“He’s a workaholic”, I hear you say about your colleague. “He needs to find a better work-life balance”. We all know the dangers that working too intensely take on our physical and mental health, family relationships, general happiness and emotional wellbeing. We acknowledge this is the case for adults. Yet, every year many young people in primary and secondary education give up their hobbies, including sports and performing arts, to work intensely for seemingly endless tests and examinations. Doesn’t this seem rather counter-intuitive to you?
When confronted with more examinations and high stakes tests than ever before, it is very easy to fall into misguided, thinking. That thinking looks something like “my child has got exams coming up, therefore the more hours he/she studies the exam subjects, the better his/her results will be”. This thinking, though, is fundamentally flawed, because while children need to study in focussed ways, their outcomes are not directly correlated with the number of hours spent studying.
Learning is rarely a linear process. Great leaps forward frequently happen followed by steps back before taking more leaps forward. New ideas are formulated when children have the space to consider their knowledge in a wider field. For that to happen they need greater freedom for self-expression in a safe environment away from traditional constraints.
Performing arts allows the exact kind of escapism from traditional exam study stress needed to make vital connections and to consolidate learning. Engagement provides very physical means of letting off steam and discovering things about the world in new and experimental ways. To be effective, studying needs to be stimulating, motivating and deliberate. An intense period of one hour study with the knowledge of the possibility of doing something you love afterwards, can be far more motivating than three hours labouring over the same material. The mental stress relief of taking your children out of the pressure cooker of exam study to explore creatively can do more to enhance their exam performance. Remember, performing arts demand immense dedication and focus – and these are fundamentally important for effective study too.
In order to thrive and feel motivated, we need to feel competent, related and independent. To transfer this effectively to other areas of our lives, we need to work hard at ensuring that children’s lives have something that they own and they want to be a part of.
Students at StageCoach are extremely fortunate to be supported to gain ‘Creative Courage For Life’ through regular high-quality engagement in the performing arts. They thrive in a safe space to enjoy themselves, be creative, playful and imaginative with their self-expression. The mental health benefits of improved motivation, confidence, selfesteem and lower stress levels are well known but they are useless if children are not given the chance to explore these opportunities because they have to spend time only studying for exams.
A little light relief to reduce the pressure may be the greatest study aid a parent can provide. It is time to acknowledge not only the benefits that performing arts convey in themselves, but also how such releases can enhance learning across other subjects.