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Optimise Your Christmas Break

The school Christmas holidays are just around the corner. That long, hard, academic slog is almost over; time to rejoice, relax, and recharge the brain.

It’s important for students to take advantage of the holidays by taking a break from the rigours of academic learning: the stress involved meeting deadlines, pressure of testing, and industriousness of routine – and this includes the parents and teachers of said students who are often the drivers or passengers of such activities. Working too hard, consistently, and with too few breaks can mean that when the new academic year starts, students are already tired and stale. Starting a new school year on the back foot benefits nobody.

The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), associated with The University of Queensland, has recently published a special report about Learning and Memory. In it, researchers define memory as ‘the process of encoding, storing, and retrieving experiences and knowledge’ and recognise the fact that ‘too much stress can overwhelm, cause anxiety, and impair memory’. School term time can be busy – not just because of the standard 9am-3pm classroom time, but because of all the extra activities before and after school that many students do nowadays: dance, music, sport, and part-time jobs - many of which often spillover into the weekends.

In order to fit many of these activities in, what can often be compromised is sleep. Sleep is important for memory as it helps retain memories, and holidays are generally the biggest time when students can get a lot of shut-eye.

But getting more sleep over the holidays and chilling by the beach with an iPhone doesn’t mean that you have to stop ‘learning’ over the holidays. Just by doing different activities like visiting an exhibition, catching up with relatives and friends, or getting lost in a big city, means that you are still learning: about personalities, facts, and what’s going on in the larger sphere of the world. Your brain soaks it all up, stores it, and uses it for later. QBI identify four types of explicit and implicit long-term memory: episodic, semantic, priming, and procedural – all which are stored and accessed like a database, based on your experiences. So if your in-head database has been exhausted and not refreshed, then so too is the access to, and creation of, your memories, which ultimately affects learning.

To act at their optimum, student brains need a rest, and what better way than by enjoying the liberating splendours of Christmas holiday time.


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