How to Teach Children to Avoid Idleness

This lesson is based on materials from Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen, excerpted from a forthcoming book called, “What We Need to Know and Do.

Service Mormon

To be a good person, first be a good parent.

Children who have too much free time can find themselves getting into trouble. While children need unstructured time to pursue hobbies, learn new things, and to imagine a future, they need to learn how to use that time wisely. Children who have a strong work ethic, an enthusiasm for the world, and a commitment to service will seldom be found whining that they’re bored, or getting into trouble because they have nothing else to do and no goals to keep them on track.

Prior to teaching a family night lesson on avoiding idleness, take inventory of how your home functions. Does everyone have chores? Are there things in your home that spark hobbies and an excitement for learning? Have you introduced your children to a wide variety of experiences so they have many interests to choose from? How do you spend your own leisure time? How much time is the television on in your home? Once you know where your family currently stands, you can plan some changes and introduce them in your family night lesson.

Before doing this lesson, plan a family service project in which everyone works hard to accomplish something meaningful. Help your family recognize the joy that comes from this type of work.

Learn how to plan a family night.

Ask your children if they’d like a life where they had nothing to do all the time. Chances are, they think they would. If they think they’d like it, ask them if they’d like a world where no one in the entire world had to do anything. Hmmm….that might not be so wonderful, since nothing would get done and there would be no food and no one to create the things we need.

Explain that while it’s nice sometimes to have free time, having meaningful work to do and good hobbies to pursue builds our own character and also helps us to stay out of trouble and to contribute to the world in which we live. Just as we pay for things we buy, we need to contribute to our world in various ways.

Ask your family to outline the things they are passionate about—hobbies, jobs, causes, and so forth. They should write or draw these things. Now ask them to evaluate the list to see which ones can be used to help others or make the world better. Which ones help them learn useful and important things? It may take some work to help them understand that while favorite entertainment forms can be fun, they aren’t meaningful. This doesn’t mean they can never do them, but they need to have the proper place in life.

Remind your family of the service project you did together. How did it make them feel? Why? Even though the work might have been hard, there was satisfaction in knowing they’d made a difference.

On a large piece of posterboard, write, “When I am bored, I can:”

Under this write, “Serve others.”

Together as a family, list service projects that can be done spontaneously. Later, someone will type this list and put it in a To Do book.

If one of these projects can be done quickly, stop and do it now, perhaps making cards for someone.

Ask your family to look at their lists of things they are passionate about. How many of those items could be considered hobbies? Invite them to explain how each hobby on their list can help them have a meaningful life. Next, ask them to write or draw three more things they’d like to learn how to do. Take time to discuss whether their thoughts are realistic and what can be done to help them learn about this potential new hobby. Try to select one new potential hobby for each family member, including adults. Decide how the person can learn it—let each person try to figure out possibilities on his own before being helped—and what supplies would be needed. Make a plan to let each person test a new hobby. Explain they may find they don’t like something after they start, but the only way they can find out is to try it.

On your list of boredom busters, add “Try a new potential hobby.”

Stop the lesson and introduce a new potential hobby to your family, something that can be done, or at least started, in a short time. Everyone might not like it, but they should at least try it.

You might like to plan a follow-up lesson with a hobby fair, in which everyone displays or demonstrates new and old hobbies. This is a good activity to invite other relatives to come for.

The next topic won’t be as much fun. Ask the children how they’d feel if they came home from school and found someone had made their bed for them, or done one of their chores for them. Would it make them happy? Tell them in any home, there is always a lot of work to do, and although everyone has chores, there are often still things that need to be done, and that often, some people (mothers, for instance) have more to do than they have time for. Other times, it might be a child who has to study for an important test and doesn’t have time for chores. What would happen if someone slipped in and did a chore for the person who was busy, or even just as a happy surprise? How do they think it would affect the family if people regularly did extra chores without being asked?

Give each family member a stack of hearts. Invite them to secretly do chores around the house and yard this week (things that aren’t normally their responsibility) and to leave a heart behind when they do it. Remind them not to tell anyone they’ve done the chore and not to put their name on the heart. The heart is to send a message the chore was done out of love.

On the chart, write, “Do extra chores to show love.”

If you have time, teach the family to do some chores they might not have done in the past. If you don’t have time, plan to do it throughout the week.

Tell the children about a large project you have done in the past—organizing friends to do a play, putting together a service project, or gathering friends to make crafts. Talk about what you learned from the experience and how it made you feel. Ask your children to think of a large project involving other people they’d like to do. You might want to encourage them to undertake some of those projects. On the chart, write “Start a project.”

Ask your children where they learn things. If they respond that they learn in school, ask them if it’s possible to learn things anywhere else. They may mention afterschool lessons. Ask, “Suppose you wanted to learn something and you had no one to teach you? How would you learn then?” Help them to see learning isn’t just a school event. It is something they should be doing all their lives, on their own. They can teach themselves how to teach themselves, using books, websites, videos, trial and error, and mentors. Ask them to tell you about something they wish they knew more about. There might be a subject they barely touched on in school, or that school never covered. Help them think of ways they can begin to learn that subject and make it fun. Almost any topic can have an educational side to it. A child who loves science fiction movies might research to find out if the science in those movies is real. A child who likes cartoons can learn to draw his own cartoons. Use your imagination to find the academic connection. Make sure your home is filled with good research materials and show your children how to find and access mentors.

On your chart, add “Learn something new.” Challenge each child to report back on what he learned this week that no one was making him learn.

You have given your children a foundation for planning meaningful spare time activities. Work to make sure you plan meaningful activities for the family and that you set the example for how to use time wisely.

Over the next few weeks, invite members of your family to help you create a notebook filled with potential things to do when someone is bored. Include family field trip ideas, hobbies, chores, service projects, and things to learn. When a child complains he is bored, or you find him in front of the television too long, send him to the notebook.

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