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Friday 23 January 2009

Questions on conductive upbringing

Karen and Holive (my sister and I), 1959

Part II. Upbringing by conductors.Text Colour

What did I experience in the four years at the Petö Institute?

In a nutshell – for the most part it was conductive upbringing of children, by conductors, twenty-four hours a day, often seven days a week with very little imput from parents.

For Hungarian children: 24/7

This is where and how I learnt about the value and fun of the “bits in between”, as there were always far more bits in between in the Petö Institute groups than there was of anything else. Of course we all did the lying programme, walking programmes and sitting programmes but more often than not these were “bits in between” too, blending into the general routine of a day.

By “bits in between” I do not mean the bits which join all the different formal programmes together, for example how the individuals in a group move from one room to the other to eat lunch, or move to the bathroom to get ready for bed. I am talking about the whole day being “bits in between” because it was “life”, everyday conductive living.

For example in a kindergarten group once a week the plants would be collected to be watered. The more independent walkers would bring them to a table where other children needing parallel bars or a plinth to hold on to would care for them, take off the dead leaves and water them. They would then be returned to the appropriate places in the room by the independent walkers.

Maybe in the summer the walking and individual programmes would be a walk down the stairs or a ride in the lift, walking out into the garden, to learn how to use a swing or slide. The sitting programme would be a puppet show or a theatre performance, or role-playing of some kind, perhaps doctors or teachers. A hand programme could be preparing food to be eaten by the group, or creating decorations for a particular celebration.

This is what I experienced every day and this is how I learnt to work in a group of 20-24 children. As a first-year student I was given a group of three or four children during the individual walking programme and asked to devise games for them specifically to learn certain movements and abilities, all within the framework of the given theme for the day.

In school groups it was slightly different as the playing was replaced by lessons.

The day began with a lying programme which incorporated an introduction to the day's school work, and this was followed by individual walking programmes to the school desks.

Throughout the lessons the children were encouraged to make all the movements that would have been practised in activities in their kindergarten groups. With the younger children, the transition for learning movements through play to their automatic use in school was done slowly and precisely.

The school bags would always be placed either on the floor beside the children to encourage bending to the side or they would be hung on the back of the chair to encourage turning to the right or the left. The whole class would be asked to look in their bags for a specific book and they would be facilitated by conductors in whatever way necessary to do this task.

The class would be asked to point to pictures in their books with the left hand or the right hand, with the index finger or the little finger. Just as in the kindergarten, where they may have practised ironing and folding clothes, the same movements were used in the school lessons when, in unison, the children were asked to turn the page a book. Again facilitation being given by conductors.

Letters were learnt by using huge arm movements, scribing with a hand in the air or on the desk, later just using a finger in a tray of sand and finally with a pen on paper, the size of both depending on the stage that the child had reached.

In the school groups the days were again filled up with bits-in-between, the bits-in-between now had changed from play to school life. In between the lessons were times when formal tasks could be set for individual children when walking to the bathroom, preparing the tables for lunch and tea, doing homework and leisure activities, preparing for bed.

Both at kindergarten and school age the whole day was planned for each child both individually and as a group. There was not one minute in the day when the children did not know what their tasks were. Whether watering plants, reading to a friend, chatting around the tea table, solving a mathematical problem or making their bed, the whole group always knew where they were and what they should be doing.

During all of the activities of the day the group would be lead by a team of two or three conductors in one of three shifts, along with the hierarchy of students from first to fourth years, maybe as many as ten at one time. Conductors and students were allocated their tasks for the week and as a team they planned their activities within the framework of the group.

On week days the upbringing of the children aged between three and thirteen was carried out entirely by conductors. At weekends activities were planned by conductors for children who remained in the groups. Some children would be collected by their parents to spend a day or two with their families. I am not sure how “conductive” the upbringing of these children was within their families as I was never involved in or witnessed meetings between parents and conductors.

For foreign children: a very different experience

I spent one year of my conductor training at the Petö Institute in the International Kindergarten Group which had a entirely different daily routine to that of the Hungarian groups. The children did not board in the International Group as they did in the other kindergarten groups, but were brought by their parents to the Institute each morning at nine and collected again each afternoon at four. It was not possible to incorporate dressing and washing, cleaning teeth, bed-making and day-to-day living skills as intensively in the international groups as is was in the groups where the children boarded. The hours before or after school or kindergarten were missing from the routine of the “international” children as they went home in the afternoon, and so it was impossible to know how “conductive “ this time was for them in their own family environments.

The foreign parents had little involvement in the daily routine in the groups, usually a few hours of observation during each visit of 4-6 weeks, and one consultation with a conductor during this time. It could be fair to say that many parents had not yet learnt how to bring up their children conductively at home. It is easy to wonder how any of them actually did manage to learn this from the Institute, with so little hands-on experience with conductors at their sides to advise them.

Amazingly, some of these parents, exceptional people, did learn, despite the fact that their children's “conductive upbringing” within the hours of this group was done primarily by conductors (and us students!).

There was a very different atmosphere in the International Group to that in the Hungarian groups. The Hungarian groups were vey much like a big family unit that had learnt to run like clockwork. Of course there were lots of changes everyday, new experiences to adapt to, new games to play, new children occasionally joining the groups and new school activities, but the structure was known to the children and to the conductors, and this created a calm, and at the same time very active environment.

The International group was always in a state of change, with most children coming and going every three weeks, but some staying for longer periods and others shorter. Sometimes on a Monday morning half of the group of 25 would be new faces and many of these faces sad, confused and often tearful. It would always take a few days to bring a calm atmosphere to the group.

During the time in which I was studying at the Petö Institute I met many foreign families and I witnessed how many, filled with renewed hope for the continued development of their child, began the process of taking conductive education out of Hungary back to their own country. Some of them did this on a larger scale than others, reaching out and offering conductive upbringing to many more families back home. What happened then will be continued in “Conductive upbringing Part III".

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds about right, Susie, in my experience as a foreign parent at the Institute in the early 90s and as a parent who sought to have an impact on returning home.

Very briefly, some quick thoughts:
i) I was vaguely aware of the different experience of local, residential, children from that in the International group.
ii) my dream for a centre in Sheffield was more akin to the local group rather than the International group; that is, CE 24/7/365. However, if this was to be a non-residential service, there were implications for the role of parents.
iii) the reality was that initially, 1996-about 1998, in Sheffield, we broadly followed the International group pattern, with a small, fairly stable children's group, with conductors coming from the Institute in 6-week (approx half term blocks); since then, we have followed a typical UK non-residential school year - plus a summer school.
iv) the big questions with the day-school, school-year model ( a very dominant cultural model, of course) are: what happens as regards conductive upbringing when school's out and how do we engage parents in the conductive upbringing of the child?
v) theoretically, it should be possible to provide and fund through the broad understandings that underpin 'Every Child Matters' and the need for parent training. In practice, I suggest, the barrier to carrying this forward is still the medicalisation of the general understanding of CP among education professionals and others.

That's all too brief to make much sense, perhaps. However, for me, your reflections raise some profound questions about the service parents and children need if we are serious about conductive upbringing.