When our Senior School girls return from the upcoming school holidays, they will go straight into examinations. I know many girls will be planning strict revision schedules for the duration of the break but it is important to know that rest can be just as beneficial as study, especially ahead of the heavy workload older girls face in the lead up to external examinations.
Many of our girls are used to very early starts in the morning, as they balance long commutes and various before-school commitments. When the holidays come around, they deserve an opportunity to sleep in. According to adolescent sleep specialists Jodi Mindell and Judith Owens, the average teenager needs about nine hours of sleep each night, but gets only seven. Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on learning. It affects attention, motivation and alertness levels, putting students in the incorrect mindset for taking in information, and it also prevents students from retaining what they learn. Insufficient sleep will also affect behaviour and mood. It is therefore well worth letting our girls catch up on sleep these holidays – they will be happier and better prepared for learning when they return to school.
The holidays allow more time for exercise, getting outdoors, spending time with friends and a whole range of other enjoyable pastimes. These activities teach social skills and life lessons, which are just as useful as what is learnt in the classroom. They also take our girls’ minds off the upcoming examinations, reducing the associated stress and ultimately leading to better study habits and results. They should therefore not be seen as interruptions to study time, but as an important complement to revision.
Another important part of the holidays should be simply taking a break. At St Cuthbert’s, most of our girls have very full schedules, involving many sporting and cultural activities in addition to academic study. They should make the most of what the school holidays provide. A break from their busy routines will give our girls time to let their minds rest. They will start the new term refreshed and ready to put in the extra effort required for examination success.
Taking the time to become familiar with Mindfulness techniques in less stressful moments may enable our girls to function optimally at times of increased stress. Mindfulness is proven to improve wellbeing by increasing calmness and resiliency and reducing anxiety and depression. The unexpected spin off is that academic performance also improves. With practice attention, short term memory and the ability to apply prior learning to new situations all increase, as do creativity and independent thinking. This should inform the way the demands of the final term are approached. All Year 9 students at St Cuthbert’s now receive Mindfulness training.
Of course, some of the holidays should be spent on revision. However, it is just as important to dedicate time to leisure and rest. We want our girls to prepare as well as they can for their upcoming examinations – but we must remember that taking a well-deserved break is a crucial part of this preparation process.
JA Mindell and JA Owens, 2003. A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems.