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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Lavigne

How circus skills can improve children’s mental health

Yesterday our children had a workshop from a certified Waldorf Circus Instructor. They were so excited and it was incredible to watch the improvement of the children's hand eye co ordination from the start of the workshop to the end. We want to thank Angola Murdoch for taking some time to share her passion with the children of roots and wings.

Here is a bit more of info on why the children are learning this. We want to thank Angola f

Movement and the arts have long been part of the pedagogy of Waldorf schools.  Whether circle activities accompanied by singing in the classroom, the intriguing art of Eurythmy, or games and gymnastics, the curriculum initiated by Rudolf Steiner in the early twentieth century, and consequently developed by many others, has always recognized that children must engage in physical activity throughout the day to allow for a complete and effective education.  Current research, most interestingly in the field of neurology and the developing brain, is beginning to uncover the benefits intentional movement can offer many of the integral aspects of learning such as memory, attention and executive function. Complimenting such physical activities, a Waldorf school education is also infused with the arts as they weave through and permeate both the curriculum- from painting to organic chemistry- and the very manner in which the teachers attend to their tasks.  Enter the circus arts, an artistic form of movement with potential for social, therapeutic and pedagogical applications that are just now beginning to be discovered- and Waldorf schools around the world have taken notice.

Some more research on the topic

How circus skills can improve children’s mental health

Children’s Mental Health has become a key area of concern during the exam period, providing a break from the pressure of standardised testing is vital.

Young people’s brains are made to be creative, to move in sync with their bodies and learn new skills. After months of learning what a ‘subordinating conjunction’ is, (how the rest of us made it to adulthood not knowing this is a mystery!) it’s time to have some fun and develop all those essential skills of creativity, coordination, teamwork and simply doing something new!

A while back, we stumbled upon this article in the Guardian, it made for sobering reading…

“Eight out of 10 primary school leaders (82%) who took part in the survey, seen exclusively by the Guardian, reported an increase in mental health issues among primary school children around the time of the exams.” The Guardian

Children may go through a period of poor mental health during exam time, but they are resilient and move on quickly. Giving them access to a range of activities in the arts is a sure way to relieve this stress….

It’s hard to feel stressed when throwing colourful scarves in the air, or watching your teacher try to juggle!

Not only does a circus skills workshop provide welcome relief from the more bland areas of the curriculum, it develops in children; coordination, aids sensory processing, teamwork, skill in using new equipment, not to mention the confidence boost they get when they have learned to spin a plate!


Teaching a year group of children with varied needs can be exhausting for teachers and support staff. Having an activity which all children can participate in can really bring a group of children together. Throwing juggling scarves and squeezing juggling balls is fun, and definitely stimulating, but most of all breaks down the barriers which varied academic abilities can build within a year group.

Children of all abilities can get involved in a circus skills workshop, providing a welcome confidence boost for those children who have struggled with the grueling exam period. Children who have struggled with the constant feeling of not quite grasping an academic concept can really feel fulfilled in learning something during just one session and as a result, feel proud of their achievements.

We have been working with children as young as nursery age for 20 years, so we’re really adept at making the steps simple. This really helps with children who struggle with attention deficit. Quick results from simple instructions encourage greater focus to get the next result.

There are no failures in circus skills, that’s the beauty of it. New tricks are discovered by play! ALL children can participate and see an immediate visual result of what they are participating in.

It can be so frustrating having to put a child through a test you know will cause anxiety, can’t it? Therefore, being able to then see them complete a fun activity which they, along with the whole class enjoy is the perfect antidote to stress caused by constant testing.

Sensory input

In recent years there has become an increased awareness of the sensory needs of the child. Having a ‘sensory diet’ is part of how children learn, and for some, the need to regulate emotions and stresses through a variety of sensory experiences is vital.

A circus skills workshop in a multi sensory experience for all involved, for some children this can be extremely beneficial.

We use brightly coloured juggling scarves to teach one handed throwing and catching. The slowness of them floating in the air allows for time to get the hang of tricks and patterns of catching they may not have the speed of motor skills to manage if it was juggling balls.

Juggling balls themselves are squishy, therefore holding them – feeling the weight in their hands, is a great sensory experience. They are often used within an icebreaker activity at the beginning of a session. This warms up the group energy and gets everyone engaged and excited for the next thing.

While a good belly laugh is sure to relieve the stress built up over exams, it also improves fine motor skills, increases reflexes, boosts confidence and can enhance concentration in children who struggle in this area.

Circus Skills Workshops are a great way to gently exercise, to relieve stress, and improve concentration levels, not to mention adding to an overall heightened sense of well-being.

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