“Reality check” with DIY CPR manikins

Friday, 02.12.2022

Reading time 5 mins

In a project week, two Swiss primary school classes built and used a DIY model. We got feedback from the kids and had a chat with the two teachers.

Class: two 5th grade primary classes (ca. 11-yo), 20 students each.

Setting: in a project week on the human body, a double-lesson (80min) was spent on first aid and CPR.

Manikin used: CPR and rescue breath manikin by David Szpilman, made from 3 PET bottles, a large piece of cardboard, a plastic bag and a plumbing tube.

What were the learning goals?

  • First contact with the topic of first aid and resuscitation
  • Basic knowledge about how to react – who to call, and what to do after that
  • Encourage trial and error in a playful way
  • Remove potential fears or barriers of this topic

Note: 11-year-olds may not be able to perform correct compressions on an adult body – this was NOT a goal.

How was the lesson structured?

The students had come to class prepared: all week, they had been collecting cardboard and PET bottles to bring along. 

In class, students discussed what to do in a medical emergency: who to call, what to tell them on the phone, how to find out the address, and what to do while waiting for an ambulance. CPR was then discussed as something they could do, and certainly adults would do if they were able to. The DIY manikin was introduced as a playful way to become acquainted with the idea of CPR and rescue breaths.

Students worked in pairs on one manikin. On their own, they watched the instruction video and built their manikin. They then proceeded to personalize their manikins, using pens, shirts and jackets. 

A next step involved practicing CPR and rescue breaths. Students practiced compressing at the correct depth and rhythm, and giving breaths of the right depth. They tried this to the rhythm of various songs (e.g., Michael Jackson). 

The school also had a few mini Anne – simulators, so the students got the opportunity to compare the DIY version with mini Anne. They provided feedback on a short form.

Children and teachers: what did you like and dislike about this lesson?

Positive aspects

  • Kids loved building and decorating their own manikin – with football shirts, moustaches…
  • Different form of organisation was refreshing and stimulated play (e.g., sword fights)
  • Compared to a commercial manikin (mini anne), the DIY model was easier to compress, which is why most children preferred practicing on it.
  • Great, playful way to engage all children
  • Levels the playing field a bit, as tasks can be divided between the pair
  • 11 is a good age to be working on their own in teams, interesting discussions with some children
  • Class went on to recycle their materials afterwards

Negative aspects:

  • Cutting the cardboard with a cutter was a bit tricky for some, and younger kids would need significant help with that. 11-year olds had just about learnt to use this type of knife on their own.
  • The only time when children were frustrated were when their partner wasn’t motivated, or when the manikin wouldn’t work.
  • At first, the DIY manikin looked a bit less life-like than mini Anne, but this improved when the students started “personalizing” them.

Teachers: what would you tell a teacher who wants to use this manikin in class?

  • Best to arrange pairwise: 2 kids per manikin
  • Use more than a single lesson – the build takes a while
  • younger kids than 11 will need significant help from a teacher, which might turn this into a daylong activity (but still fun)
  • An instruction video was provided in English (foreign language). This was still easy to understand, as the actions spoke for themselves. The kids were sometimes put off by the English language, but with a little encouragement, they were able to focus on the task.
  • Use of songs to help with manikin practice: e.g. playlists on spotify proved really useful.
  • Some kids taped the plastic bag to the pet bottles too tightly and it wouldn’t inflate. This may be pointed out at the right moment.
  • The plumbing tube required some time to organize. A teacher found them at a DIY center (JUMBO), costing about $2 apiece. 
  • Decide beforehand whether students can keep their manikin. Initially the idea had been that the kids could take the manikins home to practise more and expose their family. But due to cost of the tubes, the school might use them again next year if they keep them at the school. 
  • Some context is needed from the teacher: the build and practice of the manikins should be integrated into a unit where emergencies and the correct behaviour are taught first. It should serve as an addition, rather than be at the center of the unit.

Would you use DIY manikins again?

The lesson will, with some adaptations, be repeated again next year. The teachers mentioned that preparation is a large barrier, so having all descriptions, videos, and materials clearly outlined will help them in the future. 

Would you like to recreate those DIY CPR Manikins?

The first Manikin is called “CPR and rescue breath manikin”. You can find the building instructions here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8PLcXU69n8

A group of researchers – Naomi Nakagawa and her team –  tested the manikin with children in Brazil. Here you find the corresponding article:


Have you also tried building a DIY CPR Manikin? We would love to receive your experience report!

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