"Children should be allowed to get bored so they can develop their innate ability to be creative," says education expert Dr Teresa Belton in a message to the BBC. Dr. Belton goes on to explain that boredom is the playground of creativity; that too many activities filling the day of a child strip the opportunity for creativity. Her comments were riddled with examples, studies, and real-life stories from famous artists and writers.
It sounds kind of funny, but boredom could be the trick to making your child practice the piano. At least, that's what it would seem if we take Dr. Belton's words at face value.
As I think through my childhood, I remember many a day where boredom turned into creativity. Long car rides to relatives' homes allowed for daydreaming, which turned into ideas, which turned into creative activities (creative bad ideas even--I once almost killed myself when I inserted copper wires directly into a electrical socket and touched them to a lightbulb...it immediately exploded.) Occasionally I played and practiced piano tunes in my head during life's dull moments. I did this even into my college years as I sat through dry lectures.
I have been teaching piano lessons in Santa Clarita, CA for 16 years now and have seen how kids get too busy to be creative. Parents understandably pursue the generational goal in which they seek to "give my kid every opportunity I never had." Santa Clarita is the epitome of the all-American family town: a great economy, some of the best schools in the state, amazing sports programs, perfect houses and neighborhoods. Perhaps most alluring of all is the never-ending array of enriching activities for kids. Want sports? They're all here. Want gymnastics? Go train with the city's olympic athletes. Boy & Girl Scouts are here too, of course. Ballet, chess club, cooking class, sewing class, private music lessons, blah, blah, blah. They are all here. Don't get me wrong--I think they're wonderful. However, if a child is schlepped from one activity to the next all day long in the name of opportunity, isn't he robbed of the imagination necessary to make opportunities fruitful?
My own daughters are ages four and seven. They are ripe for trying all the activities that this wonderful town has to offer. They already go to gymnastics and art class, but more tantalizing choices for betterment always dangle before them. This year I'm making a choice to give them the gift of creativity over the gift of Girl Scouts. Maybe I'll regret it. But maybe I would regret pilfering their delicate inspirations and fantasies even more.
Parents, remember: 'A jack of all trades and a master of none' leaves your child truly a "master of none." Piano practice requires imagination, creativity, curiosity. These all-important elements won't happen while your son or daughter is en route to the fourth activity at 9pm on a Tuesday night. Hey, try letting your kid get bored sometimes.
Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers. They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers.