What to Do When Kids Say, “I’m Bored!”

You’ve heard it before: “I’m bored! I already know all this!”

You’ve seen it before: Kids fidget, zone out, and harass others — or you.

You’ve felt it before: Glassy eyes, lackluster responses — your kids are bored, bored, bored!

Most churches today strive to engage kids. Still, kids say — and we see — that they’re bored.

Why?

Think about your day. What bores you?

  • Waiting at the doctor’s office?
  • Sitting through a meeting that doesn’t apply to your work?
  • Standing in line at the grocery store?

What’s boring for a child?

  • Listening to an adult correct someone else?
  • Listening to a sermon that uses big words?
  • Chores?
  • Practicing the piano?

It’s true — whenever we’re not engaged in an activity, we get bored. So what’s a teacher to do to keep kids from getting bored? How do you transform your ideas and lessons so they captivate kids? Is there a way to eliminate kids’ boredom? The answer is yes — but first we must understand why kids say they’re bored.

Engage the Disengaged

A teacher tells the story of Mary and baby Jesus. She reads from a picture book that’s visible to her alone and written in King James English of 1611. Viewers can discern the clear signs of boredom among the kids. One girl picks dirt from her fingernails. A boy fidgets with his coat. Another boy doodles randomly, choosing to engage in something rather than endure the monotony. The kids are passive while the teacher — though well-intentioned — is losing them.

Does time drag while you’re at Disneyland? Do you feel slighted when an entertaining movie ends sooner than you’d like? Activities that engage us and give us meaningful interaction cause the clock to speed. Grab kids’ attention and get them engaged with these tips.

Help kids understand biblical events and teachings by applying them to their real lives.

  • Know the main point yourself! Teach one thing, not several disconnected truths. Focus on practical help for kids’ lives.
  • Form smaller groups than normal so you can actually listen as children process information and apply it.
  • Coach through kids’ roadblocks by offering suggestions or prompting them with helpful hints. Roadblocks come from kids who’ve heard it all — and thus have built immunity to just how interesting God’s truth is to their lives today.

Involve everyone — not just a select few who happen to be listening — in the lesson.

  • Recognize that kids think faster than you speak. Therefore get them to read and pray and ask their neighbor a question.
  • Avoid demonstrations and show-and-tell activities. Get all kids involved in your lesson by letting them experience it — not by telling them about it. Even when a story is familiar, kids perk up if they get to be vitally involved in it.
  • Listen while kids act out the key tension in the story or lesson. When the key tension comes — that place where meaning meets a child’s world —it’s critical to observe whether a child gets it. If you see blank looks, hear answers or conversation unrelated to your topic, or sense that a child is disconnected, the child may not understand. If boredom is simply bluster for lack of understanding, then adjust your delivery or accommodate the child by using some other compelling delivery method.
  • Use quality video clips or music to illustrate the lesson. Kids live in a media-driven world; it’s a language they speak. So use media and music intentionally, sparingly, and with excellence.
  • Enhance your lessons with articles, atlases, internet connections, or interesting people to encourage kids’ curiosity and questions.

Break the Monotony

At Christmastime, I observed our 5-year-olds as the teacher talked about what happened at the first Christmas. She used some visual aids — an easel with flannel graph figures. What caught my attention wasn’t her storytelling — it was the children’s responses.

The teacher described how difficult it was for Mary to ride the donkey all that way because of its bony back. She shared how tired Mary and Joseph were when they reached Bethlehem.

“Why was she tired?” blurted one indignant boy. “She got to ride a donkey the whole way!”

While I stifled laughter, the teacher went on, undeterred by this interruption. In fact, she “shushed” the boy, then pointed out that there was no room in Bethlehem because it was so crowded.

“Like the new Wal-Mart!” another boy chimed in. An amazing observation if you think about it — but the teacher single-mindedly pushed on with her story. She placed a flannel graph manger and talked about how it was a feed trough — not a bed — where baby Jesus lay. The teacher gave up when yet another boy wanted to know, “How did the baby come out?”

Now stop right there! Look at these 5-year-old “interrupters” and observe what they’re doing. They’re learning. But because their responses — and let’s face it, preschoolers love to respond — were shut down, ignored, or scolded, they became bored.

Be Flexible in Teaching

Monotony is what happens when we disregard kids’ interests and instead focus on how we want to teach. Kids learn in different ways, and they process things differently. Introducing variety into the classroom — through varied teaching methods, learning opportunities, and individual interaction — engages kids and captures their attention. We each have innate capacities that help us learn. Those capacities (appointed by God) are unique and require classrooms to provide learning opportunities so each child in the classroom can engage.

Look at it this way: A trip to the antique store for one person may be the entire point of a Saturday afternoon. For another, it’s the definition of dullness. The key is to provide options that engage all learners rather than those that are only fun to the teacher. How?

  • Provide options simultaneously rather than consecutively. Staff multisensory areas of your room with small group leaders who can guide discussion.
  • Provide controlled options for children to rotate through or stay put. Staff areas with enthusiastic people who’ll be cheerleaders for kids who tend toward boredom.

No amount of teacher-produced enthusiasm or smiles will make a child who hates coloring like it. Likewise, no amount of rewards or bribes will get another child to enjoy acting out a role if he or she is repelled by that form of learning. Reach kids according to their unique designs.

 

Keith Johnson is the author of Takeout Training for Teachers and Teacher Training on the Go (Group Publishing, Inc.).

Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas!

© Group Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. No unauthorized use or duplication permitted.


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