With standardised tests now a common feature of Primary school education, and school performance measured largely on SATs results, children are under more pressure to achieve than ever before. Teachers are compelled to focus attention on the key subjects of Maths, English and Science, leaving less time for creative subjects like Art and Drama, that might otherwise provide a more balanced, less pressurised school environment.
There are a number of useful activities that teachers can use in and out of the classroom to help ease the pressure of exams, while going a long way to refreshing the mind and promoting resilience, as well as emotional and physical health and wellbeing in children.
Mindfulness is a concept increasingly adopted in schools following on from the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) learning objectives introduced by the government in 2010. With its origins in Buddhism and the practice of meditation, mindfulness refers to a state of being that involves paying attention to the present moment, and to your current, conscious experience of the world.
Mindfulness techniques are meditation-style exercises that increase awareness of the contents of our minds, providing ways to respond to our thoughts and feelings. The premise of mindfulness in the classroom is that by training children to regulate their attention and emotions in this way, they are less likely to lead to emotional distress and harmful behaviours.
Mindfulness in the classroom
The benefit of mindfulness techniques is that they can be used in the classroom, with no resources or preparation required. The meditative breathing technique, for example, has children lying or sitting down, eyes closed, focusing on each inhalation and exhalation, learning to set aside any thoughts other than focusing on each breath. This popular meditation technique helps children increase awareness of the contents of their minds, and allows them to refresh and refocus their attention. A useful tool to help refresh children’s attention after undertaking particularly taxing or complex tasks.
Outdoor learning using the Forest Schools approach
Research shows a clear link between the varied and interesting activities offered by an outdoor learning environment, and pupils making good progress in their learning and development. Not to mention the indisputable benefits to children’s physical and emotional health and wellbeing.
More and more schools are incorporating outdoor learning principles using the long-term Forest Schools approach. This revolutionary approach to learning gives pupils regular (weekly) access to the great outdoors. By providing a hands-on outdoor learning opportunity, the Forest Schools approach has shown clear evidence of improved confidence, behaviour, resilience and independence.
Any school can integrate the Forest School principles into their curriculum. By either training a member of staff to take on a Forest Schools leader role (if you have the woodland area available), or employing a qualified organisation to deliver a weekly Forest School programme, either on school grounds or nearby, you could provide your pupils with the many benefits this outdoor learning approach brings, including:
– Personal and social development
– Physical and emotional wellbeing
– The adoption of a healthy lifestyle
– An increase in self confidence
– The development of enterprising behaviour
– The ability to naturally risk assess a situation, building resilience and developing the ability to make practical and informed decisions on how to deal with unfamiliar situations.
Off-site adventure days and residential trips
There’s no denying the positive contribution made by out-of-classroom learning opportunities to children’s education and life experience. Apart from the benefit of adding a new perspective to a classroom subject, getting children out of the classroom on an outdoor adventure day or residential school trip allows them to experience the wider world, challenge themselves physically and emotionally, learn independence and engage with their peers and teachers in different ways, to encourage improved confidence and communication.
Why limit school residential trips to year 6s?
The majority of Primary schools that do provide these residential trips will offer them as a Year 6 ‘reward’, usually at the end of pupils’ Primary school education. While these trips no doubt benefit pupils by instilling the sense of adventure, confidence and independence that will help them as they begin their Secondary school education, by offering these trips earlier and more regularly, Primary schools could be directly benefiting from the many learning objectives these outdoor opportunities provide.
The wide range of reputable providers, locations and outdoor adventure programmes available, means schools can feasibly build off-site learning opportunities that deliver their objectives. Whether that’s an adventure day to reinvigorate Year 2s in the run up to SATs, a two-day overnight residential trip to help prepare Year 5s for the added challenge and independence required in Year 6, or a Year 6 bushcraft survival day teaching practical life skills, to provide balance and inspiration in the lead up to exam preparation.
The Learning Away’s campaign for brilliant residentials provides schools with the evidence for providing these invaluable opportunities, and highlights the key features their school’s ‘brilliant residential’ should have, to ensure pupils and teachers get maximum benefit from their time away. The campaign has also encouraged residential providers around the country to design and deliver programmes that are flexible, cost-effective, and adopt the ‘brilliant residential’ recommendations. It’s worth looking for activity providers near you, that can provide all the benefits of an immersive out-of-the-classroom opportunity, without the prohibitive time and cost of a long journey.
Mindfulness and outdoor learning can go a long way to reducing the pressure of exams, and balancing the intensive new curriculum with activities that will refresh and reinvigorate children’s learning. By using some of these techniques and learning opportunities, you could be reaping the benefits of a class of happy, healthy and high achieving children.
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