So, as I referred in my last post, while driving home from the Grand Canyon, a billboard in New Mexico caught my eye. It said “Amuse Them or They’ll Amuse Themselves” with a picture of a young boy and the name of some amusement park type attraction (that I honestly cannot remember as I type this). At first, though I got the irony of “amuse them” at an amusement park, I was quite offended by the message. As I’ve thought it through, I have come to realize I slightly agree with them. I have said many times “Have a plan! Have a plan because if you don’t, the children will, and you probably won’t like their plan!” I still believe that to be true. In my experience, when a child comes into your classroom, you should be ready for the day with all the supplies needed for planned activities that day. You should have enough activities and supplies for all the children to be able to chose a variety of activities each day. You should vary activities. You should think of the children’s interests when planning activities.
However, the word “amuse” is where I take exception to the billboard’s message. I looked “amuse” up on Google. Here are the two definitions given:
cause (someone) to find something funny; entertain.“he made faces to amuse her”
provide interesting and enjoyable occupation for (someone).“the hotel has planned many activities to amuse its guests”
With some exceptions (long, unavoidable waits is the only one I can think of off hand), it is not a parent’s or teacher’s job to amuse a child. In fact, we should be teaching children to amuse themselves! Yes, we need to provide opportunities for the children to entertain and occupy themselves. Yes, we have to help expand their attention spans. Yes, especially in group care, there needs to be close supervision. Yes, there are times of adult-child interaction that are not only necessary but good. However, as adults, we should be conversing, reading, playing, interacting with children not for them. When I think “amuse,” the key word I think of is “for.” Doing something for someone else. Purely for their entertainment. But the vast majority of time spent with a child needs to be a two way conversation. And children need to learn how to amuse themselves , and they need time to amuse themselves! But it takes effort to teach a child to amuse himself within acceptable bounds.
When I teach about discipline, I teach about the 3 types of authority: Passive, Authoritarian, and Authoritative. Authoritative is what we want to be: the adult is in charge and sets the boundaries but the child is able to make choices within those bounds. And it is hard to be authoritative. Being Passive, letting the child be in charge, is easier in the short term. Being Authoritarian, “my way or the highway,” with the child never able to make choices, is easier (with a compliant child) in the short term. But, in the long term, setting boundaries and teaching the child to make choices within those boundaries, and take responsibility for those choices, or being Authoritative, gives a child the best chance to become a responsible, productive member of society. When an authority (parent, teacher, or otherwise) has taken the time to set and solidify the boundaries, a child can be trusted to make choices and “amuse” themselves! And if they cannot amuse themselves, well that’s OK sometimes, too. Being bored can lead to creative thinking. And if we’ve set and solidified those appropriate boundaries, the creative thinking won’t get them into too much trouble…
I talk about discipline in PreService, Back to the Basics, and Child Development in the Bible. I have some ideas floating around in my head for an entire training on discipline. If you’d like me to teach on any of these topics, please Contact Me.
***Edited to add: I couldn’t find a picture of the billboard, but I did some searching and figured out the name of the park and then found a picture of the shirts the employees wear: