This article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on January 18, 2020 by Amie Meehan. View the full article here.
"I'm bored!" It's the catchcry every parent loathes, especially four weeks into the six week summer school holiday break.
But education academics say the so-called iPad generation needs to experience boredom, because it is vital to learning.
University of New South Wales professor of education policy and deputy director at the Gonski Institute for Education Pasi Sahlberg said boredom spurs creativity and can bolster problem solving skills.
"There are many parents nowadays who feel they are not good parents if they don't give their children something to do, whether it's arts or music or sports, but it's not necessarily the best thing to do," he said.
"Children need to learn to come up with their own ideas to solve a problem. We can do a little bit less and give children more time to play."
Australian students recorded their worst ever results when it came to problem-solving skills in reading, maths and science in the most recent PISA tests. The results released in December prompted federal Education Minister Dan Tehan to advocate a "back to basics" approach to literacy and numeracy.
But letting kids be bored could also help improve their problem-solving skills.
"You rarely pick up anything new, any new idea or new ways of thinking about things unless you find yourself in a situation where don't have anything to do and you say 'I'm bored'," Professor Sahlberg said.
He believes children are spending too much time glued to an iPad, rather than exploring the world around them. "Children today are not as ready to learn complex knowledge and skills in school as they were 10 years ago," he said.
Nearly all teenagers now have their own smartphone or tablet, according to National Child Health poll director Doctor Andrea Rhodes, while two-thirds of primary school-aged children and a third of pre-schoolers have their own screen-based device.
Kate Murray's children have been at home more than usual these school holidays after Ms Murray slipped down the stairs and broke her elbow.
"Not being able to drive has really limited me and meant we've been at home a lot more than we usually are during the school holidays," the Kellyville mother said.
Ms Murray said her children Xavier Golab, 9, and Amelie Golab, 6, love their screen time and ask "what are we going to do?" when their allocated time is up.
"I don't want their brains to turn to mush," Ms Murray said.
"They end up sitting and inventing games.
"They got hula-hoops from a friend and they've entertained themselves, trying to outdo each other with tricks".
Another day, the family ventured out to the Royal Botanic Gardens.
"They found eels in a pond and they seriously spent half an hour just following where the eels were going and watching what they did," Ms Murray said.
Centennial Park's co-ordinator of education and community programs Sam Crosby said free play outdoors boosts children's critical thinking.
"When we do the more formal-led activities the kids do really well, but the minute we say there's the nature space go off and create something and build something with your friends, we just see the interaction, the critical thinking just goes through the roof," Ms Crosby, who hosts school groups in the park's Wild Play Garden, said.
"The kids are completely engaged – we sit back and watch the magic happen."
Ms Crosby said it was also important for children to have some space where they feel a little bit hidden away from the gaze of adults and have a chance to be themselves. "So they can feel more confident to go into those imaginary worlds."
"They get into the flow of it and that's when those higher learning boxes are ticked."
Professor Sahlberg said parents can be role models too. "We also need to switch off our devices and go outdoors."