When we talk about boosting kids’ self-esteem, you’ll be familiar with ideas such as practicing gratitude, keeping a journal, or going for a walk.
But if you think back to when you were young, would those things really have resonated?
If you’re anything like us, you were hungry for more exciting or rebellious activities. Activities that could help you find your voice in a world where it felt like you didn’t quite fit.
This is why we are in awe of Drums for Schools. They’re an incredible organisation encouraging young people to feel connected and empowered through, you guessed it, banging drums.
Their schools programme, which requires no music training whatsoever, is designed to bring students and teachers together. It inspires them to make noise, have fun, and, ultimately, boost confidence.
We caught up with founder Andy Gwatkin to find out a little more about what they do and why the less conventional art of drumming is the secret key to wellness.
Andy said: “As a child, music provided a great emotional support for me, particularly through playing in groups and orchestras with other kids.
“I grasped early on the power of music-making to influence wellbeing and develop social bonds.
“It was only much later with Drums for Schools, I had the opportunity to develop ready-to-go, music-making solutions that are accessible not just to music fanatics, like me, but to every child.”
Andy continued: “We put together sets of musical instruments and teaching resources for schools, which involve the class and teacher playing and learning together.
“Because all of our instruments are accessible and easy to play, and because the musical styles (African Drumming, Brazilian Samba etc.) are fun and inclusive, it means that everyone is engaged and benefits from making music right from the first lesson.”
While the project is beginning to make serious ripples in UK education today, it actually began back in 2006 with a holiday trip to Bali.
Surrounded by the rich and inclusive culture, where all generations live and work harmoniously together. It was here Andy witnessed the magical Gamelan music woven into the fabric of life.
He also discovered the extraordinary creativity of local craftsmen. He then decided to import his first batch of Balinese musical instruments to the UK.
With help from his siblings, and collaborations with experts, Andy’s passion evolved into a business to enable non-musicians to lead their classes from basics to performance level.
But how can a teacher teach without any musical knowledge?
This is where Andy shines! With his teaching sets providing lesson plans, audio, video and other resources for teachers to lead a weekly music-making lesson for their class.
Andy explained: “By the end of the first term, the class will have reached performance level. They’re then ready to perform in front of the school and parents. So, it is a rapid process.”
He continued: “The first and most important thing is that the kids have fun! They should enjoy interacting and responding musically to the other young people in the class.
“Once the music-making is in progress, lots of other benefits arise. Benefits include building self-confidence, listening skills, empathy, emotional release, togetherness and joy.”
There are also further benefits to creating music. These include developing fine and gross motor coordination, perseverance, counting, collaboration and group skills.
Despite these remarkable results, there is no mandatory rule to teach music to UK students. Academies and independent schools are free to choose if they do or don’t teach music.
Yet learning music is just as important as maths or English. It can dramatically increase mental health, the very thing schools scratch their heads over wondering how to improve it.
This is why Andy and his team work tirelessly to enable schools to bring the life skills, social and academic benefits of a music education to every pupil in the country. Andy concluded: “It is ironic that it has taken COVID to raise people’s awareness of the importance of wellbeing. It is a pity that the government still does not prioritise or understand the importance of music and music-making, and the contribution that they can both make to the wellbeing and development, not just of children, but also the general population.”
He added: “I hope that the government will reprioritise. If they don’t, I hope that schools will continue to take the initiative.
“If they do, then I think that all that will be needed for wellbeing to become a reality for every child is one or two regular group or whole class music-making sessions each week.
“It really is as simple as that!”