Here at Mentor Education, our priority is not only scholastic success, but also emotional wellbeing: we truly believe the two go hand in hand. Suffering from exam-related anxiety can make it difficult for students to reach their full potential, so exploring a range of options to help alleviate pressure can be really helpful.
It’s unsurprising, therefore, that some schools are looking at new techniques to help students cope with exam-related anxiety: from wellness initiatives to yoga and breathing exercises. Indeed, it was recently reported that tai chi is being taught in primary schools as a way to combat nerves and anxiety in the lead up to SATs.
Interestingly, it has been commonplace in other countries – like China – for tai chi to be practised in schools: it is believed that this helps students to relax and can also improve knowledge retention.
Paul White, who runs tai chi classes at hundreds of schools in Derbyshire, Nottingham and South Yorkshire, commented on the importance of alternative techniques for overcoming exam stress: ‘Children are under pressure from parents, they pile stuff on them. Nobody teaches you how to mitigate the stress and get rid of it all.’
Many other educational leaders share Mr White’s perspective. Recently, the Department of Education launched a two-year research project, during which schoolchildren will learn about mindfulness, being taught breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and more. Tai chi is one such technique that might feature on this new programme. The US Government has also published a paper praising Tai Chi. What is tai chi, and how can it help students reach their full academic potential?
Tai chi was originally developed as a martial art in China in the thirteenth century. This practice, which focuses on deep breathing, relaxation, and a series of gentle movements, has found popularity across the world due to its numerous health benefits.
Research has shown that tai chi when practised regularly in children, teenagers and adults can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, increase muscle strength, release tension, and improve blood circulation, concentration, posture, and general mobility.
Tutors and parents alike will find that children today are an interesting paradox: in some ways, they are more connected than ever to the world around them, and as a result many children seem old before their time.
When it comes to the relationship between mind and body, there is arguably a greater disconnect than there ever has been: young people are so focused on devices – whether they are watching television, chatting with friends, posting on social media or playing a game – that their connection to nature and desire to use their bodies for good old-fashioned fun is often diminished.
Traditionally, playing outside or playing competitive games provided a wonderful method by which young people could blow off steam and reduce stress – from exam-related anxiety to social worries – without even knowing it.
Now that this is not such a common activity for children it is important to find something else to help foster that connection between body and mind (and improve children and students’ overall sense of wellbeing at the same time).
Tai chi is a really effective mode of exercise for children, and can really enhance their mind/body balance, as well as improving their ability to concentrate and calm their minds (all of which is helpful for academic performance).
Tai chi is helpful for students because:
This means that it is suitable for children of all body types, ages, experience and abilities. In fact, as many of the movements can be performed from a seated position, it is also effective for children with physical abilities.
The meditational/deep breathing components can be extremely helpful for children with ADHD and sensory difficulties: the focus required helps to develop concentration skills and the breathing exercises help to quiet an active mind.
The motions are gentle yet controlled, and can help children with motor difficulties improve their functioning.
Children who suffer from exam-related anxiety will find the calming motions and breathing patterns very effective, and can adopt the practice into their day-to-day routines as a powerful coping mechanism.
Tai chi will not only improve a student’s physical fitness, but also their balance and posture. It has been shown to improve concentration levels, introduce a sense of calm, and even re-energise students who lack focus or energy.
Do you have any mindfulness tips or de-stressing exercises for children that you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear from you! Alternatively, if you’re looking for further inspiration, check out these other helpful guides from Mentor Education: ‘Mindfulness for Students: 4 De-Stressing Exercises’ and ‘Managing Exam Stress: Three Tips’.