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Saturday 30 August 2008

Time for finding your feet.

2007, London

Maybe the words "finding your feet" can describe what Mária Hári called "spontaneous orthofunction" just as well .

Finding one's feet is not only about learning to walk, it is also about finding one's way in life, learning to function in the society one lives in. A very small part of conductive upbringing is about learning to walk, one could almost say it is a by-product of discovering one’s way through life, developing one’s personality, finding one’s feet.

The big issue

When I am in Norwich I always buy The Big Issue, in Nürnberg it is the Straßenkreuzer. Both these magazines are sold by homeless people.

In the Big Issue that I bought on 28th May my attention was caught by an article called "Find your Feet” written by Scott Dolan, a “ homeless, ex-homeless or vulnerably housed” person.
I have reproduced the article in full as I am uncertain if just a quote or two would be enough to show why it moved me to write this posting.

Walking is such a joy to those who are fortunate enough to have the ability. From the early steps of a child, taking those first few steps, to observing the face of your mother and father as you begin to master those two big…( “what are these called, mum?” you ask, gesturing at the ground. “Feet” she replies). Yes, that’s it feet!

As we pass through our childhood, our teenage years and early adulthood, we find ourselves habitually forced to move around faster and faster. Take the time to sit on a bench at a train station or a town centre and you will witness this clumsy act of speed-walking - a swarm of parasitic life rushing with the utmost urgency to conform. Is this really the same thing that I learnt to do, such a long time ago?

No, it’s not! From the early age of three or four years old, we walk naturally. Then we learn that we can’t – we just don’t have time to walk this way. I remember almost being dragged as a child when leaving pre-school, holding mum’s hand on the way home. Just walking, it seems is rare to witness these days.

As a young boy, I would dream of walking vast distances on continents and lands I had no comprehension of. I would be carrying my backpack, my walking staff and a sturdy sheath knife for protection should I be attacked by wolves or a dragon.

Walking is such a therapeutic thing. We should accept the fact that we have truly forgotten how to walk. If we took the time to slow down and observe the true “interconnectivity” of our surroundings, our respiratory rate would slow down; we would be calmer and more in control of ourselves.

If you plan an evening walk, you depart from a certain point and you may arrive at a certain point, but the totally random encounters on the way would be different every time.

The existential moment of the breath, the movement of the body, and the connection of the foot with the earth are truly sacred in nature. My struggle for today is to transport my body through my inventory of daily anxieties, and to arrive at a final destination where I will lay my body down in a safe place to sleep.

Every day I wake up, and every day that I live I am still learning how to walk. Even at the prime age of 28. It’s free to walk and it’s free to learn.”

Saving time

The first image that came to my mind as I read this article was something I would love to say never happens, but unfortunately it does: a disabled child walking out of a Conductive Education session as proud as punch to be walking independently, walking slowly but surely under his own steam with a walking frame, with sticks or absolutely unaided, only for a parent to grab him by the hand or to carry him the last few metres to the car. The reason is... not enough time.

That therapeutic feeling is gone, the lightening of the soul is gone, the sense of success maybe not altogether gone, but different, changed.

I have witnessed this scene many times all for the purpose of saving time, saving five minutes.

The joy of walking

The writer began by stating “Walking is such a joy to those who are fortunate enough to have the ability”.

How many of us ever consider this, that the gift of walking brings us joy?

How many conductors or other professionals working with physically disabled clients stop to give a thought to what it feels like to be able to walk?

Do we consciously realise that something which is part of the daily routine of teaching can in fact be so joyous?

You only need to see the look on a child’s face when he takes his first tentative step to recognise the pleasure and to see the joy, or to watch a parents’ reactions as they observe this for the first time. It makes no difference if it is a one-year-old, a five-year-old or a fifty-year-old, the feeling is the same, it is pure joy to be vertical and moving forwards.

Walking games

Until recently I didn’t walk long distances very often because I was usually on my bike, but since the move into the city I walk more.

As I have longish legs I can take big strides, which gives me the feeling that I am strolling when in fact I am gliding along quite quickly. I feel relaxed as I lift my feet so that I don’t trip over cracks in the pavements and, as I walk, I am consciously aware of the length of each step and how I place my feet. I have time to look around.

It is different to being on a bike.

While cycling I am only really aware of my movements if I am travelling slowly uphill. or at speed downhill when greater concentration is afforded and more effort is required. At other times, when riding on the flat, I dream a lot!

While walking I try to concentrate on every step. I don’t remember if I always did this but I think it probably started while walking to and from school when I had several games that I would play. Over the years these games changed from active jumping games to more sedentary mathematical games. I expect most of us have tried to avoid walking on cracks in the pavement or experimenting using “scout's pace”. Maybe also counted the paces between trees on a regular route, trying to match the number each journey, alternated fast and slow walking or the size of the paces, or estimated how many strides are needed to a certain point.

As I played so many walking games over the years I suppose I have always been interested in the way in which I walk. On becoming a conductor this interest increased. Now I concentrate more on the posture and style that helps prevent aging joints!

These days there are many reports in health magazines telling us of the importance of a good posture while sitting at a desk working, but they have little to say about walking and never tell us that we can do a lot to improve our health while walking, if only by slowing down and relaxing, and recognise its therapeutic value,as mentioned in The Big Issue.

The gift of time

The Big Issue also says: “I remember almost being dragged as a child when leaving pre-school”. I expect many of us have either experienced this or witnessed it happening.

As conductors we witness it too, it is our responsibility to slow the world down so our clients can achieve success.

We teach a child how to break down problems task by task, we show them how to slowly build one task slowly on another to reach solutions. The children learns that when first learning to take steps they need to build in the task of standing still for a moment, to leave themselves time to balance or transfer weight. They learn how to hold their head or arms, they develop a posture that is the best for them at the moment to enable walking. They learn to take time and they may learn to walk independently.

Then what happens ?

Most probably they will soon have to learn how to hurry, as the world has no time to wait for them. At school there is no time between lessons, so the child will be “led “ by the hand or will use a wheelchair, in the playground it is too ”dangerous”, so again a wheelchair or walker will be needed.

The Big Issue writer says that we have truly forgotten how to walk and I agree. Many people have forgotten and we could all benefit from taking time out, sitting on that bench at the train station, to observe what is happening to our bodies in the rush to save time.

As we walk around our home, walk to the shops, walk the dog or take the children to school, we can take notice of how we are moving, concentrate in the same way that one has to when climbing a mountain or riding a bike up a steep hill. We can become aware of all the intricate movements that we make to stay upright and move forwards. We can take a deep breath, change down a gear and experience it as if doing it for the first time. We can experience the joy that we get from walking and maybe we can learn to be patient and give a present of time to those who have no choice but to walk slowly.

We can also look at children in the conductive setting, how they learn step by step to solve problems, how they know that they need a certain amount of time to eat their meal alone, need peace and quiet to stand and clean their teeth, and how precisely they need to place their feet to be able to walk. We must give these children time and maybe in time they will find the solution to the problem of how to keep up with the rest of the “rushing” world.

As usual Dr Mária Hári had something to say about this:

“The timetable must ensure the time necessary to do something well. It is only in the framework of such a programme that we can attain our goal”

It is important that outside the programme there should also the necessary amount of time available for achieving success, for doing things well, for feeling the joy in our souls.


The Big Issue, 26 May - 1 June 2008
Street Lights, The voice of the streets, Find Your Feet by Scott Dolan

The Street Light pages of The Big Issue are "exclusively by homeless, ex-homeless and vulnerably housed people. It is a space for them to air their views and opinions, and to display their work."

Scout's Pace a combination of walking and running that we practised in the Girl Guides in order to travel faster from A to B without becoming exhausted.

Mária Hári on Conductive Pedagogy, edited by Gill Maguire and Andrew Sutton
ISBN 1-897588-24-0

Sunday 24 August 2008

What a wonderful world!

The wonderful world of Clarks Sandals 1960, 1965 and 1979

Hello Dolly
This song was playing as I started to write this posting, it is my all-time favourite. I first discovered Louis Armstrong at seven years of age when Hello Dolly reached number four in the UK charts.It was the first single I ever bought . I remember the seedy record-dealer in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, where I was on holiday, and the age that it took me to decide which record to spend my holiday money on. My sister and friends were of course into the Beatles and I got teased dreadfully for my choice, but I was adamant and have remained a fan ever since.

Today it is not Louis Armstrong singing but Birgit Endres, who I discovered singing in her “Café im Atelier” a few weekends ago when every corner of Nürnberg was full of music (see my posting "Courage", 8th August).

The small things in life
This rendition touches my soul in much the same way as Louis Armstrong does which tells me that it is not only the gravely voice I like but it is the words which mean so much to me. Today it is especially important that I hear these words just to remind me how much I enjoy the small things in life and how exciting it is to see a rainbow, to find a four-leaf clover, to take a walk in the city and to smile at someone.

A very elegant 70-year-old-lady sat beside me in the café and began a conversation especially to say to me how she loved the atmosphere because the people are so kind and she can appreciate the small things in life by coming here.

I sat in the café to write a posting for my blog, which wasn’t at all easy as the other guest were so talkative and interesting, which all adds to the theme of the blog, what a wonderful world!

My conductive upbringing
I wanted to write about how my personal life is influenced by Conductive Education, by conductive pedagogy and conductive upbringing. Can I bring myself up? Yes I believe I can, with a little help from my friends!

I returned this weekend from the green and pleasant land of England after the third family funeral and the second burial of ashes in two months. I had five weeks in Nürnberg between the death of my mother and returning to bury my uncle and my mother's ashes, and in this five weeks I managed to set up my new home, do some interesting work, experience a bit of life in the city and write a few blog postings.

Tasks, motivation and success
I think it is a good opportunity to look at how I deal with all the recent changes in my life in relation to principles that I have learnt in my conductive work. I ask myself how can/do I “practise what I preach”? How do I apply what I do at work to the way I live?

For example, today I set myself tasks. The first one was to allow myself to be poorly, to rest, relax and sleep. I had to set this task because as usual I was hoping that a toothache would just disappear but it wasn’t working and now I felt quite ill.

The first task wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be as, I allowed myself to be motivated by the new books, newspapers and magazines acquired in UK that were just asking to be looked at while resting in bed.

After this success I set my next task which was to walk to the emergency dental clinic, which too turned out successfully. I even had a sleep in the waiting room. My motivation this time – medicine to take the pain away!

Task number three – another walk with a throbbing face to the chemist, not to go to the nearest one by tram but to walk through the city, to look at the castle and to be enthralled by all the beauty just a stone's thrown from my home. My aim was to feed my soul, my medicine not the antibiotics from the chemist but my joy at living in the heart of the city.
My pleasure at the ease with which I can now get from A to B and my wonder at the medieval buildings surrounding me motivated me to be spontaneous and not rush home to bed.

Orthofuntional spontaneity
This was my next step towards orthofunction, using spontaneously that which I have learnt by setting myself achievable tasks, one of which was taking the huge step to living alone in the city!

So my spontaneous activity now was to do something which I have been practising over the past year and something which am actually getting quite good at, that is to sit in a café sketching writing and observing and sometimes even chatting. My motivation for doing this was the feeling that I knew I would take home with me, success, what Mária Hári would call “ orthofuntional spontaneity”.

I had set myself achievable tasks, looking at problems and solving them step by step, exactly as I do in the work with my clients and there was the added bonus from feeding my soul to make orthofunction possible – the toothache had vanished for a few hours! Yes, maybe the treatment from the dentist helped, maybe the antibiotics were kicking in, but I prefer to believe it was my now healthy Seele that led to spontaneity and the path to orthofunction. It was my belief in what Mária Hári taught me ,which in turn led me to feed my soul and resulted in a notebook full of sketches and blog ideas, and a five-minute walk home at midnight with a smile.

I am on the way to becoming a fully fledged orthofunctinal woman about town!


Clarks Sandals

Louis Armstrong, What a wonderful world

Café im Atelier

Louis Armstrong, Hello Dolly


Mária Hári on Conductive Pedagogy, edited by Gill Maguire and Andrew Sutton
ISBN 1-897588-24-0

“Another term of the technical language of Conductive Education is orthofunkció. Anglicised as “orthofunction”, this has been widely discussed and almost as widely misunderstood. Suffice it here to indicate that it refers to an active orientation to learning on the part of learners, aware that they can and should set their own goals and, find their own ways to solve problems, and achieving satisfaction and reward in doing something new- as opposed to a dysfunctional system which teaches failure, demotivation and dependence."

Birgit Endres
Birgit Endres sang a song which I now know was from Eddy Arnold. I had never heard this song before and therefore did not catch all the words, but some of them stuck because I thought they expressed the way that conductive pedagogy influences me and the impact that it often has on the lives of families when they first come across it.

These are the few isolated lines thatI wrote down. I have highlighted the words that I hear so often from parents when they describe their experiences:

You gave me hope when I was at the end
You gave me dignity
You gave me the strength to face the world out on my own again
You put me high, so high that I could see eternity.

This last line I see as describing the hope that many parents talk about, that shows them that there is a future for their child.

That's me always on my sister's left hand side.

Friday 22 August 2008

András Petö's Sixth Sense

My Grandma, my seele, 1904, by Susie Mallett 1975

I have been giving some more thoughts on the development of Conductive Education in countries in the Eastern world. Interest will inevitably spread after the forthcoming conference in Hong Kong, where “Conductive Education” is already thriving especially through the work of SAHK.

I gave some more thought to András Petö’s interest in Buddhism and looked for other teachings which could be relevant.

Buddhism teaches about senses and states that the sixth sense we have is the mind or consciousness. Throughout András Petö's writings he discusses the need for the mind, or the soul, to be healed, he writes of the soul needing to be healthy in order to let the body heal physically and to remain healthy.

The Buddhist's "sixth sense" and Petö's soul or consciousness I see as one and the same thing. It is this sixth sense, the consciousness, which we as conductors need to awaken and enlighten in our clients through conductive pedagogy so we can show them how to reach their potential in life.

Maybe in Eastern countries where Buddhism is practised, the people who are right now taking their first steps into investigating Conductive Education will find it easier than in the western world to adapt Petö's system to their culture. Through practising Buddhism the "sixth sense", the soul, is already active and open to learning a method where the harmony between the body and soul is very important.
The next CE World Congress is in Hong Kong, 2010. watch for news of this.

A postscript to On not having to shout.

Aspects of Budapest by Susie Mallett, 1992

I was recently given a booklet and in it I read some articles written by parents who were bringing their children to the Petö Institute or “the Petö” as some of them, even as early as 1986, called it. (see Conductive Education World, "Terminological exactitudes. Can we begin to agree on some basic terms?")

In this booklet, called quite simply Conductive Education?, I came across an interesting paragraph that could have been specially written as a postscript for my recent blog “On not having to shout”.

Three weeks into a six-month placement a parent asked the leading conductor how his young child was faring. The reaction was positive and the conductor added that the child is having difficult concentrating. The parent immediately responded with questions asking what the family could do to remedy this. The conductor’s reply, quite matter of fact as we know from Dr Mária Hári that it is: “No no it is not for you. It is our problem. We must motivate her.”

The parent went on to state that parents who have taken their children to Conductive Education placements in both Hungary and elsewhere, recognise the difference of approach that this statement represents.

As all conductors know motivate a child and the sky's your limit. At just this moment I am searching the contents of my flat for all I can find which could aid me in motivating a teenage girl.


Conductive Education? by Janet Read
Published by the Foundation for Conductive Education, 1990
Conductive Education World
19th August 2008, Terminological exactitudes

Saturday 16 August 2008

"Dinosaurs Love Underpants"

"Armadillo sings the blues" by Susie Mallett 2005

How a conductor teaches English

Some of the children I work with love the idea of having an English conductor especially when they have already started to learn some English at school or Kindergarten or just from computer activities or pop songs, (Sunday, 27 July 2008, "A walk in the woods with the Wundershone Englanderin"). Some children are interested in doing the task series in English which is sometimes a very difficult "task" for me as I have rarely "conducted" in my mother tongue. I find the best methods are singing English songs and action rhymes and, as the children get older, I introduce English games and we translate the texts to their favourite songs.

One young boy with whom I have worked with for several years has a special interest as both his parents are fluent English-speakers and his father uses the language daily in his buisness.
For this boy in particular I like to collect books at car boots and jumble sales when I am in England and today I found something newly published Dinosaurs Love Underpants, by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort.

Even the cover will awaken his interest just as it did my own when I saw it in the bookshop and it jumped off the shelves at me.

This book is just perfect, all little boys love anything to do with dragons, knights or dinosaurs, it contains enough interest-awakening material for a whole week at least. We will learn about cave men and dinosaurs, and underwear and anger, all in English. The words are enough to set the imagination on fire in any language and there are images galore for numerous arty projects. The book is in rhyming text so we will write our own bilingual poetry and the pictures are so vivid they will inspire creativity, we can design our own underpants and invent new dinosaurs,
I can not wait to get started!

Watch this spot for Dinosaurs Love Underpants in action!

Below are the first two verses to awaken your interest, more to come!

Dinosaurs were all wiped out,
A long way back in history,
No one knows quite how or why,
Now this book solves the mystery.

It all began when cavemen,
Felt embarrassed in the nude,
So someone dreamt up underpants,
To stop them looking rude.



Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781847382092
Published: 2 June 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's

On not having to shout

" Quietly communicating" Susie with her guillemot, Walcot, Norfolk, 1962

I was recently invited to a meeting to discuss the future provision of Conductive Education for a group of children who have been attending a Conductive Tagesstätte for the past five years. The group is to be moved to a different school because of lack of space, and staff in the conductive centre, but the parents still wish for a conductive "afternoon upbringing" for their children. We were there to talk about if and how I would be able to provide this for them. We got the work done and came up with a few ideas which we will try to put into practise.

But that is not the reason for this posting, it was a comment made by a parent in this meeting which inspired me to write this. She told me that she found it difficult to understand me, which I found interesting as it had taken my full concentration throughout the meeting to decipher her own broad Franconian accent. I made a big effort to speak more clearly.

The parent continued on the same theme, stating also that I talk very quietly, and asked whether the children understand me. I answered that if the children are listening of course they understand me, that they tend to listen because they are interested in what I have to say and, when they listen, they are not only interested in what I have to say but in how I say it, as I have such a funny-peculiar accent.

Something else which probably keeps children so attentive is that I invite them to correct any mistakes I make, which of course they just love to do.

All the children also know that if they wish they can always initiate a spontaneous English lesson, which often makes listening even more attractive for them,( see my posting from Sunday, 3 August 2008 "The English breakfast and the green dragon").

This wasn’t the end of the matter, the next questions were: "What about when you have to shout? Can you shout?"

My verbal response to this was that I don’t need to shout but my private thoughts were no one ever has to shout. Once again I explained that if I make the activity interesting I do not need to raise my voice (unless of course the activity is actually about talking loudly).

Interested, well-motivated children will listen even when I am whispering. We often play a game to find out how quietly we can talk so that the others in the room can still understand. And who hasn’t had tremendous fun at a party playing Chinese Whispers?

These questions about shouting in order to keep the children's interest got me thinking about something all good educators know and rarely talk about, but which Dr Mária Hári often liked to talk about. She always told us that "poor attention span" and "distractibility" are not necessarily the inevitable problem, the "symptoms" of cerebral palsy that one so often hears about, rather the children are not being interested, and to raise the child’s interest is one of the most important aspects of a conductor’s work. We all know that raising a child’s interest is not achieved by shouting as loud as one can. In one of Dr Mária Hári lectures she said:

"The tasks motivated by the conductor always cause pleasure and invoke attention and the result is the child’s increasingly independent work."

Sometimes of course the children will sense a change in the tone of my voice, usually if it is sad or worried, and occasionally as I wait for an unusually rowdy group to settle and ready themselves to begin work a hint of impatience may be recognised, but I have absolutely no need whatsoever to shout and certainly no wish to do so. Any children who persist in misbehaving soon learn that I will wait until they are ready to begin, and I never need to wait long.

The children get to know me and they learn that they are allowed times to chat with their friends and these become some of the important "in-between times" in a Conductive Day.

A few years ago I worked with a group of teenage girls who all attended the same school but never had enough time in the school day to share stories about boys, clothes and disco. I "stole" ten minutes from the daily programme and created the "giggle programme", when I would "disappear", supposedly to clear away the plinths, and the girls had the privacy that they needed to giggle their way through stories about the latest loves in their lives. It was perfect programme-planning, perfectly placed so that they worked hard in anticipation of the "break" and I didn’t have four giggling teenagers on my hands afterwards! It is not easy to get the attention of a bunch of giggly girls however loud you speak!

In the Petö Institute where the groups could be as large as 20 if not more, I would sometimes attract the children’s attention by strolling the length of the plinths until the noise dropped enough to talk at a normal level. Another conductor-student would start very quietly strumming her guitar, getting louder the quieter it got, another very small woman I knew used to have an old fashioned hand bell to ring, none of us ever felt that we needed to shout, we just had to do what Dr Hári always suggested we do, awake the interest of the children then they would attend to the tasks that they were given.

"The conductor creates intercommunication and an active atmosphere, activates and then directs this level of activity that she has created and utilises it. The conductor’s most general basic aim is the creation of initiative. The crux of the matter is to call into life a truly purposeful energy…"

The quote above from Dr Mária Hári describes what a conductor can achieve by gaining a child’s interest, I could not do any of this by raising my voice and shouting so, to answer the questions once more: Yes the children understand me and No I do not have shout, we all work together and we are all interested in each other.


Tagesstätte: in Germany school finishes at lunch time for younger children, Tagestätte is the name given to the place where the children spend their afternoons, where they eat lunch, do their homework and may even have time to play. Saturday, 9 August 2008, School is out for Summer


Mária Hári on Conductive Pedagogy, edited by Gill Maguire and Andrew Sutton

Green food for the soul

Summer Landscape, June 2008 , by Susie Mallett

Flying over the English Channel for the fifth time in two months is more than I usually manage in a whole year. Yes I am off to another funeral and also home to bury my Mum's ashes, but also to see my family and some friends, do some work in my Dad's enormous garden and hopefully find some time to relax. I expect there won't be enough days and as usual I will run out of time to do all I have planned.

As I look out of the plane and spot ships through the broken cloud I anticipate once again that first glimpse of the green and pleasant land which is my "home", and as usual the excitement is just as great. The descent is announced, land approaches and with it dense cloud cover. Will this mean that once again that I will be denied the green view from the air which would warm the cockles of my heart?

All I see is a fluffy whiteness. Thank goodness for my visual memory and my vivid imagination. My eyes can penetrate the cloud cover and I visualise the cricket pitches, hear the sound of the clunk of the ball as it hits willow, I imagine I see the fields full of sheep, cows and horses, the miles of green hedgerows the meandering rivers, the manor houses and the rows of terrace houses.

Then a surprise, just as we hit the coastline the clouds clear and there is the green and pleasant land! Just a tantalising glimpse and more cloud. There are the occasional clear patches that allow me to see the irregular-shaped fields and the green trees, so different to the landscape that I left behind in Germany with its dark coniferous greens. The sky eventually clears and even with so many of the wheat fields ploughed and brown, or still golden ready for harvesting, the overall impression is still green, summer-green, deciduous-tree green. I have never had such a glorious view.

To add to the wonder as we bank to circle waiting to land a rainbow comes into view , one stack lower and the rainbow is even clearer, the greens even greener, swimming pools bluer, the streets start to show signs of life and the straw bales get rounder. The trees and hedgerows become reminiscent of model-railway layouts, the mansions in their grounds appear more and more stately, and there is the end of the rainbow and the moon to boot.

This is the view I was anticipating in May when I returned for the wedding. I feel like I have received a wonderful present. Food for my soul to make this trip home easier, to make the soul lighter. Now more details are appearing in my view, horses are grazing in the last of the evening sunshine, people with their dogs strolling along the country lanes, football pitches and tennis courts in action and the rivers and streams meander through the woods. The brakes are applied as the tarmac appears without warning.

Home again and such a welcoming vista!

Sunday 10 August 2008

School is out for Summer

As I so often say, I love my work, every day brings a different challenge.

Last week was the last for the conductive Tagesstätte before the summer break, school is out at last.

The children were with us for the whole day instead of just for three hours in the afternoons and I had been asked to join the team for the week. Having more time in the day meant not only could we do the conductive programmes but we also had time to do lots of fun stuff. For example we could cook ourselves a hearty breakfast to set us up for the day's adventures, such as being arty with our papier mache, cycling, story-telling and playing the famous five, singing English songs and painting.

The photos show just a few snippets from our days.


Tagesstätte: In Germany school finishes at lunch time for younger children, Tagestätte is the name given to the place where the children spend their afternoons, where they eat lunch, do their homework and may even have time to play.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

András Petö: on the road to greater understanding.

Sand Sculpture "Buddha", Lowestoft Beach, Suffolk, 1994

Harmony and osmosis

I have read much from the two books that András Petö is known to have written in German and it is through doing so that I begin to have a better understanding of him and how and why he developed his work as he did.

As usual, just as I did while studying at the Petö Institute, Budapest, I absorb lots of information from the book through osmosis. Something more than the words seems to seep through the pores of my skin into my Seele as I read Unfüg der Krankheit - Triumph der Heilkunst. Instinctively I seem to be able to see the book as a whole and not as the individual chapters it contains. I see it not as separate snippets of information but I do visualise András Petö and begin to imagine how all the things I read about made up the personality of this person. The book is a reflection of András Petö’s many interests and shows us the directions his work was taking while he was in Vienna until he began his movement classes in the 1940s.

By looking at the book as a whole I can put together a more complete image of András Petö and get an idea of what made him tick. He talks in most chapters, no matter what their theme is, about bringing a unity between the human body and the mind.

In a recent posting on the Conductive Education World, Andrew Sutton mentioned András Petö’s German books when writing from Hong Kong where he had seen the Big Buddha, which made him think of what Kipling called in his poem Mandeley ' the Great Gawd Budd'. Andrew is asking in his posting about the impact that Petö’s interest in Eastern beliefs had on the development of Conductive Education.

I think the words that he uses explaining the meaning of the swastika symbol on the Buddha give us quite a good start to our investigation on this theme. "The swastika on the Big Buddha’s chest represents Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites." When facing left, as on the Big Buddha that he saw, it represents love and mercy.

Petö and Buddhism

I do not claim a wide knowledge on Buddhism, but maybe we can all be enlightened a little if I try to write down my ideas about what I see as connections between András Petö’s work, my own work, Conductive Education as a whole, and Buddhism.

In Petö’s book Unfug der Krankheit there is a long chapter about Buddhism and there is an interconnection between the chapters through the underlying theme of finding harmony between the mind and the body. In the book we discover that Petö had a personality with many facets, and he sought to unite these though his work to create a balance, a harmony bringing everything together to form a fascinating whole.

One of the aspects of Buddhism which I find easiest to relate to András Petö and his concepts is given the name “dependent origination”, which is the understanding that anything exists only because of the existence of other things, in a complex web of cause and effect, including the happenings of the past the present and the future. Buddhists believe that everything depends on everything else, that a human being's existence at any given moment is dependent on the condition of everything else in the world at that moment, and also that how the rest of the world is at that moment depends too upon the character of the human being.

The multitude of subjects that are covered in Petö’s books are all dependent upon each other in the whole which Petö is trying to create, and in just the same way all parts of the body and the soul are interdependent on each other and are worked on as a unity through Conductive Education.

Petö was interested in many things both medical and esoteric, and he saw a relationship between all aspects of life and the health of a human being. Much is to be found in his books about how important it is to unify body and soul, to create the right balance for the whole to be healthy, in order to live a harmonious life and live it to its full potential.

The aspect of Buddhism which describes everything in the world influencing everything else, how each person influences the whole world and how the world influences each person is the nearest that I can find to explain how Petö introduced his Eastern beliefs, especially perhaps Buddhism, into the development of Conductive Education.

There is more to think about here and I may come back to this later. I hope other people will too.


Seele: soul

Dr. Med. Otto Bärnklau (a pseudonym of András Petö) Unfüg der Krankheit - Triumph der Heilkunst.

The Big Buddha, Lantau Island

Kipling, R, Mandalay

Andrew Sutton:

Monday 4 August 2008

One “Petö-Packed” hour.

Versuchskannichen by Susie Mallett 2003


How do you do an hour of “Conductive Education” with someone with cerebral palsy and autistic tendencies, and know that we have achieved more in this hour than is sometimes possible in a whole day?

This is how we did it.

My client arrived very late, first she had lost her glasses and then she lost herself. She eventually found the glasses and eventually found herself and me!

We tried to solve the glasses problem by deciding to have a permanent place where the spare ones are kept, so they are always on hand to help in the search for the others. The problem of loosing oneself is more complex.

My client had thrown away the map I had given her because she thought that after two visits she had surely memorised a few landmarks and would get here without it. She had not considered that the yellow bike, often chained to the lamppost at the end of the street and one of her important anchor marks, is sometimes being used and therefore not there. I am not sure whether she then spent an hour searching for it or if she arrived by pure chance.

We decided that the Satellite Navigation system for pedestrians, which her mum had offered her, would certainly be a good idea. My client initially rejected the offer because she wanted to prove she can do without. We discussed how there are so many people, including those who have suffered a stroke, who are very thankful for this tool to help them overcome the orientation problems that they experience when trying to get back behind the wheel.

Perhaps with this “sat. nav” my client can improve her punctuality that is especially important now as she will soon be entering the “real” world of appointment-keeping, as she will start teaching and will need to get to places on time.

So in the first five minutes of the session we had recognised a problem … orientation and spatial awareness... and we had come up with a few solutions. First to accept the gift of the “sat. nav.” from mum and secondly stick the maps that she uses to find somewhere for the first time into her address book and never throw them away!

With regards to punctuality and organisation we discussed organising the contents of her bag and the clothes that she would wear the night before an early start. In addition we considered the possibility of putting all clothes in the appropriate place the moment she takes them off, to avoid the chaos which prevents her from finding her glasses.

What else did we do?

I massaged aching feet, then we decided together that the shoe inlays should be found immediately and used daily. A bit of manipulation of muscles was followed by some conventional 1,2,3,4,5, and some bending of legs. Then there was some walking-practice, with arms stretched high to prevent the wobbling. Then some more discussion about problem-solving: organising movement, organising self in space and organising personal belongings in space.

At this point I am reminded of the importance of doing homework in the conductive groups. Not because there is no time for things in the evening, but because it is such a good learning opportunity for children to improve their organisation skills and spatial awareness. They learn how to place their bag so they can reach everything easily, they learn how to place things on the table so they keep within their own personal space and they learn how not knock their books and pencils on the floor. Things get knocked off the table because these children do not always watch where they place them and therefore do not know where they are in relation to their own body. It happens at meal times too, glasses get knocked over because the eye/hand coordination is missing.

We had observed that as my client talks and as she walks her head moves continuously from one side to the other. This gives her too much visual stimulus so it is no wonder that she gets lost or cannot concentrate on her tasks. Her homework is to fix her eyes on one object and continue to work on tasks, using this method to keep her head in the middle and to improve her concentration. She realised that if she had concentrated on following a map she would not have been distracted by other visual stimuli and quite possibly she would have taken a direct route to me.

After ten years working together we are a great team, we have both reached a greater understanding of Conductive Education through our work. Recently I suggested that my client should seek advice from the Autistic Society in Nürnberg, and since this time we have come forward in leaps and bounds, developing ideas within the framework of Conductive Education to solve problems associated with her autistic tendencies.

I wrote this posting yesterday afternoon. Just as I was finishing I was bombarded with text messages on my ancient mobile phone that peeped away in protest at the speed at which it was having to work. The following is the “message” I received from the above-mentioned client. If I had known it was coming I probably would not have written my posting, but it is good to hear both sides of the story.

Maybe it is also something which will interest Gill Maguire for the NICE library.

Conductive Education is being an hour late for some important work but still getting more done than usual!

Conductive Education is also drinking coffee or sleeping, instead of exercising, and it is finding suitable jobs for two very unique people. (We often develop ideas on how to find jobs for both a conductor and a disability studies student with cerebral palsy, who has hidden mathematical talents, autistic traits and the evident gift for learning foreign languages).

Conductive Education is finding creativity and orientation in the chaos of autistic dyspraxia, in other words - Conductive Education is good for the entire central nervous system in all of my daily life.

You don’t believe at least a part of this?

Well I am permanently late because I don’t have much feeling for time or space. First loosing my glasses at home and then getting lost in a construction area made me three hours late for Petö, which broke all records. My conductor was naturally a little bit annoyed but she understands and we talked about the problem and its practical solutions, such as planning buffer times and taking mum’s advice, which is buying a pedestrian navigation system.

We discussed how this was conductive (Latin for bringing things together) and education as it made us aware of the potential of change.

We don’t know of any previous studies concerning Conductive Education and autism but we found out how for me to walk straight is partly a question of concentration often defied by autistic over-stimulation. We agreed that Conductive Education is the whole central nervous system in action.

Conductive Education is life, it brings together such topics as teaching, regarding oneself as worthy, managing time, managing talents and weaknesses, following urges of the body essential to survive (having breakfast supplied when I arrive three hours late), pursuing art and culture…..

Freddie H


Versuchskannichen : guinea pigs, as in trying something out for the first time.

Sat. Nav.:

Gill Maguire: Feedback from the otherside, 22nd July 2008

The English breakfast with a green dragon

My wonderful Bavarian boy had been ill for a few days, (my posting 27th July 2008, A walk in the woods with the wünderschöne Engländerin), but he returned to work with me with time enough to enjoy the sunny weather and for us to share an English breakfast in the woods as we had planned.

With tea made and eggs boiled we packed our bags and off we tramped to our reserved table in the shade of the young oak trees.

The pictures show it was a great success, Conductive Education in action, real fun living.

We had been requested to bring a dragon back from the woods and after breakfast we even discovered a way to fulfil these wishes.

Sunday 3 August 2008


Birgit Endres, August 2008

It is that time of year again when Nürnberg offers one musical experience after the other, two classical open-air concerts attracting audiences of up to 60,000 sandwiching the Bardentreffen, which took place this weekend.

I am writing this while enjoying Birgit Endres and Band sing the blues outside Albrecht Dürer’s Haus, having seen Sandy Dillon rocking in the Hauptmarkt.

There are many official stages around the city, with invited guests performing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. These guests are often upstaged by the performers on the unofficial stages, those who perform on the bridges, in shop doorways and in cafes all over the city.

I enjoy Friday evening and Sunday afternoon when the streets are less crowded and an air of calm hangs over the city, I was however encouraged to fight through the crowds on Saturday evening by the attractive offer of a free Joan Armatrading concert just a ten minute walk from my new flat!

This is why I moved!

This year there seem to be a lot more children taking part, and the best ”musical” experience for me today was on the Museum Brucke where I saw a small young lad of about seven years of age, with his recorder and sheet music. In front of him was a sign that he had painted saying : “Ich bin vielleicht nicht gut aber mütig!", "I may not be good but I have courage!"
Mütig he certainly was.

On seeing the many courageous children playing at their first Bardentreffen and seeing how they lost their nervousness as they were encouraged by the applause and the cents filling the hats in front of them, I started to think of all the children I come across in my work and of the courage they show as they fight against the odds. I wondered how many of them realise, as the boy with the recorder did, how courageous they actually are. How many of them would create a similar sign for themselves?

I would have liked to have made some changes to the recorder boy’s sign and add for starters the word “yet”- I may not be good yet, but I have courage!

I can think of many examples of children and young adults with courage in my personal experiences at work:

- there is 18-year old Margit who is being very mütig as she learns to drive, overcoming problems with spatial awareness and orientation, slowly and surely to take one courageous step forwards towards further independence

- and another 18 year old, Steffen, who despite his disabilities has learnt to control his movements in order to paint, exhibit and earn some pocket-money

- and how 10-year old Sven, despite hemiplegia, plays tennis and football, plays the piano and drums, and is about to begin comprehensive school tomorrow, joining a class where all the pupils will learn to play a brass instrument and form an orchestra.

- and of course there is Freddie H, courageously off to study in Iceland on Wednesday.

All these people are entitled to hang a sign around their necks reading “I am getting better and better at all I do in my life because of my courage.”

I hope to see the little boy on the bridge, with his recorder and his courage, at the 34th Bardentreffen in 2009.


Open-air classic concerts.



Hauptmarkt : main square
Museum Brucke: Museum Bridge
Mütig: courageous