Rebel Sprouts: Laura and the Boredom Bowl – a story for children of work at home parents

Laura and the Boredom Bowl

by Chris Durst

Zach and Laura in 1995
Zach and Laura in 1995

My children were quite young when I started working from home in the mid-90’s and, though they were really well-behaved kids, I had to find ways to keep them busy while I was working.

The story below, “Laura and the Boredom  Bowl,” was written for children, and is based on one of the many methods I came up with to keep their minds and bodies busy so I could focus on work when it was necessary.

We encourage you to copy this story (copy and paste into your word processing application), insert your child(ren)’s name(s) and photos to customize it for them. Then, after reading them the story, you can set about creating a Boredom Bowl for your home! (There is a special “Parent’s Section” at the end of the story that will tell you how.)


Laura and the Boredom Bowl
a Rebel Sprouts story by Chris Durst

“Today is the day Mom starts working from home,” Laura thought as she woke up.

She was very excited, because now she would have her mom at home with her all day!

“We’ll play all day long!” she thought.

At breakfast, Laura asked, “What do you want to play first, Mom?”

Her mom laughed. “Laura, I will be working at home, not playing at home. You’ll need to help me out by keeping yourself busy, so I can get my work done.”

Laura frownBoredom Bowl 1ed. This was not at all what she’d had in mind when her mom told her she would be working at home.

Her mom saw that Laura was unhappy. She patted her on the shoulder. “Your job will be to stay busy while I do my job. If you are very good at it, we’ll put a red star on the calendar at the end of the day.”

“What’s the star for?” Laura asked.

“Well, when you have five stars on the calendar, we’ll go to the dollar store, and you can pick out three things to buy,” her mom said.

“ALRIGHT!” Laura shouted. “This will be fun!”

“Then let’s get to work!” her mom said.


Laura did her job very well for a while. She played with her cat, read a book, and watched a silly cartoon on television. Then she got bored.

“Mom, I’m bored,” Laura said.

Playing with clay“Well, why don’t you make something with your clay?”

Laura thought that was a great idea. She took her clay out of the cupboard and made a snail, a dog, a rabbit, and a snake!

And for a while, Mom worked, and Laura worked, and all was well.


Then Laura got bored again. “Mom, I’m bored!” she cried.

“Well, suppose you build the tallest tower you can with your building blocks?” her mom said.

building blocks“I’ll build one that’s even taller than me!” Laura replied, as she ran to the play room to start building.

She built and built until she had a tower that she had to stand on her tiptoes to reach the top of.

And for a while, Mom worked, and Laura worked, and all was well.


“Mom, I’m bored!” Laura cried.

“Hmmm,” her mom said. She thought for a moment. “Why don’t you paint me a beautiful picture, to hang right here by my desk?”

“That’s a great idea!” said Laura.

child paintingLaura ran to the kitchen, pulled out her paints, put on her smock (which was really one of her dad’s old shirts, that he had given her to paint in), and began painting a picture of a unicorn standing under a rainbow. She had painted many unicorns before, but she just knew that this would be her best painting ever!

And for a while, Mom worked, and Laura worked, and all was well.


“Mom, I’m bored!” Laura cried.

“Let’s take a break together and have some lunch,” Mom said.

“Okay!” Laura said.

grilled cheeseMom made grilled cheese sandwiches, and put carrot sticks on a plate, and even poured some chocolate milk.

After lunch, Laura showed Mom the snail, the dog, the rabbit, and the snake she had made out of clay. Mom was impressed.

Laura showed her the giant tower of blocks. Mom was amazed!

Laura showed her the picture of the unicorn under a rainbow. Mom was excited!

“You’ve been doing a very good job,” Mom said. “I’ll go hang this on my wall right now, and then I have to get back to work.”

child readingFor a while, Laura kept herself very busy.

She chased Smootchie, her dog, around the back yard, rested on the couch, and read another book.

And then it happened again…


“Mom, I’m bored!” Laura cried.

“Hmmm,” her mother said. “Why don’t you bring your dolls in here with me, and play with them for a while?”

“Cool,” smiled Laura. “I’ll go get them!”

She played for a long time with her dolls, and Mom worked at her desk right next to her.

And for a while, Mom worked, and Laura worked, and all was well.


“Mom, I’m bored!” Laura cried.

fishbowl“I have an idea,” Mom said. “Come in the kitchen with me, and help me with a special project.”

In the kitchen, Mom opened a cupboard and pulled out a big fishbowl.


She opened a drawer and took out some paper, a pair of scissors, and a pen.

paper and scissorsShe sat down at the table with Laura and cut the pieces of paper into strips.

Then she said, “Now, let’s think of all of the things you can do to stay busy while I work, and write them down on these slips of paper.”

“Okay!” said Laura. “I have a lot of ideas!”

“Good,” her mom said. “You tell me what they are, and I’ll write them down on the papers.”

“Play with my dolls!” Laura said.

Her mom wrote on a slip of paper, “Play with dolls.”

“Build with my building blocks!” Laura said.

Her mom wrote on a slip of paper, “Build with building blocks.”

“Make things with clay!” Laura said.

Her mom wrote on a slip of paper, “Make things with clay.”

Laura also said:

“Paint a picture.”

“Read a book.”

“Play with Smootchie.”

“Pet Tadpole.”

“Watch a movie.”

“Have a snack.”

“Color in my coloring books.”fishbowl

“Jump rope.”

“Build a fort out of blankets.”

Her mom wrote each of these things on a slip of paper.

When all of the paper slips had words on them, Laura and her mom folded them in half and put them in the fishbowl.


“This,” her mom said, “is the Boredom Bowl.”

Laura looked at her mom. “A Boredom Bowl? What’s that?”

“Well,” her mom explained, “every time you get bored, you come and ask me what to do, right?”

“Uh-huh,” said Laura.

“From now on, when you’re bored, you can reach into the Boredom Bowl for an idea. BUT, there are a few rules.”

“Rules?” Laura asked.

“Yes,” her mom said, as she picked up the scissors and cut a few more strips of paper.


“The first rule is, if you reach into the bowl, you must do whatever is on that slip. No trading for another one. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Laura replied. “What else?”

“I’m also making some slips with a few ideas of my own,” her mom said. “These are chore slips, and if you get one of those you have to do what it says, even though it may not be fun.”

“What will be on the chore slips?” Laura asked.

Her mom wrote on the slips as she told her. “They say:

chores‘Clean your room’

‘Sweep the kitchen floor’

‘Pick up the toys in the living room and play room’


‘Bring your dirty clothes to the laundry room.’”

“Gross,” complained Laura. “I don’t like to do those things.”

“Work isn’t always fun, Laura,” her mom explained. “But it does have to get done. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” answered Laura.


Her mom folded the chore slips and put them in the bowl with the play slips. The bowl was full of little white paper slips.

“And there’s one more thing,” her mom said. And she cut two more slips from a piece of pink paper.

“Oh no,” said Laura. “More chore slips?”

“No, these are different slips, and they are the most important of all.”

“What are they, Mom?” Laura asked.

“These are ‘hug break’ slips,” her mom said.

hugging“They are pink so you can find them easily in the bowl. If you need a hug, all you have to do is reach into the bowl for a pink slip, and hand it to me. I will stop what I’m doing to give you a great big hug!”

Her mom bent down and gave Laura a great big hug.

Laura laughed and said, “I like the pink slips best!”

“Me too,” said her mom. “Now, let’s put this bowl on the corner of my desk and get back to work!”

“Cool!” agreed Laura.

Mom worked, and Laura worked, and all was well.

~ ~ THE END ~ ~


A NOTE FOR PARENTS: Making the Boredom Bowl – and Home-Based Work – Work for Everyone

Working at home can be a wonderful arrangement, but momming or dadding at the same time comes with both rewards and challenges.

Whether you’re telecommuting, doing an occasional freelance project, or operating a full-time home-based business, taking the time to explain to your child – and probably more than once – how the new arrangement will operate will go far to reduce stress and promote a successful result.

It may also help to keep in mind that, functionally, you and your child are now “office mates.” Just as in a conventional office setting, it will take patience, effort and understanding on both sides to make things mesh and work smoothly.

Taking the time to come up with good “child management” solutions, coupled with careful planning, will reward you with an environment in which you can work effectively when you need to, and be sure that your “office mate” doesn’t feel neglected and left aside.


Tips for Making Your Own Boredom Bowl
Creating the bowl and filling it with activity slips can be a fun project for everyone. If you have a partner in your home, be sure to involve him or her, too.

If you have multiple children whose ages, interests and capabilities vary greatly, you might want to consider creating a Boredom Bowl for each of them.

You can use a glass or plastic bowl that you have on hand, or buy an inexpensive fishbowl [Note: There’s something about a fishbowl that kids seem to love, so it may be worth getting one, to enhance their “buy-in.”]

    • Encourage your children to decorate the bowl. Lay out newspaper on a table and give them glue, paper, glitter, pom-poms, stickers, and other fun items to work with.
    • Draw pattern lines on several pieces of paper that will be cut into slips for the bowl. Let the kids do the cutting (with safety scissors if appropriate, of course). This is a great exercise in manual dexterity, and it shows them that you have faith in their ability to do things for themselves. [Note: Since the purpose of the bowl is to promote self-management, it’s important to show the children that you know they are capable of doing some things without your assistance.]
    • With your child helping you, conduct an “Activity Safari.” Comb through the house and pull out all the items they’ve accumulated (and you’ve purchased!) to help them occupy their time, such as coloring books, crayons, paints, art sets, building blocks, videos, puzzles, etc. Pull every activity item into one place. A cardboard box will do the trick, or an empty filing cabinet drawer. (The container should be in your office area, so you can monitor as the kids return the items they’ve used and take out something new, as directed by the Boredom Bowl.)
    • With these “old” activities now unearthed, and current favorites in mind, draw up a list of activities with your children that they could do with the items in the box or drawer or from around the house. Encourage them to mention every activity they can think of, even if they are not interested in doing it “right now.” As the ideas bubble up, either you or your child should write them down on the slips of paper, fold the slips in half, and drop them into the Boredom Bowl.
    • Again, with your child’s assistance, consider any chores that s/he is capable of handling, and create a slip for each one. Fold these in half and add them to the Boredom Bowl with the other activity slips.
    • Finally, using colored paper, add a few “affection / attention slips” to the bowl. These might include things like “Hug Me,” “Play with me for 10 minutes,” and “Sit and talk to me for 10 minutes.” By making these slips an easy-to-find color, you’ll reassure your child that you’ll be available when s/he needs your affection or attention.


Tips for Using the Boredom Bowl
For the Boredom Bowl to work well, there have to be some ground rules. Following are the rules Chris used with her children, which you can customize to meet your own family’s unique needs.
1. Place the bowl in your office, so you can see when your child is using it.

2. Put a “discard” container next to the Boredom Bowl.

3. When the child takes out a slip, s/he must do what is listed on the slip for at least 20 minutes. (Remember, the idea is to encourage self-entertainment, rather than for the bowl itself to be the entertainment. A “you got it, you do it” rule prompts children to consider what they might get “stuck” doing if they don’t come up with a better idea on their own!)

4. After the child has read the slip, s/he should place it in the discard container. These slips will be returned to the bowl at the end of the day.

5. Expect to repeat and reinforce the rules of the bowl for the first several days. Since children are inveterate negotiators, you’ll undoubtedly be met with, “Can I put this one back just this one time?” as you initiate use of the bowl.

6. If you’re out shopping and find a great deal on a new activity item, bring it home and add a new slip to the bowl. Keeping the activities fresh and interesting helps keep the Boredom Bowl from becoming, well, boring!

7. In working at home, you’re also asking your child to be a good “office mate,” and you should be prepared to reward him or her for stepping successfully into this mini-adult role.

In addition to praising your child’s successes, you may want to set up a “payment” system for good behavior. For example, for each “Great Day” the child has, they earn a point (points can be tallied on a calendar, a white board, a paper on the refrigerator, etc.), and for every 10 points there can be a special reward.

Rewards can be as simple as a trip to the dollar store with a few dollars in hand, an outing to the movies, a batch of their favorite cookies, or a visit to the museum or zoo.Whatever fits your budget and their interests! Have fun with the Boredom Bowl, and enjoy being a home-based parent!