Recipe for Success at School – Are we missing key ingredients?
Just study harder? It’s not that simple!
Almost from birth we begin to search for ways to help our children to prepare for the world of academics. Whether it’s playing Mozart, learning baby sign language or gazing at black and white picture books, we often prime babies for learning and achieving long before they enter a classroom. Once formal school learning begins the focus on essential school subjects and grades tends to narrow our view of how our children learn and how we can support them. Spending time on school work is seen as the key to achieving good grades and so we do our best to get our kids to study. However, research suggests that the recipe for academic success includes more than just academics! We are going to explore the concept of learning through the arts and using dance and yoga to enhance academic performance.
Dance of Discovery – the value of dance & the arts in learning
Dance class for kids may not seem like an obvious way to enhance academic learning, especially as kids have fun doing it! However, children learn a lot more than just dance steps and fitness in these classes. The mind-body connection in dance has huge potential to help children in all areas of learning.
The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities tells us: All of the research points to the success of schools that are “arts-rich” — in which students who may have fallen by the wayside find themselves re-engaged in learning when their enthusiasm for film, design, theater or even hip-hop is tapped into by their teachers. More advanced students also reap rewards in this environment, demonstrating accelerated learning and sustained levels of motivation.
When researchers led by Dr. Scott Grafton at the University of California, Santa Barbara, examined What Can Dance Teach Us About Learning they concluded that teaching arts and physical skills is essential as it encourages creativity, motivation and social intelligence. In this fascinating study of how the brain works when we learn dance, Dr. Grafton argues that it is a mistake for schools to focus exclusively on reading, writing and mathematics as “experiential knowledge is essential for creating great surgeons and truck drivers alike.”
Many researchers and teachers even recognize a link between dance and mathematics. Here two dancers and mathematicians, Sarah-Marie Belcastro And Karl Schaffer, explain what may at first seem like an unlikely connection! “There are superficial links such as counting steps or noticing shapes, but also deeper connections, such as mathematical concepts arising naturally in dance, mathematics inspiring dance, or using mathematics to solve choreographic problems”. It is exciting to see that there are even a growing number of programs that use dance directly to teach math as a fun and effective new teaching method!
Having a great dance program has been shown to have even wider benefits for the whole school. A study by the National Dance Education Organization tells us that “In schools where dance programs flourish, students’ attendance rises, teachers are more satisfied, and the overall sense of community grows”. Encouraging a positive environment at school in this way is an important part of creating the best conditions for learning.
Yoga for Kids – reducing stress, increasing the success
Anxiety and stress are real issues for our school children. Thankfully school communities are showing great awareness of these issues, but it is a constant challenge to find ways to deal with them. Research shows the negative effects of stress on children’s capacity to learn. The good news from one study in particular is that by finding ways to help children reduce their stress levels and by working to reduce the stress in their environment we can help to improve student performance.
Yoga has long been accepted as a terrific way for adults to deal with the stresses of modern living. Could it also help in teaching children the skills they need to deal with stress? The evidence so far is extremely positive. Yoga classes for kids are designed to teach vital coping skills to build children’s resilience in stressful environments, develop their ability to focus and nurture self-esteem. Supporting children in this way helps them to be in the right ‘headspace’ for learning. More and more studies are examining how yoga can play an important role in schools, even demonstrating the positive effect on academic performance for students taking part in a yoga module.
Our kids are under pressure to succeed and we are under pressure to support them! However, too much pressure is not healthy or helpful for our students. Improving student performance is not all about the classroom – roll out the yoga mat, get on the dancefloor and let’s create a learning environment where students can fulfill their academic potential and learn the skills they need to become truly successful in life.