My visitors today

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Questions of Conductive upbringing

All this "luck" found between 15.45 and 15.50, June 2nd 2009

Part Three

By the time that I had left the Petö Institute in 1993, my qualification as a conductor safe in my pocket, I had several different experiences of conductive pedagogy and upbringing.
I had worked with adults in 2-3 hour twice-weekly sessions for over a year and I had experienced the conductive input in the premature unit of a Budapest hospital. In between these two extremes I had experienced the whole range of groups at the Petö Institute for Conductive Upbringing

I worked with the mother-and-child group, in which parents worked for three hours each day with their young children, with one or two conductors working with them. The children attended until discharged or moved on to full-time kindergarten group.

Residential conductive upbringing

It was while working in one of these kindergarten groups that I experienced for a whole year the 24/7 conductive upbringing of Hungarian children, by conductors. The children boarded until they were independent enough to join a state school and moved home, or they moved on to a school group within the Petö Institute.

I worked in one of these school group too, with seven-to-eleven-year-olds, and experienced yet another type of upbringing which included the curriculum of the national school system.

Until these residential children left the Petö Institute I saw NO input from parents. When children left the Petö Institute they returned regularly, every three, six or twelve months, to the outpatients’ department. It was at this time that the parents became involved once more in the conductive upbringing of their child.

At these out-patient meetings a conductor would discuss with the family the child’s life and all the progress made since the last visit. Advice would be given and any problems would be discussed, whether physical, psychological or social, relating to school or to home.

Tasks for future development would be given for the child to carry out, alone or with a family member.

I found it very interesting to observe how the situation of the child had changed so dramatically from being brought up almost 100% by conductors to moving into the hands of teachers and parents. These children were incredibly independent, they were so aware of their own abilities and needs. They would speak up for themselves, they would describe clearly their recent progress and express any points of concern.

Although the conductive upbringing by conductors 24/7 was not a perfect solution, the children in the outpatients’ department were exceptionally independent and very self-assured. There were nearly all very good at interacting in their new social environments. Usually they fitted in quickly and well.

The whole life of these children during the time that they had spent at the Petö Institute was 100% “conductive“, and they left the Institute only when they had become sufficiently independent in movement and problem-solving to attend a state school.

The International Kindergarten Group

As mentioned in “Conductive upbringing part two”, during my years of training I experienced yet another variation on the theme when I worked in the International Kindergarten group. Here it 8/5 conductive upbringing for three to six weeks at a time.

These children arrived at 8.30 a.m. and were collected again by their parents sometime in the afternoon. The parents saw little of “the action” in the group and what they managed to learn about Conductive Education came from elsewhere, not from within their child’s group.

It was often the parents of these children in the International Groups who became the “pioneers”. They were the parents who decided that they wanted to have Conductive Education at home. They started importing it to all over the world and Conductive Education began to take on as many different forms as there were centres and pioneers. Rarely do you find a centre offering what I described from my experiences in the Petö Institute. Perhaps in England where training also takes place. Israel maybe comes close to it too. But nowhere provides “100% conductive residential” like I experienced in Budapest.

Taking it out of Hungary

Every one of these pioneering parents had to consider how the method could be transferred from Hungary to their own situation and society. There would be many aspects that influenced its establishment and its development once they got it there.

One major influence was the understanding that these pioneers had of Conductive Education. This differed enormously from person to person.

Much depended also on their reasons behind importing the method in the first place.

  • Were they just wanting to import the group that their child was working in, to be nearer to home?
  • Or were they looking at a longer and wider project, wanting to import the whole system, providing services for babies and parents, toddlers, children, teenagers, adults, carers and follow-up, and of course the most important, training for conductors?


Most of the centres that I experienced in Germany in my early years there, in the 1990s, were providing Conductive Education for the age-group of the pioneers’ own child or children. Gradually some of these centres introduced other groups and a few looked further ahead and developed a wider concept, the biggest of these possibly being in Starnberg, Bavaria, but still no conductor-training.

Over the past twenty years Germany has seen a wide range of services develop, providing for a wide range of users, but in the main groups and centres remain small and are mainly for young children.

Many of these German centres have grown as a specific need arises, when children grow into adults or when two or three new clients turn up, which may be enough to form a new group or employ another conductor.

Developing my own conductive upbringing

When I was newly qualified as a conductor I moved to Germany to live. There, with the beginnings of a “new” Conductive Education happening all around me, especially in Bavaria where I lived, I considered how I could best provide a service.

Within weeks of arriving my phone began to ring with enquiries and I began to get an idea of what people wanted. Mainly I began to understand that families had no wish to travel any more in search of Conductive Education and did not want to be separated for long periods of time. Even with the rapid development in their own country, services were often four hours’ travel away. They wanted Conductive Education but they wanted it on their doorstep.

What did I want?

I did not want to be a 24/7 conductor, with no role in the family. This was not my idea of a conductive upbringing.

  • I wanted to offer something long-term, something which would influence all aspects of my clients’ lives.
  • I wanted to offer more than a three-week summer camp, which was originally all that many centres throughout the world could offer.
  • I wanted to offer more than three hours’ Conductive Education a day to children who were not receiving a conductive upbringing at home.
  • I wanted to work within families, to act as a catalyst for a conductive upbringing.
  • I wanted to work not only with the child and not only with the mother and the child. My wish was to involve the whole family which includes Mum and Dad, brothers and sisters, and also Granddad and Grandma, aunties, uncles and cousins. And even beyond this to therapists, teachers and friends.

This is what I set out to do:

  • To influence all aspects of life.
  • To meet teachers and visit schools, to work alongside the physiotherapist and also to invite them to watch us at work.
  • To play with my clients in the garden, with siblings and cousins, to walk in the woods, go on picnics, watch the local football team, attend concerts, learn to swim and ski and ride mini-tractors, go karts and scooters. My aim was to do all of this within the family environment and not in a “therapy” centre where a child gets sent for three hours once a week.
  • In a familiar environment I wanted to be involved in the learning of all that was done by the whole family, each and every day.
  • This includes washing and dressing, eating and drinking, cooking and cleaning, gardening, shopping. Simply getting on with life.
  • I wanted to work in such a way that as many people as possible who came in contact with the disabled child would have the opportunity to learn through me to influence this life conductively.

My conductive upbringing

To a large extent I have achieved what I intended. I have worked like this in some families for many years, some of the time directly in the home, sometimes by way of letters and on the telephone.

Most of the children from these families have also attended Conductive Education groups in block form. Often they have attended conductive groups before I met them, as a starting point for getting to know Conductive Education, and it had been from this that had stemmed the wish for something else. Sometimes they have attended blocks on my advice so that they can have contact with other children.

I have had long-term involvement not just in the conductive upbringing of children, I have worked for over ten years in the same way with some adult clients, working with them both in their own homes with their families present and in my adult groups.

I can offer them four or five three-week blocks a year, with individual sessions in between either in the conductive centre or in their own homes.

With both adult and child clients, I attend appointments with them if necessary with specialists, I become involved in the decisions when changing schools, learning to drive, returning to work. I have often attended school prize-givings and parents’ evenings, and assisted in choosing new equipment or shoes. I have attended weddings and christenings and even a family funeral.

I do believe that I have achieved my aim of providing conductive upbringing for whole families. It is a provision that is on-going and ever-changing. Many of these families I am sure will come back to me again and I will take on whatever role is needed at the time.

Of course I still work in conductive groups, I always have done. Over the years we have had a huge variety of conductive provision in Nürnberg where I live.

  • There has been for several years now a conductive after-school-care-group, where the children eat lunch, do homework, play and do “sport”, all with conductors.
  • We have parent-and-child groups, teenagers’ groups and after-work adults’ groups.
  • We have an integrated kindergarten.
  • We have groups for adults during the day and individual sessions.
  • Always the group work is accompanied by home visits and the offer of individual session between blocks. Parents and carers are invited to be as involved as they wish to be, either by attending sessions or by being present on home visits.

Upbringing through flexibility

These examples of my work, including conductive upbringing within the family, are as diverse as the services on offer at the Petö Institute at the time that I did my conductor training but there is a very important difference.

It is very important to be able to offer what clients want and need at a particular time. I try to be as flexible as I can in my work. I am able to adapt to new situations and to work spontaneously if need be. Conductive upbringing at home with input from a conductor is not always the answer but I believe that it is a very good basis, from which other conductive
pedagogic options can be considered and put into action.

Case study 1
Long-term conductive upbringing

We met at a clinic in southern Germany, that at that time offered Conductive Education as small part of a residential therapy package for parents and their children. I had been called at the very last minute by the clinic to step in when all the children had arrived for the course but the conductors to run it were absent.

When we met he was just seven years old, he had just learnt to walk independently and understandably he didn’t want to stay in one place for long! He found it very difficult to be in this group of children who were more severely disabled than he was. His mother was therefore looking for something more, something different, something which suited their family of six better than did the present situation.

They had experienced Conductive Education in Budapest and in another centre nearer home but still with a journey too long for daily attendance to be possible. They were trying it out at the therapy clinic for a third time but were still not satisfied with what they were getting.

This little boy was adamant that he did not want to leave his three siblings and extended family at home anymore to travel to different kinds of “therapy”. He did not want to be away from his loved ones for weeks on end. It was mainly from his initiative that his mother asked whether I would visit them at home in northern Germany, with the possibility of working there three times a year for three weeks at a time.

He was even more adamant after my very first visit, that all he ever wanted in future was to work with me and to do it at home.

So that was it .This arrangement continued for many years, becoming reduced to three times a year for only two weeks as time went on and needs changed. Eleven years on we still meet three times a year for “Petö” and often on other occasions for concerts, birthdays, end of school celebrations and the like.

What began at seven years of age as a very conventional five hours of conductive pedagogy plus conductive input in the early morning and evenings while dressing and washing and at all meal times, gradually changed. Soon it also included visits from physiotherapists and teachers, trips to town, walks in the village and lots of painting. We cooked lunches and afternoon teas. I went to parties with him to show him how he could eat and drink in a “foreign” environment.

Gradually our two main passions emerged painting for exhibitions and marching kilometre after kilometre in the countryside. Both of these activities evolved as a means to get through those terrible teenage years. The years of anger about being disabled and not be able to join in all activities with his brother and sisters.

He earned extra pocket money, not by delivering newspapers as his siblings did but through selling the paintings that he put on show. He became fitter and fitter by taking long walks with me, in my work time and in my spare time, so that he could march with the shooting club when he came of age.

Our programme has changed and is still changing to fit his needs and those of his family. The home is also the family business which has meant, Mum and Dad, Grandma, Granddad and siblings are ever present and have always been ready to learn and discover how they can help with the development of all aspects of his life

Case study two
Short-term conductive upbringing

When we met this child was six years old, he was just about to start school, the same school that his older brother attended. He could not walk independently, he had always walked holding someone’s hand or had been pushed for longer distances in a buggy. He could not stand up alone from the floor. In most other aspects of his daily life he was as independent as all six-year-olds are.

His family had just discovered Conductive Education and where experiencing their first three-week block. They were, as is often the case, many miles away from home when we met. They were enthusiastic and wanted to continue exploring using the conductive approach to encourage their child’s development but they wanted it nearer home.

I was invited to work with the child within the family environment.

One of the immediate questions that the family had was what to do at school. It had been suggested that this child should need a wheelchair but there was concern that if he got one then he would never learn to walk independently. I was concerned about this too, but I was also convinced that it need not come to that as he still had time to learn to walk.

It took 3 days!

In the safety of his own family home, with Mum and Dad and brother, dog, cat and even rabbit all around him as motivation, with Grandma and aunties on the end of the phone sending encouraging words, we were in a world apart from that strange environment of the conductive group where we first met.

It seemed like I had a different child beside me as we worked.

Nearly all that we did for the first two days was to walk around the house, up and downstairs in and out of the front door and always finding the appropriate hand-holds to retain balance and an upright posture. The house was small there were no big open spaces, he could always find a spot to place his hand.

After 3 days he just let go.

He did not just take four steps he walked four metres. He did not do this just indoors, he did it out in the street and on the lawn. He had found his feet. He had discovered that he could walk. No, it was not a miracle, as Grandma claimed it to be. He just had not known what he was capable of. No one in the family had known. He had not had the confidence or the belief in himself to give it a go. He and the family had not known how.

By the end of my three-week stay he was not only walking independently he was out on the back lawn showing off to the extended family, playing basket ball with Dad. The world was his oyster and the wheelchair for school long forgotten.

I worked with this family on three occasions over the space of a year. After this time conductive input from a conductor stopped but the family had learnt enough to continue on their road to independence without it.

Case study three
Adult conductive lifestyle

Three years after suffering a stroke this client, then in her late forties, contacted me through her local district nurse.

In Germany it is often the case for stroke-sufferers that services such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, are reduced two or three years after the stroke has occurred. The health insurance companies refuse to pay for them any longer, maintaining that a peak of learning has been reached. They believe that rehabilitation can progress no further!

Often at this stage people begin to search for an alternative, a few find Conductive Education, as did this lady who has now been my client for twelve years.

When we met she could stand and walk but only when concentrating 100% on these tasks and on nothing else. She could speak a few words but could not hold a conversation. She could find words more easily in English than in her mother tongue, which is German. She was a singer and had studied music, she could find the words better if we sang.

For the first four years we met in her own home once a week until I began groups for adults at a conductive centre nearby.

She slowly but surely learnt to speak by practising long forgotten English folksongs.

After twelve years not only do we now discuss every topic under the sun, but my client can also carry out long telephone conversations, not only with friends and relatives but also with strangers to book appointments and make official enquiries.

She has her conductive pedagogic input organised and understands it inside out. She has attended four three-week groups each year for the past eight years and in between times I visit her at home for two hours once every two weeks. She lives “conductively” every minute of every day of her life. She sets herself aims that we work on together or alternatively she develops them alone.

She learnt to sing again while standing so that she could return to the local choir. She has progressed so far that she has now taken over the choir’s musical direction. As an added bonus she has also taught me to sing, not an easy task..

In the conductive group she first learnt how to make a cup of tea or coffee, then to bake biscuits. At home we then progressed to cooking Christmas dinner. Eventually she could do all of this while standing up.

She learnt to recognise colours again and to extend her periods of concentration, which has led to a return to hobbies such as embroidery, painting and jigsaw puzzles.

After she had learnt to sing while standing we progressed to talking while walking. She can now converse with her husband as they take a stroll together.

She has progressed from being the quietest member of the group to being the one to offer new and interesting themes of discussion from Greek mythology to the newest medical developments.

Through my contact with her family at home her husband has always been involved in the conductive way of life. He offers tremendous support by encouraging his wife at home where he has insisted that they played scrabble every single day since the stroke occurred and where, amongst many other things, he has taught her how to choose colour schemes when she dresses.

It is not only at home that he so supportive but also in our group, where he and other partners and carers often join us for the final session to participate in our discussions or the in singing “programmes”.

I am not sure if this should be called “conductive upbringing” in the same way as with children, but it is certainly a “conductive lifestyle”. Each day is filled with problem- solving and striving towards a fulfilling life, all carried out with a healthy soul.


Questions of Conductive upbringing part one -

Questions of Conductive upbringing part two -


Anonymous said...

hey susie.

I really enjoyed reading your blog today (not that its different to any other times I read it). I really liked how you pictured you experience at the petoe institute with how the familie and parents have been involved and how you changed it to something 'new' and well needed. I think its an important part of our work to individualize and find a way to make conductive eduaction into conductive upbringing for the child and family at home. I feel sometimes, at a centre those parts even when attempted, do not get fully addressed.
I loved reading those positive stories and would love to her more details on how you worked with those clients at home. Where did you start?I can imagine its different then in a group in a centre as you are entering their surroundings, their comfort zone, their home. And im curious on how you managed to merge into those homes? I can imagine this is not easy to answer and I do not really expect you to, but sometimes i would love watching you bringing the magic of conductive upbringing home to your clients.

Gillian Maguire said...

I think this is a wonderful overview of the wide range of possibilities Conductive Education can offer to those who receive it whether in the short term or the long term.

Please keep up these very interesting snapshots of what a conductor can do to help. Maybe others will join you in promoting such positive opportunities for those with a motor disorder.

Susie Mallett said...

Thank you for the positive comments. It is nice to hear that you can visualise how I work from reading my descriptions.

Aenna, it would be lovely to have you watching me at work with the magic of conductive upbringing of course you would be very welcome to come to see me.

You won't be the first to say or do this! The next one will be here in September and I already have a short programme arranged for her.

If you feel like sending me an email I would like to know about your work too.