THE SUMMER TERM: Some thoughts about what our children get and what they actually need.
I have little doubt that most people will have seen the letter from Mrs Thom, a Year 6 teacher, to her class as the weekend homework before their SATs.
It was a lovely ‘to do’ list for her students including ‘play in the garden’ ‘rest’ and ‘see friends’. Yet it struck me as deeply sad that a teacher even has to write such suggestions for 10 and 11 year olds; especially poignant was the instruction ‘not to worry’.
Unfortunately, worrying and struggling with ‘test anxiety’ can be the norm for many between 10 – 18 years of age (and some as young as 7 and 8 too) at this time of year. Just as soon as the sun comes out and the hay fever kicks in, the desks are set out in rows in the school hall and classrooms around the country and the pressure mounts on many of our young people.
Last week we said farewell to our Year 13s and as ever, it was an emotional time wishing them well for their A Levels and beyond. They are a year group I am very fond of, being a form tutor for some of them in key stages 3 and 4 and teaching many of them History throughout their secondary school career. In fact, I have likened some of them to being my babies before I actually had my own babies! Anyway, I digress. The point is that they are about to embark on the most important exams of their lives to date and it was extremely sad seeing some of them struggle to deal with the pressure in the weeks leading up to them. And as already discussed, it’s not just this cohort who are dealing with these demands at this time of year, aswell as the A Levels and the SATs, there are GCSEs, AS Levels and internal school examinations all going on.
Yet it’s always seemed to me a little cruel that just when the days are getting longer and the temperatures are on the rise, we enforce hours of revision and tests on our young people. So what can we, the adults in their lives, do to help? Assessments and examinations aren’t going away anytime soon so support is required. What could this entail? Here are three ideas:
- It will not surprise anyone to hear that little ones and teens alike will all benefit from as much time outdoors as possible. Whether that’s encouraging a teenager to go on a mindful walk (described in a previous post of mine) for a well earned break from revision, taking a younger child on a scavenger hunt (ideas for scavenger hunts described here) or playing in a sandpit for the tots. Get the kids outside as much as possible and see their mood improve.
- Simply spend time with your nearest and dearest. When life gets busy and tense there needs to be even more effort put into carving out time to ‘connect’ with our younger children or ‘check in’ with our older ones. This could just be as simple as snuggling on the sofa watching telly with your child or offering to ‘test’ your teen on the topics they have been revising that day. I find Dr Laura Markham’s website helpful with suggestions and advice about this sort of stuff.
- Finally explore stress-busting techniques to deal with ‘overwhelmedness’ together. Feather breathing or pretending to blow out a candle a number of times to help with deep breathing is said to work well for younger children whereas the teenagers I work with have found using breathing spaces helpful (like this one from Jon Kabat Zinn). All ages appear to like the STOP method of calming down. This is a reminder to stop everything, take some deep breaths, observe thoughts and physical sensations and then proceed with the day. When I shared these and some more techniques with the Sixth Form students they were very positive about them indeed.
In fact as we are coming to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week (#MHAW16) it is worth considering the impact of teaching mindfulness to our youngsters who seem to be suffering more and more from mental illness, and this must be in part, due to the academic pressures they face as well as the effects of 21st century living. I will leave you with a comment from one of my students just before she went on study leave:
“Mindfulness is a skill which I think all students should learn… It has helped me especially with the stress of exams by using the 3 minute breathing spaces as breaks allowing me to be more productive. I think that introducing mindfulness [to the school] is not only beneficial for its students but for the school itself as it would help to create a hardworking, healthier and happier student body.”
Food for thought.
What is your view?
Is introducing Mindfulness to young people important?
Are there other ways to help our children deal with stress?
What have you found works?