As national testing times begin to draw near in many countries around the world, our attention begins to fall on the stress our children are under during these times. With children as young as 6 years old being tested and scrutinised, we cannot get away from the fact that this is having an effect on their health and wellbeing.
Schools are very good at down playing the testing regime of our youngest children; making it a game and being good at putting our children at ease in a variety of creative ways.
However, as they reach 10-11 years old, there is no disguising the standardised test. Even if down played well by the school, the formality required of the test leaves nothing to the imagination. Then, by secondary school, there is no down playing. The stakes are high and results can begin to determine their future.
Despite our best efforts in preparing for these tests and ensuring they have the right skills to be successful on them, test anxiety can throw a spanner in the works; causing children to react in ways that sabotages their ability to show all they know.
The use of Mindfulness as we support children in preparing for the test can give them the edge to perform to their best ability and not allow the stress to impact on the greater spectrum of life. The lifelong skills of dealing with stress will support them not only for the test but for the general stresses in life.
Mindfulness is not about not having stress. It is about controlling how you react to the stress.
The signs of test anxiety can appear as, but are not limited to, irritability, poor performance despite being highly knowledgeable, distracted, over excited, lack of sleep, loose of appetite, excessive worrying, depression, negative, headaches and stomach pains. You also need to be aware that some children can hide their stress very well and that all academic levels of children can experience the stress, particularly high ability as they can be more acutely aware and put additional pressure on themselves to do well.
So, how can we use mindfulness to support children reduce the stress levels associated with testing so that they can be happier, healthier and perform to their best ability?
Top Mindfulness Test Busting Tips:
Mindfulness practiced should be taught, practiced and used BEFORE the week of the test. If you don’t already use mindfulness strategies in the classroom, you should begin approximately 5-6 weeks before the tests so that it can be effective.
1- Teach them how to breathe. Slow, deep controlled breathing tricks the brain into believing it is calm and reduces cortisol levels which increases our heart rates and puts us in a state of “fight or flight” which is a key feature of anxiety. The key is to exhale longer than you inhale. Get children to sit up, inhale for a count of five, pause and then exhale for a count of eight. Repeat this at least five times. Use this as a part of your everyday practice; at the beginning of the day, during transition times, when you see the class or a child becoming unsettled or before a test or difficult learning task. Explain to the children what Mindful Breathing does and encourage them to use it throughout the day. Be a good model and you use it when needed as well. Show them and have them practice identifying when they are becoming stress and using this simple technique during a test, particularly when they are finding a question difficult or they are becoming overwhelmed. (More on Mindful Breathing can be found here.)
2- Starfish Hand Meditation– This simple but effective meditation combines breathing with the use of touch to refocus and centre the mind thus allowing one to take control of their emotions and calm down. (Find Starfish Hand Meditation instructions here.)
3- Guided Meditations– 10 minutes of meditation can have a dramatic impact on a person’s mental health. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. At first, you will have some children that will find this difficult; staying quiet and focusing on one thing is as hard for some children as it is for some adults. Over time, they will start to relax and meditate in their own way. That is why it is important to develop the practice well before the time for the test. On the day of the test, ensure you allow time for meditation to set the mood of calmness. (Details on how to develop guided meditations in your class and links to free meditations can be found here.)
4- Talk About Their Emotions– Over the period of weeks, give time each week to all children to express how they are feeling and what they are doing to cope with those feelings. Good questions to start discussions are: What emotion are you feeling right now? How does it feel? Is this a good emotion to have in control? How can we change emotions?
5- Mindful Colouring– As teachers, we will feel the growing pressure to use every moment of the school day to focus on the learning and revision the closer we get to the test. However, we need to give children the time to release themselves from this ongoing pressure. Researchers have measured the anxiety levels of children before and after giving time to colour in mandalas and other pattern sheets compared to anxiety levels before and after free form colouring where children draw and colour their own patterns. The time spent colouring pattern sheets showed a significant decrease in anxiety as compared to free form which showed no difference to anxiety levels. The act of colouring allows the brain to relax and focus on one thing; being in the moment of colouring. It allows the brain time to rest and recuperate. (More information on Mindful Colouring can be found here.)
6- Mantra– Have children create individual or class mantras. Combine the mantras with steady, deep mindful breathing will support the development of positive mental attitude and self-belief. Use this as a part of everyday practice and use it just before the testing begins. Have the children create posters and plaster them around the class and school. An example of a class mantra can be found in the picture with this blog. Feel free to print and use as desired.
It is to be reminded that mindfulness is a lifelong skill. Thus,it is to be remembered that we need to develop mindfulness for life long positive mental health and well being. But, we can use key strategies to tackle test anxiety effectively.
Find more strategies here: Mindfulness in the Classroom