Fifth-Graders Find Their Rhythm
It’s Thursday afternoon and the sun is sparkling through the trees behind the school, casting a glittery light on a circle of 5th graders. They sit with blue plastic buckets between their knees, colorful drumsticks held aloft, eyes focused on Kiersten Whitehead (the Middle School performing arts teacher), waiting for her command to begin. Then, at her signal, the sticks come down and all together they bang out a unified rhythm that sends little birds flying and makes it hard to keep one’s dancing feet still.
“I always start the 5th-grade year with a rhythm unit, which I adapted last year for online learning--sending home these buckets for them to play so they wouldn’t be banging on household objects,” Kiersten explained. It worked fine online, but she wanted to try it this fall to see what it would be like in person. “It’s amazing - it’s night and day from last year. Just being able to be with them and hear them, and all of us playing together is so different.”
That communal experience is a central part of what she’s teaching 5th graders this year as each unit they explore deepens their understanding of what it means to be part of an ensemble. That understanding is especially important when they move to 6th grade and devote the year to the 6th grade musical.
Kiersten says she teaches 5th graders that “being part of an ensemble means working together toward a larger goal and creating something in community. We spend the year learning this togetherness, first with this rhythm unit, then as a handbell choir, then through a dance residency.” That feels especially important this year as students are re-learning what it means to share space and work as one.
Bucket drumming has proven to be an excellent way to begin that re-learning. Kiersten points out that “you can really hear when someone is not playing the same rhythm you are. This experience helps us to listen to each other.” The clearly audible sounds allow Kiersten to assess where each child is in developing their rhythm skills “all while they’re doing something they think is fun.” It doesn’t hurt that banging on drums also releases stress!
One downside to the loudness is that it can be a bit overwhelming when 15 students play in a closed space, hence the use of the outdoor classroom. There are downsides to playing outside too - Kiersten has to amplify her own voice to be heard across the larger distance, but the setting can’t be beat.