It takes a lot of work to tire out a 5-year-old, as Doug Manring can tell you. During one 45-minute session at the private Merit School of Prince William in Woodbridge, his young charges hop like frogs, crawl like crabs, gallop in circles like horses and pound on a large drum.
By the time it's over, some of the children are panting dramatically, with tongues hanging out. But most look as though they're ready for a little more.
It's all a part of rizumu, a program combining dance, music, athletics and exercise that Manring learned during 14 years living and teaching in Tokyo.
Rizumu, the Japanese word for rhythm, is not that well-known, even in Japan. Nevertheless, Merit School Principal Patricia Dunn, who met Manring at a workshop in fall 2002, says that it's perfect for her students.
"It's natural movement," Dunn said. "We just don't see it anymore because of the lifestyles we lead."
The Merit School is owned by Minnieland Private Day School Inc., which runs day-care centers and schools throughout Northern Virginia and Maryland. It serves children in preschool through third grade.
In fall 2002, Dunn was looking for indoor activities for students after schools suspended outdoor recess during the sniper shootings. When she met Manring, she immediately asked him to bring his rizumu program to the school.
Rizumu uses traditional Japanese songs and instruments, the children's favorite being the odaiko, or "big drum." Thirty core movements mimic some of the same movements made by the very young when they are learning to run and walk.
The program preserves various aspects of Japanese culture and folklore, but Manring sees rizumu as more than just dance. It's a way to get children feeling comfortable with their bodies at a time when they are becoming more sedentary.
It's definitely not delicate. Manring sometimes swings the children around; he also helps them do flips. "This is an age where we're very robust. These kids are very sturdy," he said.
"I think it's really cool. It's sort of like playground stuff," said 7-year-old Ravyn Tynes, a second-grader. "I sort of like the crab one, when you lie down."
Usually "Mr. Doug" is right there with them. "He just has a lot of energy. I don't know how," Ravyn said.
"I think it's really awesome, and it honors the Japanese people," said 8-year-old Ana McReynolds, who is in third grade. As for Mr. Doug, "He's really nice. He's fun all the time."
Christopher Ting, an 8-year-old third-grader, said he loves the drums and "when Mr. Doug says to do your own stuff," referring to a part in the session when children can make up their own dances.
The children had a chance to show off what they learned during a ceremony to mark the end of the year. Manring, who lives in Stafford County and teaches at a Fredericksburg Montessori school, said he plans to continue rizumu at Merit School through its summer camp program. When he's not working with children, he's a musician and music teacher based at Picker's Supply in Fredericksburg.
Manring said he hopes to form a group of adults who are interested in rizumu, after they see what it does for their children. "The program is designed to be cumulative," he said. "The value of this is doing it over time."