Can kids cartwheel their way towards better mental health?
April 12, 2023
That the circus puts smiles on faces is news to no one– stand outside the tent as audiences emerge, blinking, into the daylight and try to spot a sour face! You won’t!
It’s why we do what we do at Bamboozled Productions; spreading cheer and wonder while creating audience memories that last a lifetime. But is it possible that circus skills can do more for your mood than just the fleeting joy of witnessing human potential and talent made manifest?
The value of the arts can be a murky, intangible thing. Though we all acknowledge the importance of a rich, vibrant artistic culture in our state, when it comes to direct and undeniable benefits, these can be challenging to define. It’s why the arts are often a political football; conversations about investment in the arts abound when it comes to populist point-scoring, but can evaporate when funding is prioritised for ‘more vital’ issues.
Research that quantifies the value of arts, in undeniable fashion, is therefore essential. In 2019, research undertaken by the University of South Australia set out to examine the true value of circus skills and their unique ability to deliver significant mental health benefits for Australian children.
Their hypothesis; that involvement with a program to learn, improve and extend new skills in acrobatics, balance, juggling and aerial activities could deliver measurable improvements in mental health for a group of children aged between 8-14 years. We think that’s a no-brainer, but apparently our opinions are not a recognised part of the scientific method. Fortunately, they don’t need to be, as the results were overwhelming; children's circus skills programs deliver a quantifiable social return on investment by a significant rate of 1:7.
"Mental illness has risen alarmingly in Australia with one in five adults and one in seven children experiencing a mental illness in any one year," says lead researcher of the project, Dr Richard McGrath. This fact is troubling across any number of sectors, from healthcare to education, and even for general productivity on a wider economic scale.
"Our research shows that for every dollar invested for a child in a circus training program, seven dollars are potentially saved in their future mental health costs. Australia's national spending on mental health is around $9.1 billion, making any savings amid an ever-tightening public purse especially timely."
Following their participation in the 6-month circus program studied, children showed statistically significant improvements across four key areas of mental wellbeing: stress relief; self-esteem; confidence; and socialisation.
Not exactly a head-scratcher…
We’re entirely unsurprised! To step into the world of circus is to step into possibility, and also into practice. Circus offers a perfect intersection point between play and work, between fun and focus, and has both failure and success baked into the pie. Our kids need to try things, and learn to try them again when unsuccessful. Our kids need to master new skills, and experience the glow of personal pride when they do. Our kids need to learn together, to connect and to teach, to encourage others and be supported in turn.
What’s more, our kids aren’t the only ones! Seek out circus, and see how quickly your own sense of child-like wonder is ignited– just remember to cartwheel at own risk…
Read more about the University of South Australia’s research here.