By Warren F Jacobson, Teacher-Mentor
Have you ever sat inside on a rainy day and listened to the rain beat against a window pane? Even better, being under your umbrella and hearing the patting and thumping of the rain; it can bring you a deep breath and a relaxing pause. My favorite “getting caught in the rain experience” is when I am in the city and it just starts to pour and you run for the first available storefront awning. There is nothing to do but stop and let it rain, accepting the delay in your plans and listening calmly to the thumping and runoff from the downpour.
When you or your class is in need of taking a breath, maybe a ‘rainstick’ is the instrument you can turn to for healing. These percussion instruments were first created by the indigenous people of Chile, who filled dried cactus limbs with pebbles or beans to imitate the sound of falling rain when the stick was upended.
I’m an art teacher, so I like to get creative with ways of calming students down who are experiencing stress either at home or in their own classrooms, and I usually get the added benefit of calm by proxy. Over the years, I have pulled my rainstick lesson out of my back pocket as a grounding and educational tool. I’ve found that my students, both in mainstream classes and in special needs classes, really enjoy making something that’s useful and innovative by hand. No you do not need hollowed out cacti branches from the Andes. Instead a mailing tube, paper towel rolls, or empty fabric tubes are great. (I periodically visit a Joanne’s or any fabric store and ask for those empty tubes). It helps being a pack rat and saving these kinds of things.
It’s always exciting to learn how to hammer a nail into a cardboard tube. With a couple of precise taps the nail goes in easily. Tactile art projects are wonderful for all. The room quiets down and a calm comes over the students with their focus. With the special needs groups, I usually do this in stages. I am not always equipped with enough hammers for everyone to share, but watching someone use the rainstick as a musical percussion instrument and listening to the music can motivate and encourage everyone.
Currently, I am modifying this lesson for the high school art class, as an introduction to Papier Mache, a material they can even use if we go entirely remote. I have also used this project for middle schoolers when studying indigenous cultures. Now, I am encouraging everyone to make a rainstick for its meditative and calming properties. Stop, take a breath and listen.
How to make a rainstick
Rainstick guided meditation
Make a rainstick with your class!
After the satisfaction of making the stick, it really can be something to have in the classroom for calming the class. Students can listen to the sound and see how many ways they can pass the beans or rice through the tube. Slowly, as in just a patter of rain, or quicker and faster for more, the students focus on controlling the falling rice through the tube. It can be a great transition from the cafeteria or the playground back to the classroom as well. Teachers, when everyone has left, you can meditate with your rainstick.
Relax and take a moment.