More Do’s and Don’t for Healthy, Happy End-Of-Year-Exam-ing

Following on from my previous article, 4 Do’s and Don’ts for Healthy End-of-Year-Exam-ing (click link for article), here are some more tips for parents of exam-writing students:

5. Do: monitor screen time

Much has been written about the evils and benefits of cellphones, tablets and other screen-based devices. Studies have revealed both positive and negative effects of screens on children and teens. One thing is certain, though – we live in a digital age and our children will use devices; get used to it! However, experts all agree that too much screen time is bad for us; bad for our mood, our physical health and our brains. The effects are heightened with youngsters. Devices are also time-suckers. A minute on social media or Youtube can quickly become hours; hours of time wasted that could be much better spent studying or playing outside. The blue light that LED screens emit is also harmful to our eyes and brains. Screen time before bedtime is an absolute no-no, because the blue light inhibits melatonin production in our brains, leading to a poor quality of sleep. Here’s a useful article, including a video, about this: How Blue Light Effects Your Eyes and Brain

Whilst I’ll be the first person to champion children learning to self-regulate when it comes to screen time, I also suggest parents grab the reins when it comes to exam time. Establish a system of cell-phone-handover during study sessions and at least one hour before bedtime. Your teenager will grumble, of course, until they experience the benefits of improved quality study and sleep time. Ban games till after exams. The Fortnight marathon can wait until those great results are in the bag. Switch off the wifi if needs be (but be tolerant of students who require internet access for their studying). Most of all, parents: be strong! Screen addiction is a very real thing and addicts will act out when they’re denied their “fix”. More on this in a future blog 😉

6. Don’t: cut out all the fun

Work hard, play hard: it’s a great motto and never more applicable than during study time. Of course, the work-play time ratio differs during this time, with the larger portion allocated to work, but don’t neglect “off” time. Help your children plan fun rewards for time spent studying. They don’t need to be elaborate, nor particularly time-consuming. A romp with the dogs in the garden, 15 minutes on the trampoline, a walk in the park, a relaxing bubble bath, a weekend playdate with friends – anything that creates a relaxing (preferably physical) break from the books. Encourage laughter and silliness to break the stress of exams. Make family meals a fun time to chat and laugh. Relax, play, chill … and then help them get back to the books.

7. Do: ensure they get enough sleep

It’s obvious – we need sleep in order to function properly. Memory is one of the first casualties of sleep deprivation; just ask any menopausal woman … or parents of infants! Many studies have been conducted on how much sleep is optimal for school-aged children. A good rule of thumb is 9-10 hours a night for 7 to 12 year olds and 8-9 hours for 12-18 year olds. Consistency is key, so monitor weekend sleep times as well, during exam time. Quality of sleep is crucial, too, so remember to switch of the screens – big and small – for at least an hour before bedtime.

Here’s a link to one of many articles about the link between good quality sleep and executive functioning: How quality of sleep impacts academic performance in children.

8. Don’t: stop sport and exercise

I often wonder at the rationale behind schools stopping all sports around exam time. Of course students need more available time to study and less extra pressure, but they also need to move. The brain needs us to move. Sporty kids desperately need their daily physical outlet. Please don’t stop the sport when the serious studying begins!

Apart from providing necessary breaks in study, exercise triggers the release of various hormones and chemical compounds in the body, which have important effects on brain function. Serotonin is involved in regulating sleep cycles and boosting mood. Dopamine positively influences learning and attention span. Nor-epinephrine affects motivation and mental stimulation. All of these are released when our bodies engage in movement and, coupled with an increased blood flow to the brain, this mix of hormones and neurotransmitters improves cognitive function and the ability to focus for longer periods of time. This results in higher quality studying as well as improved performance in the examination itself.

Research also shows that exercise significantly reduces resting levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. This is important information for parents whose children suffer from test and exam anxiety. Get them to exercise that stress away. Less time spent worrying = more time spent getting the actual work done.

Regular movement has also been shown to result in an increase in the size of the hippo-campus, a part of the brain involved with memory retention. So, please, parents – make sure the exercise regime continues throughout the exam and study period. If you have a couch-potato at home, then exam time is the perfect time to motivate them to get up and moving. It will certainly show on their final report cards.

Here’s a link to a great video, by Dr Wendy Suzuki, explaining the best way to exercise to improve brain function: What is the best exercise for your brain?

Finally …

Maintain a healthy balance. To add to the ancient adage:

Too much work and not enough play makes Jack a dull, anxious, under-achieving boy.

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