Jamie's Blog

Lessons from a life of startups, coding, countryside, and kids

Boredom Envelopes

Boredom envelopes

— projects for kids when you’re working at home

Although I’ve been working at home for the last few years, 2019 was the first year both myself and Hilary were working full-time jobs at home while the kids were on summer holidays.

How did we cope?!

First, some context: The kids were 9 and 11 at the time and they generally get on well. They play together most days, inventing games and imaginative play. We also have a lot of space inside including a dedicate toy room and our offices separated upstairs. And lots of outdoor space for riding bikes or playing on the grass.

We did the usual thing of taking a weeks holidays here, sent them to a horse-riding summer camp for a week, and they had random days out with friends and grandparents. They also watched TV and played video games like every other kid.

A few months before the summer I came up with the idea of “Boredom Envelopes”: these would be little lucky-dip projects they could ask for when they were bored. Each envelope would contain some instructions and any equipment needed. In most cases the envelope contains something which made it feel a little like Christmas.

I came up with some rules to make sure they took it seriously

  1. Only 1 project per day.
  2. Each project must be completed before another can be started.
  3. The projects are chosen at random by picking a numbered ticket. You cannot pick again (but Mum and Dad can overrule a project if it is not suitable for the day)
  4. You can take a break and come back to it later
  5. You must try your best to make the project amazing.
  6. No rushing! It’s not a race. They are designed to occupy you for at least 1 day
  7. You must work together and help each other complete the project.
  8. Remember to take photos of the project and document your process. You can add these to your scrapbook
  9. The iPad will often be required to look things up or help with the project. This must be shared and Norah should help Finn find what he’s looking for.
  10. Use your brains: take your time, read the instructions, and figure out how to overcome any problems you encounter. Mum and Dad will be working so you’ll need to work on your own

What projects?

I tried to balance the projects between things one child was interested in (anime, drawing, art etc) and the other one (more technical, playing games, goofing around etc). The projects are somewhat skewed towards things I could help them with so there’s no musical projects in here. I also didn’t what it to feel like work every day so there’s fun things and even video games in there too.

I started buying the project equipment a few months before the summer which spread the cost out a bit but I won’t pretend it was cheap. I probably spent about €250 on things but that still compares well to just a week at summer camp activity.

Most of the art supplies were bought from Tiger or Søstrene Grene, which have good art supplies at a reasonable price.

I’ll try to flesh out this post with more details, photos, and links to the items I bought. It’s been a few months so I’ve forgotten some of the details

Here’s the complete list of projects I put together:

  • Painted stones
  • Googly eyes
  • Draw your own magnets
  • Build these wooden models
  • Charcoal pictures
  • Produce a comic using these story cubes
  • Paint a mini canvas picture
  • Paint a watercolour
  • Build & paint these Warhammer miniatures
  • Fimo cats
  • Enjoy reading these books
  • Fimo monsters
  • Make a electronic circuit
  • Bake brownies
  • Bake a cake
  • Read these books
  • Make a movie / time-lapse / stop-motion animation
  • Enjoy playing this new game!
  • Draw on the windows!
  • Colouring
  • Some frame-able art like the crayon pictures
  • Gaming time!
  • Make a poster for your favourite film in Pages
  • Keep the spaceship running! (play Spaceteam boardgame)
  • Kill those Unicorns!
  • Build a course about Procreate or Yu-gi-oh cards or minecraft
  • Build Lego
  • Start a t-shirt shop
  • Build a moth trap
  • Flower insect count
  • A secret code!
  • Paint a garden scene
  • Play around with Augmented Reality
  • Start a scrapbook!
  • Pressed flowers
  • Shrinking key ring things
  • Make a photo gift (photo box? social print studio?)
  • BBC Micro Bit

There’s a few more details and photos in this PDF containing the actual instructions I put in the envelopes.

Running it

I attached raffles tickets to each envelope, and put the corresponding stub into another envelope for the lucky dip. Each day, if and when they were bored (and had no chores left to do), they’d ask for a boredom envelope. They’d pick out a number, I’d verify it was a suitable project (no outdoor painting if it was raining etc), and I’d hand it over.

I’d usually spend 5-10 mins setting the expectations and getting them set up. That was it really.

How did it go?

Pretty good!

They obviously(!) loved getting these little presents each day even if the projects weren’t always immediately exciting. I think I only used about 20 of the projects I’d put together so I still have some I can pull out in emergencies (Hello, Coronavirus!) and they understand the rules.

https://twitter.com/ideasasylum/status/1158796068093669376