We are gearing up towards exam time here at Peninsula School of Dance
At this time of year I am often having conversations with concerned parents of our exam students. We know that home is a safe place for children to express their feelings and fears. Students may return home after dance class expressing their fears about a particular step, or correction they were given in class, often forgetting all the positive feedback they were given and simply focusing on the challenges. As a parent to three children myself, I am very familiar with these conversations at home!
Building persistence and resilience in our dance students
As a teacher, I am a big believer in focusing on building persistence and resilience in our children. Life is not a perfect ride and having a “growth mindset”, I believe, is a huge predictor of how successful our children will be in overcoming challenges throughout their lives.
Our students at Peninsula School of Dance know the rule in class, if someone says “I can’t do it”, they must add the word YET to the end of the sentence. My students are so well versed in this that they pick each other up on it and call our YET, if they hear one of the class mates saying “I can’t do it”.
Having a growth mindset matters
There has been a great deal of research into the area of mindset. Dr. Dweck coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset, after studying the behaviour of thousands of children. The terms describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement. If you are not familiar with the term “growth mindset” I highly recommend you read more about it here: https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/
Our studio is also huge fan of the book “A for Attitude” by Julie Davey, this resource has wonderful phrases and diagrams that really resonate with our students. You can visit the website for more information on the book along with a host of tools and resources that assist with building resilience in children: https://www.aforattitude.com.au/
You can also check out an interview I did with Julie Davey for Attitude TV here
Why do we do exams?
The focus on doing exams within our studio is not just about the result or gaining a certificate or badge. It is much more about the process. The process of working towards a goal, pushing yourself to improve, overcome nerves and stepping outside your comfort zone. Every year we see the same challenges and every year I see our students come out the other side with a great deal of satisfaction and pride. Conquering a fear is a very powerful thing for one’s psyche.
So how can you assist your child to persist, not give up and last the distance when it might seem all too hard?
Acknowledge your child’s feelings, after all they are genuine feelings. Reassure your child that they would not be doing an exam if their teacher did not believe they were ready to. You might use examples of a challenge you have faced and tell your child the story of how you overcame your fears and rose to the challenge. Often our children see adults as perfect and it is surprising to them when they find out you may have not been able to do something at first.
Anxiety is normal. Again reassuring your child that they are not strange for having these feelings, but rather reassuring that this is a normal response to doing something that is challenging. We love telling our younger students that a few butterflies in your tummy are normal and also a good thing! We tell the kids this means they care. We also say that the butterflies give them the wings they need to fly through their exam, or their performance. I am sure many of our kids really do think they have actual butterflies in their tummies!
When your child expresses doubt, concern or worry about something, encourage them to talk about it. Discuss what is actually worrying them. Is it that the don’t know the sequence of steps? Do they not feel strong enough? Do they feel unsure about the name of a step? Sometimes things can be easily fixed by simply asking the teacher a question. If they find something hard encourage them to practice at home. Write notes or make videos. Anything that will assist them to remember the work and feel more confident. Other options might be organising a private lesson with the teacher so that the child can really focus in on particular areas of concern.
Children are very good at picking up on our feelings. If you show your child you are worried about the exam, guess what? They will be worried! Remember that you are the role model for your child. Reassuring hugs, words of encouragement, support and lots of smiles really do go a long way. Assuring your child that you are most proud of their effort and hard work over and above their results is a great boost to their self-esteem and truly the greatest gift you can give your child.
Finally, please trust your teacher. Miss Sophie, one of our staff members asks her students to remember that the examiner isn’t expecting you to be perfect. They’re expecting you to give it your best shot! After almost 25 years of teaching I have done this many times over. Trust in the process and feel assured that we would not recommend your child participating in an exam if we did not believe it to be the right thing for them.
You can read more here about my thoughts on what to do if your child is not quite yet ready for the dance exam experience: