December 2008, Hamar sky
18th December 2008-train to Oslo
Sleep, a bit-in-between that conductors sometimes need too!
I have just returned from three weeks in Hamar, Norway, which in some ways feels like three months or even years! I went straight to work on Friday, on the Christmas Market in Nürnberg and then I slept for thirteen hours, 'absolute soundo', as my Mum would say about our dog after a day on the beach.
Reluctantly on to that plane with Stinky Stig!
In Hamar it was some of the best work that I have ever done. I always love my work, as anyone who reads my blog regularly will know, and it is usually lively, full of fun and energy, and a success for all concerned. This time in Hamar, though, it was all of this and something more, and the funny thing is that on the 29th November as I was preparing to leave Germany a part of me didn’t really want to go, even though Stinky Stig the dinosaur was already in my suitcase!
The reason for my reluctance to leave was not because of going off into the unknown, I was really rather interested to find out what was being developed in Norway as far as Conductive Education was concerned. I was however very reluctant to live out of a suitcase again and longed to have some free time in my lovely flat.
I have taken at least eleven trips away from home this year, both within Germany and abroad, one of these for seven weeks, and in between moves in Germany I was also living out of boxes! Now, though, I am thoroughly enjoying being in my cosy warm flat for a few days sitting under the half decorated Christmas tree.
On 29th November luckily I had no choice, all the contracts had been signed and I had to get packing and on to that plane the next day. There were six little boys with their dinosaurs waiting at the other end for me and Stinky Stig: more than this I didn’t know, except that I was planning on having fun with them despite not speaking a word of their language. For me this was a problem as I would have loved to have had silly and serious chats with these boys, and when they asked when I was going to speak Norwegian to them it made me very sad.
The language question
On my very last day there, when I was singing the good-morning song without getting the words from the wall to follow, one boy just stared at me and said to Lill "She is speaking Norwegian". He was so thrilled, his face lit up. During the three weeks he had chattered to me non-stop and he too looked sad when I didn’t answer him.
I plan to change this for next time. Intensive Norwegian lessons are on the cards for 2009.
When I was still in Nürnberg I could not imagine for the life of me how it could possibly work out, me a leading conductor with no Norwegian language, not one word! It made me quite nervous I can tell you. I had experienced something like this once before and it was very difficult. The first time was in Hungary when I was a student, and not leading a group. As a first-year student at the Petö Institute, I was not expected to write programmes for the whole group, as I would be in Norway, to lead them, to write reports and hold meetings with parents.
I was to discover, however, that being English I could do this in Norway much better than could most of the other visiting conductors, as English is the language that is used for everything except the work in the group (and this Lill and I got sorted on the first day, resulting in excellent team work).
Conductive Education in Hamar
What did I know about Hamar before I got there? I knew that there were two Norwegian conductors who had trained at NICE, the National Institute of Conductive Education in Birmingham-both of them hard working, flexible and spontaneous, and lots of fun!
The 'block' system the world over - can it work?
I already knew that the centre in Hamar functions much in the same way as the centre where I work in Nürnberg. It also uses the block system, but whereas we have permanent groups who are given the dates of the three or four blocks that they can attend during one year, in Hamar the parents say when they wish to come and the groups are then formed accordingly.
I prefer the system in Nürnberg: it works more efficiently, both for the conductors and the children. The Hamar system may be better for the parents but makes it difficult for the conductors to follow work through during the whole year, and the children may need to get used to new peers and conductors each time they visit. Hamar has the added problem that, apart from the two permanent Norwegian conductors, the other conductors change every three weeks.
In Nürnberg we are each responsible for our own groups and whichever conductors are available will work with us, usually the same ones in specific groups. This gives a little more stability to the block system that has developed in Germany for much the same reason as in Norway, to fit in with the school system.
It is all swings and roundabouts and each country must find the best way to fit conductive upbringing into their culture and into the structure of their health and education systems, but first and foremost we are all here (all of us being the conductors, parents and management) for the children and we must always aim to do what is best for them.
Trudging and sliding to work
So, back to arriving in Hamar in the dark. It took me most of two weeks to get my bearings. There was rarely any sun to be seen and when it was it there it was setting so early that I couldn’t work out where the points of the compass were. It was dark when I walked to work each morning, first tentatively treading on sheets of ice them bravely trudging through deep snow, until the last day when it was back to the ice and out with the spikes for my shoes.
My work-place was in a wooden cabin not too far from the lake. I actually saw this cabin in daylight four times in fifteen days! Once while we were out sledging, once when we went to the barbeque lunch, and twice on the two Sundays when after lunch I set off to the centre to do overtime, to finish the paperwork, to write programmes and progress reports and, if I had any time left, to write a posting for my blog.
The two work-rooms at the Hamar centre are quite small, which limits the size of the groups and means that groups have to be more homogeneous than would be the case in larger groups, having more conductors and students working with them. I have often been asked over the years why can groups not be heterogeneous, as seen at the Petö Institute, and the answer is always they can be, but only if the groups are big and there are enough conductors . When you have a group of twenty children and divide this up into sub-groups for individual walking programmes, you can have four groups of five children each with a conductor and one or two students working together. In a group of six with two conductors, when you need four individual programmes you do not have anyone to work with all the sub-groups.
Over the years in Nürnberg we have been lucky, as we have always had enough conductors to call upon and have had some heterogeneous small groups, but now as elsewhere we, conductors, are being reduced in numbers and the groups are homogeneous again.
Selection box of learning
With our six very active boys in Hamar Lill and I had to be creative with the space. We managed to learn all sorts of things, like walking on Dinosaur footprints, walking over wobbly desert landscapes, and hopping on one foot, as well as eating with a knife and fork and putting on foot splints when dressed in snow gear (this is a huge achievement, try it and see). The children learnt how to paint dinosaurs while standing up, how to make Christmas sweets, how to wrap Christmas presents and some got almost as far as tying their own shoe laces. Some learnt to ride on a sledge and others how to grill sausages on a stick. They learnt that dinosaurs hatched out of eggs and even had a go at modelling some and putting them in old egg shells. They learnt that some ate plants and some ate each other.
Proof enough that that education, upbringing, learning, joy and having fun can all come in the same package.
More on language
How glad I am that I got on that plane and made it to Oslo and found myself in a foreign land unable to understand a word. I had no idea then that all Norwegians from as early as six years old, learn to speak English as correctly if not more so than I can. I was soon to realise that with my English and German I would do fine and I could stop worrying.
Those Norwegians working at the centre certainly use English a lot more than I do in my life in Germany. Believe it or not, this was only my second experience of Conductive Education in English, but it was English with several other languages going around in my head or coming out of other people's mouths. I was speaking Hungarian at the house where I was living and English at work, and both socially. I was in my element! My Hungarian improved dramatically over the three weeks, thanks to my Hungarian colleague Erzsibet, and I think that my English improved too! I was learning lots of English terms used in Conductive Education and I became more fluent in every-day English!
It was interesting being out together with my Hungarian colleague, Erzsibet, as she speaks Norwegian probably like I speak Hungarian, although I can not judge this very well. She speaks a little English and with my German and English and Hungarian we were communicating and understanding everything going on around us.
At the centre the Norwegians are really good at swapping into English as soon as a non- Norwegian appears. When this non-Norwegian happened to be only me I asked them not to change to English, especially when it was in their very short lunch hour, as I loved to hear them “singing” to each other.
Lill Angel (Norwegian conductor Lill Hege who was one of my two angels for three weeks) invented this word, and we all love it. I use it to describe the times when the 'fun fun' stopped and the 'serious fun' began. It describes the times when Lill Angel, Angel Marthe and I would sit down after work. Lill and I would be planning the next day, discussing the progress and changes needed, when Marthe would arrive to say goodbye. Often she too would sit with us and here we three would stay, sometimes for hours. These two conductors certainly know how to ask questions, and I learnt how to answer them. I have had a German NICE conductor working with me in Nürnberg, both when she was a student, at the end of her first and second years, and later as a conductor. She was just the same. They are all very capable of working independently and have a never-ending flow of questions. I love it. I enjoy this teaching, especially as in Norway it was so spontaneous and practical. I love finding out what I actually know!
We inspired each other in Hamar for three whole weeks and we will all miss each other in January, when I will be busy with my painter friend in northern Germany and in Hamar the little ones will be enjoying life with Postman Pat and his black and white cat. Hopefully they will have snow for sledging and winter barbeques.
How do words like 'seriosity' get invented?
They are inevitable in a conductive world where conductors, children and parents are speaking a multitude of different languages. Even a NICE-trained British student will be passively (when not actively) learning Hungarian from her Magyar colleagues. Magyars trained and working in Budapest will need English, Russian, Spanish and German and other languages to communicate with clients and students.
Lill and I were using four languages both actively and passively. This is extremely tiring and this is when the brain starts refusing to switch from one to other as quickly as is necessary and these funny words start to appear. I wish that I had collected them over the years and made a book, it would make far more interesting reading than the English- Norwegian- Magyar task series dictionary that I came across in Hamar. Although that made me smile in places!
Maybe I should start collecting the funny words and phrases now, I already have the first two – “seriosity” and “ I open my knees”. For executing the later I visualise either using an old fashioned tin opener to expose my knee cap, or having a zip running around it (probably the easier version!).
Swapping similar words with different meanings is also common in our work, as I remember doing in Hungarian with cipö (shoes) and csipö (hips). I used the wrong word for a whole lying programme in the spina bifida group, where hips are mentioned in nearly every breath. It happened to be my exam and no one said a word except the very senior conductor, in her assessment afterwards, in very broken English!
I say no more, except perhaps it doesn't really matter and it makes everyone laugh.
Returning to Hamar
Norwegians are returning from their training in Britain and gradually they will take over leading all the groups, and they will at last be able to work together. This means they will be dealing with only one language and this their own mother tongue and that of the children. What bliss for them all! I long to be able to do just this but, unless I return to England or go to another English-speaking country it will not be possible. At least here in Germany I only have English in my head and German in my mouth, although I do speak Magyar occasionally with my colleagues, firstly because it sounds nicer to my ear, secondly at least because one of us will be talking in our mother tongue which makes the situation more relaxing and, thirdly, I like to practise.
I would love to be a fly on the wall as Lill and Marthe get together for the first time in a group, as a team. What fun they will have playing with their own language. I do hope they will forget about translating tasks from English or Hungarian and can be spontaneous and discover their own language, with a few made-up words to cover the gaps, as for example “I pinch my thumb and finger together” which they were still debating over when I left!
As for my return to Hamar, I hope that this will be very soon. Maybe to experience Norway and its greenness and light so that I can compare it to Norway in its darkness, its blues, pinks and whites and every shade in between.
And of course I would also like to return to enjoy more of the same conductive work with my new colleagues.