Children Helping to Understand Rapid Breathing

At Children for Health, we are keen on a teaching tool that Prof David Morley called ‘the pneumonia stone’ when he was alive and teaching Primary Health Care to so many people. We have adopted this as one of our favourite things to demonstrate to children as it can be made so quickly – it’s good for their measuring and maths skills and helps clarify understanding about what ‘rapid breathing’ in a baby in trouble sounds like. This is what you do!
  1. You tie a stone to a piece of string over 2 metres in length. You then measure 35 centimetres from the stone along the string and tie a knot.
  2. Then you measure from the stone 1 metre and tie another knot.
  3. Then you measure 2 metres from the stone and tie your third knot.
  4. You then hold up the pendulum – holding the string from this 2-metre knot – and you swing the stone.
  5. You then ask the children to breathe in time to the swing of the stone. Ask them to do this loudly as first and then quieten their breathing (it’s fun!).
  6. When they are all doing this well you tell them that this is the speed that most adults breathe when they are healthy!
  7. Then hold the string up from a one-metre length and do the same – ask the children to breathe in time to that faster-paced swing – first loudly and then quietly.
  8. Then tell the children that this is the speed that most babies breathe at when they are healthy.
 Now for the grand finale!
  1. Hold up the string at the 35cm length and swing the stone. Then as above get the children to breathe in time to the speed of the stone first loudly then quietly.
  2. Then – and as dramatically as you can – explain to the children that this is the speed that a baby may breathe if they have something wrong with their breathing and the baby MUST be taken to a clinic or a hospital quickly!
This ‘lesson’ takes about 10 minutes to make and do. IMAGINE – teaching this to a class of 100 10-11 year olds (for example) and then sending them home at the end of the school day where they can make the pendulum and then demonstrate and pass on the learning to their parents and neighbours. They can keep their ‘pneumonia stone’ in a safe place in the house to show to visitors and to remind themselves of the pace of rapid breathing if every it’s needed!  It’s best if there are strings and stones so that the children can make their own pendulums after the lesson, then teach other children and their parents! It’s very memorable. Please note, the pendulum is not a ‘diagnostic’ device and would not replace other more accurate methods that will be used by health professionals. It would be great to hear from anyone who has used something like this and what you think of it too!