: “no, I like to follow her around and help her do things and I watch the babies.  I like doing that.”


Related Articles:

The Greenhouse Effect (why we “shelter” our children)

Helping Hands and Tying Heartstrings (why they do chores)

“Fair” is Where They Sill Pigs … (why we don’t treat them “fairly”

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15 Responses to Why We Don’t Let Our Kids Read Books

  1. shortshoestring says:

    Having completed a full cycle of home-education, I can see where you are coming from and I agree. I was an early reader – and it became an escape for me. It led me to a life of inactivity and obesity. Having read Ray and Dorthy Moore on the subject, I wanted to begin reading late, but “sadly” she picked it up on her own! Fortunately we were able to resource great books to read, read aloud often, and reading was also a time of learning! Curriculum is also designed to prevent boredom – all those pictures and colour. It ends up being very distracting to a person who is easily distracted.
    One of my favourite memories is having tea parties with my daughter – She was Mrs. Blenkinsop (Agatha Christie character – M or N) and I was Mrs. Paulie and we would knit and listen to book tapes! I miss those days but I am so grateful to have had them!

    • Rina says:

      I appreciate your comment about resource books and reading aloud often and making it a great time for learning. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, here… I DO want my children to read – and read often! But I want to be careful about what types of books they’re reading, and when they’re reading them. I definitely need to have times of reading out loud to them more often, I know they would love that, and I would, too. I’m sitting here thinking of how fun it would be to have a “Little House on the Prairie” day with my kids. What a great idea, to act out characters in the books your kids were reading!!!

  2. maggsworld says:

    A balanced well rounded post. f a child ever says they are bored my normal response is always “Good!! Now yu have an opportunity to stretch your mind!!))

  3. Corrie says:

    Rina as a teacher in public schools for 10 years now, I totally agree that our filling our children’s time with activities (video games, tv, i will even give you books) has led to what we call “ADHD”. I don’t think it is really ADHD, I think our children today just don’t know what to do with themselves if they are not entertained. I can even think of some ways that you and I entertained ourselves as children that were really not healthy. We practiced our writing skills by creating stories, and I don’t know about you, but I escaped reality in those stories by creating a fairy tale for myself. Now, I do think that writing and reading are worthwhile ways to occupy time and even to develop skills for adulthood, but I applaud you for teaching your children that they do not need to be constantly entertained. I think our society has multiplied the disease of ADHD. Ah, I could go on and on and write my own post, but I will stop there. Anyway, I guess I am saying I agree with your post.

    • Rina says:

      Corrie, I absolutely agree – I “escaped” into those stories, too. In fact, it’s one of the things I have the most difficulty with, in my adult life… escaping into books and neglecting things and people who are/should be more important. Thank you for your comment… coming from a teacher who’s out there in the world with so many other kids, it’s really encouraging to hear your thoughts on this.

  4. Just curious if you allow your children to read non-fiction (biography, auto-bios, how-to books) freely. I plan to homeschool, and I want my girls to have domestic initiative, so I found your post intriguing, but I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of forbidding reading outside of prescribed times. I was not allowed to read novels or fiction as a child, but I had full access and encouragement to read all the non-fiction I desired as long as other household tasks were completed.

    • Rina says:

      April, we don’t have a set “rule” regarding reading, they have books they’re allowed to read during the day (any time they want to, after chores or schoolwork) and others that are set aside only for bedtime. Nonfictional textbook type of books and how-to books are among those that they can read whenever they like, autobiographies and fictional books are usually among those that they read at night or during resting time. There are also story books (think Little Golden Books) that the children are always allowed to read (which is nice because the older kids will often pull these out and read them to their younger brothers and sisters.) I guess if I had to categorize what we’re doing for now, I’d say that books that are more entertaining than they are educational (even some wonderful autobiographies that we really WANT them to read would fall into that category) are reserved for bedtime, for now. That isn’t to say it will always be that way, but for now we feel led to guard against alleviating boredom by means of books or movies or video games that would cause them to “escape” into that form of activity. I’m not sure whether that serves to answer your question… it’s not something I can give a black/white answer to, or an always/never. We’re mostly feeling it out as we go. :)

  5. Mrs. Parunak says:

    I really love this post, Rina! Lots to think about.

  6. squishylips says:

    thanks – this was really good to read.
    I grew up escaping into books – and now that i’m an adult i have problems being in my own mind.
    I find that i can barely get in a book – but i can barely handle the stress of real life.

    I’m really struggling –
    thank God that there are parents like you guys that have a healthy understanding of parenting.

    your post really has me thinking …

    • Rina says:

      I have trouble with that, too… only I can get into a book TOO much, and use them as a way to escape. It’s definitely something I wouldn’t want to happen with my kids. Praying for you, as you struggle with this, too!

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