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