What do you get when elementary students are given a laundry basket, a big plastic ball and a couple of sticks? At Ridgeview Elementary, you get Funky Friday.
The unique combination of music and physical education is based on an understanding that healthy movement enhances learning. Once a week, two classes — one scheduled for Vanessa Ruffer’s music room and one scheduled for Wendi Berwald’s physical education slot — meet in the school gymnasium for “Drums Alive.”
Each session begins with a run around the Ridgewood gymnasium, after which students set up the drum lines using the unconventional “instruments.”
Choreographed for teaching rhythm technique and to step up physical activity, the hour has become a student favorite in just its second year at Ridgeview.
“I really like it, especially when we get to run down the line,” said first-grader Katerlena Skinner, who added that she’s also learning to play drums at home. “I am glad they brought it back.”
A Great Way to Move
As a physical education teacher, Berwald is always on the lookout for additional ways to encourage students to be on the move.
Ruffer choreographs and leads the group – sometimes with fast-paced recorded music and other times with a stand-alone beat pattern, such as “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8… jump,” which requires students to use the sticks to play the drum for eight beats before leaping into the air and crossing the sticks on cue.
Rhythm is key to the class. “Every child was born with the ability to move and feel rhythm,” Berwald said, but “fundamentally not all sports lend themselves to rhythm. I believe it is important to use both.”
Ruffer agrees. “It is my goal that students are able to learn to hear and feel the rhythmic components during our Drums Alive time,” she said. “I am passionate about health and fitness, and it fills my heart to be able to make music, be healthy and have fun with my kids.”
Lots of Fun While Learning
According to Berwald, content is based on the official Drums Alive curriculum, which came with more than 150 lesson plans to help students learn standard music educational concepts as well as the National Standards of Physical Education. The program and the equipment were purchased with a Sparta Education Foundation grant.
“Students enjoy all of the aspects of making music when we are in Drums Alive,” Ruffer said. “They are able to practice the steady beat and rhythmic patterns as we learn the choreography. They learn the musical skill of practicing, and are able to enjoy the final presentation in a low stress and fun way.”
Both Ruffer and Berwald are pleased with the results that they have seen so far with the program.
The Funky Friday class is another way to reach students, according to Ruffer. “The kids can move in a much different way than they can in my classroom. Some have such a great sense of movement and they need to move more,” she explained. “Some struggle to focus, to sit and learn the skills that I teach and not move. Here they can focus more.”
Berwald said that she has seen some students respond in a more positive way to physical education classes. “Some like traditional sports and others lean toward gymnastics and music and dance,” she said.
Some of the benefits outlined on the Drums Alive website seem spot on to Berwald. This approach, she said “helps teachers learn how to integrate kinesthetic awareness, cardiovascular conditioning, neuromuscular skills, flexibility, strength and wellness activities.”