As the end of another school year approaches, administrators, educators, students and their parents can become overwhelmed. With the New York State Education Department’s annual Assessment of English Language Arts, Math and Science underway, we could have an anxious and stressed learning environment.

This does not need to be the case. We believe that our valued educators and dear students can utilize methods to manage stress and anxiety when preparing for and completing the tests. While we focus on what teachers can do in the classroom, parents and other caregivers can use these methods at home with their students, as well. Two of the most successful strategies engage the body and mind.

The research is clear that physical activity helps students focus and concentrate. Before testing, teachers can lead students in 10 to 15 minutes of exercise (based on their ages) to increase their heart rate, such as a jog or brisk walk in the gym, among the school halls or in the classroom. Another option is to play a dance video or set up exercise stations around the room. Educators also have many resources within GoNoodle, including mini-workout videos that are fun for elementary, middle and high school students.

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The second strategy – mindfulness – has become a popular “buzzword” lately but is, in fact, a results-based tool used in the health and wellness field, in business and in education. Mindfulness activities are a deliberate act of pausing to notice how their body is responding, and taking actions to calm the body. This can be achieved with controlled breathing to lower the heart rate or releasing tension in the muscles by stretching. Through these activities, students gain control over their body (and then emotions) when the environment might be too stressful or stimulating.

Before the test, educators can combine stretching with breathing and mindfulness activities for three minutes. For example, students can sit in their chair or stand next to it, while concentrating on breathing in for four counts and out for eight. Having students place their hands on their stomachs or chests will help them focus on their breathing. And, GoNoodle offers a great video called Let’s Unwind.

Combining these two practices before and on state testing days will give our students a good start at feeling and performing their best. And when they are done, it is important to give them a way to decompress – color, do a puzzle, or read at their desk until everyone is finished. When the class has completed the test, take them for a walk around the halls, in the gym or outside.

Kate Huber and Sarah Whiteway are Creating Healthy Schools and Communities Grant Coordinators for Erie 1 BOCES.

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