Here’s what to do when your children say school is boring

Here’s what to do when your children say school is boring

In my elementary school days, I’d set up my teddy bears and teach them how to read. I’d make up math tests for the My Little Ponies and quiz them with flashcards. When friends came over, we’d write stories and take turns being the teacher, grading them.

It wasn’t until middle school that I realized a large group of my peers thought school was boring and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

My love of school evolved into my career as a school psychologist. I tend to work with youngsters who tell me they hate school and find it boring. Students are referred to me when they are underachieving or struggling, and my job is to figure out why.

My love of school evolved into my career as a school psychologist. I tend to work with youngsters who tell me they hate school and find it boring. Students are referred to me when they are underachieving or struggling, and my job is to figure out why.

One of the first activities I do with students is try to find out how they think and feel about school, and themselves as learners. I provide the beginning of a sentence, and ask them to complete it with the first thing that comes to mind:

Many of the students who are struggling will say the thing they love is “nothing,” the thing they hate is “everything” and school is “boring.”

Some well-meaning adults may have an instinct to dismiss the claim, saying boredom is common and to be expected at school. They may try to normalize that boredom is something that is just part of school and life — some things will be boring from time to time.

I’ve learned that “boring” means something very different to each student. “Boring” is the tip of the iceberg — it’s what the student says on the surface, but the underlying reasons can be more complex.

A recent study by Michael Furlong and his colleagues sheds some light on what students may actually mean when they report boredom at school. Instead of viewing boredom as being limited to a particular subject or classroom, they studied students who report broader unfavorable school attitudes, or a “School Boredom Mindset.”

The researchers found that 1 in 8 middle and high school students expressed strong negative views of school, describing it as boring and of low value.

According to their review of the literature, school boredom may be a signal of internal mindsets, external situations or a deeper emotional challenge:

  • Trouble with the subject matter or task demands (being over-challenged)
  • A need for more or new sources of stimulation (being under-challenged)
  • Limited interest or motivation in a particular subject
  • A mismatch between a student’s ability and the skill required to complete a task
  • A low perceived value of what is being taught
  • Disengagement and dissatisfaction
  • Helplessness and sadness
  • Depression, anxiety, apathy

The researchers also draw a distinction between experiences of boredom being a temporary state — this class/subject/situation is boring. Or a more stable trait — a general pattern of experiencing boredom in school and in life.

curaJOY Contributor
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