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Thursday 31 December 2009

Paraprofessionals: the missing ingredient

Father with daughter, 1960

A further thought has occured to me

When I read in Andrew’s posting about applying the same list of questions to a multi-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary team, I thought that this is not the same thing going on here. In these teams there are different paid professionals whose methods may differ, but they are all applying a method.

I have understood from Andrew’s posting paraprofessionals to mean au-pairs, child minders or nannyies with little or no therapy or educational training.

I think it is possible that the "paraprofessionals" being referred to here do indeed have less "method" when working within a CE setting than parents.

The most important thing that I think that will be lacking in paraprofessionals, be it childminders or nannies, is what parents who bring their kids to Conductive Education will have just discovered or rediscovered ...


I wish all my readers, all over the world, lots of HOPE in 2010.


The "shed" door

In anticipation of a sudden noise

I have worked with children who begin to cry at the very moment that they see their Dad walk past with the cordless drill under one arm and a hammer in the other.

They know! They anticipate!
What do they anticipate? A shock? Pain?

Most of them say both.

These children "know" that each time the drill starts up that their bodies will react with spastic muscle tone shooting through their limbs. The anticipation of the noise scares the daylights out of some of them and then the noise itself causes them to almost fall off their seats.

This spasticity is very real and can also momentarily cause pain. It almost always needs several minutes for the limbs to relax again.

Many of these children worry that in such situations they will not be able to "work“ as well as they wish to, and this is often the cause of tears.

Why are some children, and adults, more sensitive to loud and sudden noise than others? Can we teach our bodies to react differentl? Can we learn to ignore the noise or the reactions? What can we learn? Can we learn to react differently or can we learn how to react to our reactions?

When I first moved into my flat in the city I would lie awake most of the night listening to the constant noise of the sirens of ambulances and emergency doctors passing to and from the hospital that is just round the corner. I wondered whether I had done the right thing with my move into the city, but I was reassured by the knowledge that I had lived all my childhood with the rumble of trains or the rush of the tide outside my window, and that I had grown used to it, even to enjoy it.

I was right not to worry. I very soon got used to it, although I cannot say that I enjoy it,  just like the children with their spasticity do not enjoy it either, however used to it they get.

It was remarkable how quickly I could change my reactions to the things that went bump, and the sirens that wailed, in the night.

By deciding that I could not afford the loss of sleep that was caused by jerking awake throughout the night I changed my reactions. I leant how to sleep on, through the sirens. I still hear them but I do not let them disturb me so much.

As with all kinds of learning this took time and patience, trial and error. I still do not always manage not to hear the sirens, but I know how to get back to sleep before the next one comes along.

Some children and adults who I work with are able to learn ways to change their reactions to sudden noise, some of them just learn live with it. They can ignore the banging of a door and the crashing of a saucepan. Some families try to be adaptive and remain quiet, whereas others go about life with the normal clatter.

We all have different noise thresholds and I think that even children with extreme spasticity in their limbs can teach their bodies to react more positively, or at least less negatively.

Positive use of noise

We all use music in our lives as a positive source of noise, although I know many people who let the radio run all day long and this for me then turns music into negative noise.

In my flat I have a door-harp

This is one of the most positive uses of noise that I have ever come across.

My door harp was a given to me as a present on my first Christmas in Germany. I wonder now if it was given to me as a reminder to shut the inner front door of our very drafty sandstone house, as this is where it always hung.

A door harp is a hollow, wooden sound box with horizontal strings tautly spanned between nails. Hanging vertically on nylon strings of different lengths are wooden beads. The length of these hanging beads are such that one falls on each of the horizontal strings. As the door is gently shut the harp plays a sweet melody!

The only other place that I have ever seen a door harp is in a Kindergarten group, deliberately placed on a much-used door to encourage children to shut it slowly and carefully and not to slam it. Put there to encourage the children to listen out for and recognise the atmosphere that they are creating as they open and close doors!

A lovely, positive use of noise.

My door harp is now placed on my bathroom door, the only door in my flat that gets shut regularly. I placed it here so when I hear it playing softly when I get up in the night I have the feeling that I am not alone.


That’s my door harp in the photograph at the top. Since Christmas it has the addition of the word “shed” hanging from it.

Yes. I did say that it is on my bathroom door and that is the bathroom door. But as the bathroom is almost as big as the bedroom I decided when I moved in that, as I don’t have a garden, I would put the contents of my shed in the bathroom. There is no room for the "shed" in the bedroom as my "den"  and library take up any spare space there!

The bathroom-shed works well. Really it is a lot better than having a shed in the garden, especially as in the cold winter months I don’t have to go outside to find a hammer, a spare Christmas tree light bulb, or a new pad of watercolour paper. I find all this and much more in my bathroom-shed, the room with a door harp.

Wednesday 30 December 2009


My great-auntie Winifred, me and big Sis, July 1957

I have just got round to reading Andrew Sutton's blog on one "paraprofessional" per child in groups in America:

I remember asking someone about this when I first saw photos in the Internet of children in rows with an adult very close beside each one.

I enquired whether this might be the case because of insurance reasons but the person I asked did not know. It will be interesting to hear what people in America can tell us about this and how this works.

It interests me especially to hear how different this situation is to a parent and child group where there are usually, as well as the parents, several conductors working together.
It is no wonder that the Americans, and others, often describe Conductive Education as "hands on" and "one to one". If they see or experience such a group as described in Andrew's posting they probably think all the paragliders are aeroplanes!

More comments

While I am on the subject I am going to take the liberty of publishing here an answer to Norman's comment, or rather his question, on the same posting.

I jotted down some sort of an answers and comments of my own all over an old envelope as I drank my getting-home-from-work cup of tea and it just got longer and longer. Too long to be called a comment anymore!

Yes Norman, trainees did work in the group along side conductors at the Petö Institute, in fact for some twenty-four hours on four days a week. the fifth day set aside for school.

The trainees did not only work along side the conductors but they were actively taught by them. We students were instructed almost all of the time that we were in the group with the children and often taken out of the group to the office when more detailed explainations were needed.

We were told to watch such-an-such going on over here or to observe so-and-so working with a small group over there. We had our hands held as we touched children and held conductors hands as they touched children. We worked and we learnt and were shown how to learn.

In the four years I spent at the PAI I did not work with anyone who was not a conductor or a trainee conductor, but that doesn't mean there weren't any others, the Petö Institute is a huge place.

I think there is very big difference in being a conductor teaching trainee-conductors in a practical situation to being a lone conductor with many carers, paraprofessionals, or assistants working along side the children in a group.

It makes for a completely different atmosphere and working environment when there are three conductors and six student conductors, all at different stages of their training, in a group with twenty four children than when there is a lone conductor in a group with eight children and eight carers.

I have been lucky to have had two experiences of having a trainee conductor working alongside me during my career as a conductor. These were both very short but very enjoyable occasions. That is the situation in which I learnt about Conductive Education, as a student in a team. It is very different for me to working solely with qualified conductors. In a teaching situation I had to to think differently, act differently and work differently.

I have also been in several situations where I have had worked in teams of conductors but also with young men doing their National Service working alongside us and withyoung girls who were working to fill a gap year before Uni. In some of these instances I wouldn't describe myself as being lucky like I did about having the student conductor working in my team. sometimes we would have described it as almost a mission impossible!

Did you ever visit a group at the Petö Institute when all the students were on holiday?
I used to sometimes, just to say hello, to help out a little, read stories, or play with the children. Once I even went with them on boat trips up the Danube.

At these times I observed a very different atmosphere. It was very calm, the hustle and bustle wasn't there. The conductors, three or four working together at any one time, loved this relaxed atmosphere of their team, but at the same time they also looked forward to the return of their students.

In these student-holiday times the conductors had a break from teaching. In fact they worked as some of us work all the time. With their experienced conductor colleagues in a well oiled team!

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Begeistert to be at work while the rest of the world was sleeping

"Clown" by KK, 29th December 2009

That is what it seemed like anyway

It was so quiet in the streets and on the trams, both in the morning and evening, and it wasn’t because of snow, there isn’t any!

My work for Monday was cancelled at the last minute so I got a third day off, not counting the weekend. I made good use of it and played with my toys under the Christmas tree.

I really did get toys, or rather “things to do”. Things to cut out and stick!

I busied myself making a warehouse with a lift-shaft and a loading bay, to add to my N-gauge model-railway layout. It isn’t actually a proper layout yet but it is laying-about on the coffee table. I quite like it that way especially since it has its new warehouse, soon to be joined by more Christmas “things to do”, additions of a dairy, a fire station and a mill. This will mean that, as well as the addition of several buildings, there will also be two more very tall brick chimneys, a passion of mine!

And today it was back to work so the fire station and its chimney will just have to wait till the weekend, and another bank holiday.

It is Tuesday

That’s the long, three-shift, two-hat day. My favourite day of the week at work.

Through illness, the sudden death of a parent and Christmas, it also turned out to be an unusual three-individual-sessions day. This made it special for everyone, while I enjoyed my clients and had a less hectic Tuesday, the clients got more attention and enjoyed the time to talk.

I am pleased that my clients wish to work with me between Christmas and New Year. They and their carers and parents are very pleased that somewhere is still open. Many physiotherapists, occupational therapists, riding therapists, speech therapist, workshops etc. are closed for the whole of the school holiday. The children are quite possibly away on holiday but what about the adults? It is the same old question every year at this time.

The school holidays go on until after the final bank holiday, Epiphany, the day when the Three Wise Men come knocking on the door collecting money for charities in foreign lands.

After school starts again on January 7th I plan to take a short break!

It is amazing the difference that not going to school or work makes for some clients, what a difference the celebrations of Christmas and parties makes for others, and what a long sleepy weekend does for a conductor.

I really enjoyed my work today

For the first time in ages I didn’t cough and I didn’t feel tired. I even felt quite bouncy.

I also felt appreciated.

It wasn’t all easy, although the first session was exceptionally good.

I began the day with an individual session with a twenty-one-year-old young man who had had a few days holiday from his work. He usually comes to me late on a Friday afternoon. It made all the difference in the world to start early this morning and, with already five days' holiday behind him, lots of progress was made. He suddenly did things that we have been practising for weeks, as if he has done them all his life!

After this session I had a break which gave me time to tidy up the arty-crafty left-overs from the Christmas festivities, to take down the advent deco and also to write a posting for my blog.

Then came the difficult bit

In some ways as well as difficult it was the best bit, as it was also a great success.

My conductor's hat was swapped for the art-therapist's overalls. Or could it be the case that I keep the hat on and just add the overalls?
What ever it is that I do with my hats doesn't matter. Today's art-therapy session was hard work and also a lot of fun. The creative result can be seen in the photograph at top of the posting.

My client always knows what it is that he wants to paint, I don’t have to worry about preparing anything for him any longer, I just have to think on my feet how to assist him in his creativity!
He arrives each week with a stuffed toy, or a pottery gnome, or some such oddity tucked under his arm. More often tha not this creature is accompanying him because it has been decided that this is to be the subject of the day’s work of art.

A while back my client arrived with a huge stuffed, fluffy cactus under his arm! We painted a huge two dimensional cactus about four feet high. His family still hope that one day this painting will take the place of the even bigger 3D object in their home.

Today tucked under the arm were two wooden clowns, in sizes medium and extra large! They have actually been to visit me before and a small painting of one of them was hung at the exhibition in September. This time we planned a life-size clown painting to hang on the bedroom door.

Who knows, perhaps the wooden clowns, old and chipped and dilapidated, will be confined to the cellar alongside the fluffy cactus for a few months.

A change of routine

Christmas with all its coming and goings can be difficult for many of us who are used to a routine in their lives. This afternoon’s client, like me, is one of them.

I spent three days at home and the same three evenings with friends. I enjoyed the company but the last evening, as well as being enjoyable, was noisy with its games and laughter. I was quite exhausted after it and very much enjoyed the fourth and fifth days on my own!

I think my afternoon client was tired out by Christmas and at the same time very excited by it. He needed lots of rests but also lots of attention. He needed changes in activities in the in-between times and a few breaths of fresh air that kept him going enough to finish the huge project he had taken on. As he was determined to take the work of art home with him today, we had to get on with it. We only had two hours.

The work got completed and with a little help from the hairdryer we were able to get it rolled up sothat it would fit on the back seat of the car. With the rolled-up clown under his arm and the wooden ones staying with me for the week, he went home calm and happy.

Phew, and then not even time for a change of hat. I just took off my overalls!

Shift three

This always has been the highlight of my week, my adults' cerebral palsy, after-work group. It is in this group that I learn so much about life.

I have been working with the one lady, the only one who made it this evening, for about twelve years. She went to the Petö Institute several times when she was in her early twenties, always accompanied by her mother. They were both thrilled with Budapest and Conductive Education but it became increasingly difficult for them to leave the rest of their family at home. It was then that they discovered me.

This evening group has grown up around us both but today it was just the two of us again and we really made the most of it.

It was rather sad at the same time as one group member wasn’t there because his father had died quite suddenly over Christmas. We all knew this lovely man well, he was always so kind to us all. We talked about him this evening and also about how we hope that the group will be able to help our valued group member during his time of mourning.

We listened as we worked to some of my favourite English Christmas carols and I was pleasantly surprised when my client began singing along with me. This cheered our way to the end of the session when we played memory before dressing to face the elements.

The snow of this afternoon had turned to freezing rain and a bitter wind as I made my way to the bus and tram. I may have enjoyed the walk more if the path had been white but I was warm and smiling inside anyway.

My many hats had made for a very satisfying day’s work while the rest of the world seemed to sleep.

Monday 28 December 2009

My tree of life

"A walk around my Tree of Life", December 2009

My Christmas tree of life

A tree brought to life with my memories of people, places and times.

I usually buy my tree the week before Christmas and leave it out on the balcony until I have time to start decorating it. This year it was bought and brought straight indoors and I spent several evenings during the last week of Advent hanging up the decorations that have been stored away all year.

I savour this time as each and every treasure that I bring out of the box has a special meaning for me, either because of the place where I bought it or because of the person who gave it to me.

The actual activity of doing the decorating holds the biggest memories of all. I always did this with my Mum. In my childhood with my sister too, but later for many years, when Sis had a home of her own, it was just me and Mum.

Mum and I decorated the tree together most years until I was no longer living in England. When I went to live in Hungary in 1989 I was thirty two years old, that’s a lot of years of hanging shared memories on a tree!

It is only through writing this that I realise just why my Christmas tree decorating and its treasures are so important to me and why, even though I am living alone, I continue with the tradition.

It was my Mum who made it so special

As we “worked” on the tree she told me stories about her own childhood Christmases and we talked about the people who had given us the toys that we were hanging on the green branches. We enjoyed the smell of fresh cut tree, we enjoyed the time together.

Until I lived “abroad”, each Christmas as soon as I got home from wherever I was living Mum and I would go up into the box-room together and hunt out the ancient cracker boxes that we used for storage. Opening the boxes one by one we would re-discover the same old childhood decorations and packed up with them, the memories.

It would always take us ages to hang them because, as I have said, we would talk about where each one came from and I would have hundreds of questions about the places or the people.

All these memories, plus many more newer ones of my own, are now hanging on the tree beside me. I was so happy when, a couple of years before she died, my Mum gave me the ancient cracker boxes with their contents, memories and all.

Now as I decorate my tree on my own, I really do savour every single minute. There are so many of my friends and friends of my Mum “hanging out” with me each Christmas. When they are all hanging, sparkling underneath the twinkling lametta, I enjoy many evenings sitting and reading, or blogging or painting beside it, now and then fiddling with the odd clown or creature who just refuses to look in the right direction.

This year I bought myself a new treasure. I found it in the bookshop in Johannis, the area of the city where I live. It was the day on the last weekend before Christmas when the streets were covered in snow that was glistening brilliant blue in minus fourteen Centigrade.

I bought a glass snowman with a carrot nose and a Besen under his arm. It has found its place on my tree and each year as I take it out of the ancient boxes it will remind me of the lovely place where I now live, of the sudden coldness that arrived on that day and of the peaceful hours that I spent in the bookshop choosing presents.

I have brought things home over the years from most of the countries that I have visited and from the English, Welsh, German and Hungarian cities that I have lived in too. There are decorations from Mexico and Guatamala, from North America and Canada, from Australia, New Zealand and of course from England. There are decorations sent from friends all over the world.

There are dolls on the tree, old and new, there are birds and stars and angels. There are Santas, made out of wood, out of metal and out of cloth, Santas playing music, riding sledges and even a rubber one standing on his head. There are even the red “Conductive Education” Pedro boots hanging on my tree!

I don’t usually do lists but I am going to do one now. Working from the frog angel at the top down to the reindeer on a peg at the bottom I am going to list some of my special memories. I will try to match them to the photos at the top.

· The Frog Angel – a present from my Sis, who watched me since a tiny girl observe in wonder each frog that I ever met!

· The Skinny Santa that Mum bought us when we were young and what we decided was the best decoration that we had. He immediately replaced the old tatty fairy at the top. He takes second place these days to the frog angel.

· There at the same height are the German frog-fairy and the New Zealand pixie, both arrived in the post three years ago from two very special friends.

· Four clowns who are ancient (one has a foot missing) have been hanging around the middle of the tree for some fifty years now, as have the two plastic dollies, one red (belonging to Sis) and one green (mine). I have no idea who gave them to us but most probably they came from a lady-friend of my Grandma’s, who gave us many of the toys on the tree.

· Of the same vintage are the colourful chocolate umbrellas complete with chocolate. The silver and gold umbrellas were a more recent present, from Mum. She sent them when I first had a tree in Germany, in 1993. They are also still complete with chocolate. My Sis and I were experts at not eating our chocolate figures and insisting that at Easter and Christmas they got packed away for next year.

· There are two knitted dollies, the pink one belongs to Sis and the blue one to me. We always only hung up only our own toys and this year I phoned as always to tell her I would do it for her if that was OK!

· There is only one knitted golly, made for me when I was a two year old by my Mum. My sister of course has kept hers too. It is different from mine only in that her golly is wearing trousers and not dungarees which I think is probably a reflection of the clothes that we each wore at the time!

· Then there are the three Christmas bells, used to call the family when the Christkind has been to deliver the presents. These were not used for this purpose as in our family Santa climbs down the chimney in the middle of the night. These bells were presents from special people, one from Budapest and one from Pecs, each in different traditional ceramic styles. The third I was given in 1987 by the family I spent Christmas with in Adelaide. Seven years ago that lovely Australian cousin died so it holds extra special happy/sad memories for me.

· Happy/sad memories are also woven into the white snowflake that hangs behind the tinsel, given to me by a younger colleague the Christmas before she died.

. There is the fortieth-birthday tiny- teddy and the fiftieth-birthday wooden angel.

. The delicate stable scene in a walnut shell, with figures made from date stones and grains of wheat, has survived eighteen years unscathed since it was given to me on my third Christmas in Budapest.

· The more robust but still very small Christmas scene reminds me of the Christmas of 1988 that I spent in Mexico and, as my gaze falls on to the handmade heart beside it, I recall the summer before, spent with friends in the Bahamas.

· And of course there is a train, a brass one that reminds me always of my Dad, even though I bought it myself. Dad was a steam, and diesel and electric train-driver! there is a peg with a reindeer to remind me of mum (she used pegs for everything but as far as I remember never on the tree).

There are too many things there to list them all, many of the rest come from a few special friends who send me something each year.
The rest of the treasures I have bought for myself on holiday, at markets and on special days in special places.

I remember a story behind them all, each time they come out of their boxes. Santas from Hungary, a glass Santa from Prague, a glass cat from Atlanta, Georgia, glass angels that adorned a present one year, stars from the market in Nürnberg, a teddy made by my Auntie, another given as a special thank you by my Sis. There is even penny-farthing made by a friend from a scrap of wire that he found as we sat around a table on my thirty-fifth birthday, in a garden in Szentendre, Hungary!

It is no wonder that it takes me so long to decorate my tree with so many people and places to think about.
I am so lucky to have so many special friends and memories joining me each year from all over the world.

And because my tree lives it also grows.

Sunday 27 December 2009


"My home", by Susie Mallett, December 1992

I received a Google Alert over Christmas and while I was travelling on the tram yesterday I composed the posting below in response to this one sentence out of the text that I remembered:

“Is the system selective with respect to the adults and children that it admits and, if so, on what basis.”

I then enjoyed my Boxing Day evening with friends and forgot about it. The notes would probably still be lying dormant if I hadn’t discovered today that the Google Alert had also reached Andrew Sutton and that he had blogged it:

Not only had Andrew blogged it but someone had also left a comment on his posting.

Both reminded me of my notes and I thought that there is even more reason now to get them posted.

Is Conductive Education selective?

Conductive Education is "selective" in only one account as far as I am concerned and that is what the conductor or the conductive centre can have on offer at a given moment.

If at a particular point in time neither centre or conductor can offer what the client is asking for or needs, then it could be said that “Conductive Education” is being selective, just as many education services can be.

If I want to study something very obscure at degree level, then I have first to find the university that can offer me the course that I am looking for, then get accepted on it. Universities are being as "selective" in this case as I am in the course I am searching for.
As I have recently experienced in Germany, junior schools are very selective in the pupils they take too, even when they do have on offer what is being looked for!

I remember quite clearly Dr Mária Hári telling us that, if a child responds then that child will learn. She also told us often about conductors' motivational skills, and about children only being tired when they fall asleep, and many other wise words that indicated to me that, if as a conductor/educator I wish people to learn, then I have to find the way to motivate them and teach them how to learn.

If I am willing and motivated to try this with everyone, then I have no need to be selective.

In the case of Conductive Education the “selectiveness” adopted depends upon the financial situation of the centre, how it has been set up and, what it wishes to offer.

It depends also on the experiences of the conductors employed and on the range of groups and sessions that they have on offer. It does not necessarily depend on there being more conductors to offer different sessions. It could be that at a centre where ten conductors work they are working in large teams because they have large groups, but they have a restricted range of groups available. On the other hand, it could be that conductors working alone or in groups of two or three can be more flexible and offer individual sessions and a larger range of groups than at a bigger centre.

It all depends upon the willingness and flexibility of the organisers and/or the conductors involved, and on what they make available at the given time. Conductive Education is not selective in itself. It is an educational system, and all educational systems should be there to create the fullest potential in their students. Shouldn’t they?

The Petö Institute was/is selective in as much as it provides only what they have chosen to have on offer. This has changed with the times and with what was asked of the staff there too. For example, there was a different clientel in the International Kindergarten group to that in the Hungarian ones, and it was different again in the German-speaking and Russian-speaking groups. There was a Russian-speaking group for older children when I was recently there. Very different too.
It not Conductive Education as that does the selecting but the people who are offering it, and that for a huge variety of reasons.


The title picture was drawn with a mouse, on the very first occasion that I came in contact with a computer. I was enthralled by this new method of creating images. I have just discovered that one or two of these have survived, hidden in the depth of my computer's painting archive!

Friday 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas

25th December 2009


The crib is from a cut-out-and-stick Christmas card that arrived yesterday.

I think that it fits perfectly with my N-guage model-railway layout even with the tree with its summer foliage!

Thursday 24 December 2009

Advent highlights

Some of yesterday's creative work

Some of today's creative work

Last evening was the event that has for me been for many years one of the highlights of Advent. It was time for me to work for three hours on the Nürnberg Christmas Market, selling stars for children-in-need. You can see me posing between the action in the photo above.

The evening was a nice rounding-off for my work until next Monday morning.

It was wonderful to get up this morning, break my fast for as long as I wished, sit at the table in the kitchen beside the Advent’s crown, drink as many cups of tea as I wished, followed by a delicious pot of Advent-present coffee. Then sit down to write a blog. All this without thinking that I should be doing something else. There wasn't time for anything else, anyway!

Throughout the day, however, I found time between that first posting of the day and this one, to write a couple more things, wrap presents, finish reading a book in the bath, and to make over one hundred Christmas sweets, as seen above.
I have sewn two Christmas-present hand-painted cushions, and wrapped everything ready for early afternoon tomorrow when Christmas in Germany really begins.

Now it is time for another cup of tea and an hour at my computer communicating with friends in Cyberspace.

I am feeling quite pleased with myself, as I had decided that I was going to enjoy Advent at a slow and leisurely pace whenever possible, Making time to meet with special friends, do lovely creative projects with the children at work and not to do unnecessary shopping for Christmas. I had no intention of fighting my way through the crowds in the city to spend lots of money, as planned I got my Christmas tree early and spend a couple of relaxing evenings decorating it. More about that later.

It is a nice feeling to have successfully achieved exactly what I planned four weeks ago. I am now sitting under the Christmas tree beside a pile of presents, with time and energy to spare to write.

And I have at least three more days' holiday!

Back to the Christmas Market

Last evening I joined two colleagues and a couple of well-known local politicians to sell stars for charity. The well-known faces soon gathered a crowd around them, raising three-hundred euros in just an hour by selling the handmade stars. That was quite an achievement, I don’t think that the famous TV stars who come and lend a hand do any better.

The star-making and star-selling is organised by a charity run by a Bavarian television company that raises money for children-in-need through gala events, TV shows, and these market stalls in Regensbürg, Nürnberg and Munich.
Volunteers from organisations that receive some of the donated monies are invited to man the stall for a day during Advent to sell the stars created by children from local schools. The stall has been on Nürnberg’s market since 1996 and I have been there for six or seven of those years.

I usually meet up with the same colleagues on this occasion. To close off the special evening we descend on the Bratwürst Röslein to warm up and to drink a glass of wine or beer. This year was no exception.
I look forward to being invited again next year.


Christmas Market -

Sternstunde – children making stars for children in need

Bratwurst Röslein -The Bratwürst Röslein is a restaurant behind the main square and Town Hall, that supplies the people manning the stall with coffee, Glühwein, Bratwurst and a toilet throughout Advent.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

“Träume groß!”

"12 noon and minus 14"
December 19th, 2009
by Susie Mallett

“Dream big!”

A while ago Judit Szathmáry introduced us to Randy Pausch through a video on her blog. I have just run a search on her blog but I cannot find the reference to it but you will be able to find the same video on Mr Pausch’s website.

As I was buying Christmas presents at the Johannis book store I discovered this: The Last Lecture, Die Lehren meines Lebens, by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. It is the book of the video, plus a lot more.

I hadn’t realised that it had been published. Randy Pausch died in 2008, a few months after this book was published.

I bought it for my friend for her birthday next week instead of as her Christmas present, so that I have had time to read it myself, first.

Perhaps I should not say that it is a good holiday read, but it is. Perhaps I should not say it made me smile a lot, but it did.

It also made me cry and I learnt a lot from Randy’s wise words in this book that he wrote as his legacy for his three young children.

Although the actual “Last Lecture” was accompanied by hundreds of slides, I did not miss the visuals here, as the text is written in such detail that I could visualise all that I needed to. The book has many extra bits that are not included in the original lecture, and it is interesting to “hear” this lecture from Randy’s mouth but at the same time as if he was an observer.

Perhaps it could be a last-minute Christmas present for yourself or a good friend. It is quick to read but by no means an easy read.


The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch,
ISBN 978-3-442-47137-9 WG 2110

Not a therapy!

"It snowed in Norwich too". December 2009, by JT

"It’s not so much a “therapy”, as a way of learning new ways of doing things. Andrew Sutton explains the ins and outs of Conductive Education, and what it might do for you and your family."

Yes, I have been reading the ”lost” article that Andrew Sutton told us about in his last blog posting:

It is indeed a very good piece. Perfect as a “hand out” to spread the word about Conductive Education with adults.


Although as a printed hand-out it is a perfect starting point for clients setting out on the conductive way of life, as a URL reference for them to read in the Internet it could be very, very misleading.

Let us go back to the very first line that I have quoted above:

“It’s not so much a “therapy”, as a way of learning new ways of doing things.”

Immediately above this sentence is a photograph, a good clear photograph, obviously one that has been chosen with care, possibly by Andrew, but I am absolutely certain that Andrew did not provide the caption for this photograph:
  • “A stroke group receiving physical therapy”

Scroll down, don’t forget to read as you go, or you will miss all the great statements from clients and what both they and Andrew say about Conductive Education.

As you scroll pick out some of the words and phrases used. For example: confidence, living and life, learning, learning to drive, learning skills needed to live life, showing, teaching, encouraging, instructing, understanding, information-sharing and, my favourite sentence of all:

"The highest technological mechanism known is the human mind – and you, your fellow learners, your conductors and your family, will bring this incomparable asset along with you free of charge!"

Not one mention of therapy to be found except when explaining that this isn’t therapy.

So far so good but keep reading and, as you scroll past each photo, put your cursor on it and read the caption. I did this and I cringed more and more the further I got until by the end I knew I just had to post this in my blog.

  • “A picture of a nurse giving a man with cerebral palsy physical therapy”
  • “A picture of two people receiving physical therapy”
  • “ A picture of three patients raising their arms in the air for physical therapy”

Keep on scrolling, don’t forget to read the text, otherwise it looses the impact, until you get down as far as this subtitle:


Directly below this title is a photograph, with the caption:

  • “A picture of two people doing physical therapy”

It was at this point that I felt like screaming!


Oh dear oh dear oh dear!

Here we have the perfect piece to use as a reference for people just about to start out on the road to living a conductive life, absoutely ruined by somebody’s captions.

I had only written about this very problem in my posting yesterday, and here it is again.

In this case it is not the photographs that accompany Andrew Sutton’s article that are the problem, they are well chosen. It is that someone who put the finishing touches to the article on line who has done the damage and, by doing so, succeeded in misleading the readers.

Read the article again, image you are someone with no idea about Conductive Education with adults or children.

What are newcomers to Conductive Education to think?

Perhaps they will ask:

“Are these people doing physical therapy or Conductive Education?”


“It looks different to the physiotherapy that we know so perhaps it is Conductive Education. But, if it is Conductive Education why does the article state emphatically that it isn’t a therapy while all five photographs state emphatically that it is?”

Will there be someone around to answer these questions?

I do hope so.

Apart from “Oh dear, again” I don’t know what to say, but maybe there is something we can do to get those captions changed.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Hands off

"Kevin and Andi in the making"
One of my pet subjects

I am forever telling them in the Kindergarten: 'Let go but be ready to catch!'

The trouble is that often once people let go they start being distracted. They are not there with their heads full of questions about what the child is doing and what the child's next step forward might be, they are not there observing but not touching. Instead they start chatting to the mum beside them or thinking about the evening meal. Then Bang! The child falls on its head. So the next time the child is held tight because last time it didn’t go well, the child was not able to do it alone, so this time many more hands are needed.

I have seen it all and it drives me mad.

"Eyes on" should be the sentence, not “Hands on”

'Hands off' doesn't mean 'Mind off, and on to other thoughts'.

It means 'Hands off, eyes on'. Hands at the ready, for a sense of security and in case of emergency! Eyes at the ready to know when this moment is.'

Just yesterday afternoon I was begging the parents of young children to take their hands off their children. Even as they helped to do up the coats there were too many hands, touching too many parts of too many children's bodies.

As I asked for the children to be allowed to stand on their own two feet, I too thought of Doktornö, (Dr Mária Hári). I am often reminded of her words about good conductors touching children as little as possible, as I encourage mums, dads, teachers, grandmas and granddads to take a step back to give everyone space, to discover what can be achieved using the "hands off, eyes on" method.

Auch in Deutsch?

I am about to take a look to find out if there is a German equivalent of this phrase. It doesn't come to mind immediately. I imagine that the English version has been taken over and is used in the fashionable Neu-deutsch language, leading to even more confusion.

"New Deutsch", the use of English words and phrases in German sentences is incredibly difficult to understand, especially for English speakers. So if "hands on" has crept into the German Conductive Education literature then it will be not only misleading but totally incomprehensible.

And in the language of images

It is not only in the written word that the "hands on" approach is advocated in Conductive Education. Even if conductors do not express it verbally, it is all too often demonstrated in the images that are shown to the public.

Take a look at some them.

You will soon find some showing children lying on the floor, as safe as houses, with nowhere to fall, but nevertheless with an adult very close beside with a tight grip somewhere on the child's body.

I know from experience that this often is not the conductors' fault. It is usually someone else who puts together the flyer, without consulting us before it goes to press about the images to be used.
We need to be more careful, and insist on vetting how our work is represented.


The posting was inspired by a posting by Andrew Sutton. Most of it appeared on his blog as a comment last Saturday but I expanded it just a little bit to post here.

Dr Mária Hári - The good conductor does not touch the child.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Spasticity, cobblestones and the Christmas Market!

"Arty stones" Nürnberg 2009

Wheelchair users in the middle of old cities

I have been talking to my clients about the Christmas Market in Nürnberg’s main market square. We were discussing with both children and adults the difficulties they experience visiting it.

Some do make the effort once a year but usually early on in Advent and in the afternoon before the crowds arrive but also before the magic of darkness descends. They can by going then hope to avoid the crowds, elbows in faces and people stepping backwards and landing in their laps.

Some children said they don’t go at all because of the difficulties finding a parking place nearby. Many of them don’t like the underground, it is loud and startling and the tension they feel in their bodies isn’t worth the effort.

No gingerbread houses in our square!

This main square was badly damaged during the Second World War and is actually surrounded by relatively modern buildings the likes of which these days would probably not get planning permission, especially in the middle of a nine-hundred years old city.

It isn’t actually the buildings that are a problem, although compared to the main square in other German cities ours is a bit of a let down. What is very difficult to understand is the reasoning behind the laying of cobblestones. These are modern stones but never-the-less still very bumpy. They don’t make the square look oldie-worldie as it isn’t and never could be whatever was done to it, because of the modern buildings and of course the modern cobbles!

The cobbles do function well in preventing cyclists crossing the square, your brain would get shaken and not stirred if you attempted to cross it on two wheels, I tried it although it isn’t allowed and dismounted after about 2 metres!

And what about four wheels?

The problem is that these “nostalgic” cobbles also stop many wheelchair users from going anywhere near to the middle of the old city. Exactly the opposite of what the city wants with all the other accessibility programmes they undertake. I hear that it is not so bad if you have a very robust road worthy electric wheelchair but I know from experience that for the run-of-the-mill wheelchair with no motor, for its user, and for the pusher, cobbles stones are just not worth the trouble not even for a glass of Gluhwein and a bratwurst!

When I arrived in Germany for Christmas in 1992 my friend took me on a special trip to see the market, it was the one and only time we went there together, it was just too much for him in his wheelchair. Spasticity and cobblestones, just like spasticity and underground trains, do not mix.

If the feet are not kept in place on the foot rest with straps then they are forever shooting forward. This means that the person in the wheelchair slides deep down in the seat and as the legs stick out further people start tripping over them. Double pain! From the shooting spasm and from the other people getting tangled up in legs.

If it is possible to get the legs safely back on to the foot rest the next task will most probably be a trek to the nearest department store or to the back of the Town Hall to find a suitable toilet. Spasticity and bladders are a difficult problem too.


The worst cobblestones I ever experienced was when I accompanied one of my clients on a trip to Tallinn in 2004.
Luckily it was only a one day trip from the cruise-liner we were holidaying on. I don’t think I would have survived those cobbles for more than a day and certainly the wheelchair user I was accompanying wouldn’t have held out for much longer than he did.

The streets in Talinn were cobbled with large stones that rose in the middle by about two inches. The curbs were at least eight inches high and there were many little side streets to negotiate. The pavements were interrupted by deep gullies every two houses. These gullies lead the rain water from the rooftops to the gutters. We just couldn’t decide where the best place was to ride, out of the way of the traffic and through the never-ending gullies on the pavement or on the bumpy and narrow road.

We gave up in the end and sat in a café and then in another café and then in another café.

By the end of the day my companion had so much pain in his spine and my upper arms and wrists were aching badly. I was very glad on the walk back to the ship to feel a pair of hands come from behind and took over for the last few yards to the gang plank. The young man from our travel group who had rescued us just tipped the wheelchair backwards and did a much smoother two wheeled sprint home!

For art's sake!

In Talinn these cobbles are ancient, the streets hadn’t been renovated for years, there was no alternative. In Nürnberg the whole of the city centre has been rebuilt. Its cobbled stones are new they have been put there for art’s sake!

I wonder if things will change as our population ages and more people start using walkers and wheelchairs to get out and about.

Will these people have a stronger voice than younger people with disabilities? Will they be heard?

Brrrrrr.... its minus ten this morning and the sun is shining.

Winter Images 2008, by Susie Mallett

Busy, busy, busy...

It is that busy time of the year for all of us who work in schools, or in groups with adults or children. It is also the time of year with the best opportunities to meet families and others who come in contact with our clients.

It is the time when I also enjoy all the more the social situations that I find myself in with my clients, either in public places like the Christmas Market or when I am invited to homes for Advent teas with Stollen and Lebkuchen. I use these occasions to observe the relationships in families, between carers, parents, siblings, grandparents and clients.

I enjoy observing these interactions and the reactions and compare them to when the client is working with me. When I am a guest in the home it is also a perfect opportunity for me to observe the physical layout, to see what we can work on in the group that will help specifically in the home.

I do home visits all the year round but sometimes it is easier for me to use the festive occassions for this purpose, as the atmosphere is generally more relaxed and often more members of the family are present.

I can learn much that is helpful to my work.

There are group parties planned, and trips out to play centres and to libraries for book readings, trips to the baker’s to make Christmas biscuits and to the school Christmas Market with its stalls, the singing, the traditional sausages and the mulled wine.

Auld acquaintances

The Christmas Market at the special school last week was a hive of activity. with everyone there that one could imagine. New clients and old clients, new colleagues and old colleagues, mums and dads, grandmas and grandads, physiotherapists, teachers and assistants. It was a busy afternoon and evening but there was still time to seek out the people who I needed to talk to and for the most important conversations and observations to take place.

I even found time just to hang around and chat to friends and I met a family whom I have known since I have lived here in Germany. One of my own 'Germany family' worked with them when their disabled child was a baby, and I have worked with her on and off since. She is now fifteen!

Petö pizzas

This pre-Christmas is not just a time for going out to other people’s houses or to fests in schools, it is also a time when I organise get-togethers for my clients.

On Tuesday evening it was the turn of the evening adult’s group to celebrate the festive season. We had (Pizzabacken-Petö) “pizza-baking Petö”, with an invitation to parents to join us to eat it later. A good time was had by all and it was a nice way to round off before Christmas. These adults won’t meet next Tuesday evening, as I will be doing my stint selling for children-in-need on the real, big, famous and extremely romantic, fairytale Christmas Market in Nürnberg.

Christmas past

The adults in this group are all just under forty years old. It was very interesting to hear from their mums what had happened to them at the birth of their children, and hear of complaints of no information, no incubators available and no special premature baby unit. Technology has changed in the last forty years. Even information is easier to come by, with the Internet.

They talked too about the education facilities available to choose from thirty years ago. These were slowly improving at that time but, without a car,it was virtually impossible to bring a child who used a wheelchair to school. There was no transport provided for them in those days and the trams and buses still had narrow doors and lots of steps, goodness knows why!

Christmas present

There was some physiotherapy available for these children but that too was limited. They were actually out there, lots of young mums, going it alone. Thirty-five years ago the organisation that I work for in Nürnberg was founded. It was a lifeline for these families, and here are these mums meeting up in our group, as they do three or four times each year, still giving each other moral support and encouraging their “children” in their adult lives.

Christmas is for children

On Friday it will be the turn of the littlies to have a party with a difference! An arty-crafty party.

I work alone with these children, so I have roped in the help of all the people concerned.

One Mum and a classroom assistant are practising Christmas songs and will pass out the song sheets for a sing-a-long.

Another Mum and a classroom assistant will be stationed at the arty-crafty tables to help with sticking, cutting and painting, and the creating of everything that is remotely Christmassy. And on the Christmas biscuit-baking table will be the Grandmas.

To top it all off Grandad is going to read us a children’s Christmas story while we eat the biscuits and drink Kinderpunsch.

I expect I will be buzzing around from one table to the next and walking here and there wth the children who need my assistance.

I have invited these six and seven-year-old children to bring some of their school-mates with them. This is all funded by the integrative school project and is very much appreciated by all concerned. We hope that it will be a step in the right direction, assisting these less mobile children to find their place amongst their new classmates. It is sometimes very difficult for them to find mutual interests, apart from racing around in the garden and playing with Lego, activities that many of our children find difficult to take part in.

I have organised this gathering on Friday with the hope that, by joining in all the activities together the children will find it easier to form new friendships.

I hope I haven’t forgotten anything. I have been collecting bits and pieces all week. It is difficult doing this alone but all the “guests” are very appreciative and are coming up trumps with such good ideas and assistance that it looks set to be quite a spectacular event.

That won’t be the end of the partying on Friday.

Cinderella will still go to the ball!

I hope that the children and their entourage will all be out of the door by six o’clock, because just an hour later there will begin the party for the staff!

This Nürnberg organisation employs hundreds of people and we, including the self-employed like me, are all invited every two years to a big Christmas party. We all look forward to it, as the different departments are not merely spread over the city but over the whole county of Frankonia. Many people are only names on an email and voices on a telephone until this get- together enables us to meet.

Our resident chef always puts on a wonderful spread and it is usually the Sushi that sends every one back several times to the buffet table.

Gradually on each occasion I get to know a few more people and become more established in the overall work of this organisation. Of course, this is primarily a social occasion and we dance to the live music into the night, but a lot of essential work gets done too nevertheless.

Let’s hope that I have enough time after the children have left to get the glitter out of my hair, lift the paint from under my finger-nails and get into my glad rags for a quick sprint across the courtyard to where the next action will take place.

Full reports of course at the weekend after a long sleep and making my own christmas cards! Yes, I am sorry, but my own card creations are late, yet again.!

Saturday 12 December 2009

Does snow really smell?

To get to the trees and back...

I treked through all of this!

The place that I had to get to is to the right of the driver's window of the left-hand tram!

Tingling cheeks

Last evening as I walked home from the tram it really did smell like it was going to snow. Don’t ask me what snow smells like, I can’t explain it. Perhaps it isn’t a smell at all but another of my senses that feels the approach of the fluffy white stuff. Whatever it is it feels like I smell it!
A has friend told me that he likes the smell of first snow too, so I am not the only one who thinks that it has a smell!

All those who have smelt snow approaching will know what I mean.

I thought that the very fine rain that started just before I reached my flat last night was more tingly on my checks than rain should be but, even after three or four checks of my black wool coat for signs of whiteness, it really was only fine rain, allbeit very cold rain that then turned into quite a heavy shower during the night.

Still dreaming of a white Advent

I was on the phone this morning talking to an eight-year-old young lady who can sometimes be a bit of a tease. She suddenly told me right out of the blue that it had snowed there at their house last night. She was all of ten miles away from me. She said that there was enough if you collected it all together to make a small snowman! I was not sure whather I could believe her.

I asked wheher she was teasing me but at exactly the same time as I asked my question a car from the same town as she lives in parked up outside my flat. Guess what it was covered in. Yes, you got it – snow.

Winter is here, arriving just in time for the third Sunday of Advent.

At lunch-time I went shopping and decided that after I had done the essentials, including buying cough medicine from the chemist’s shop, it would perhaps be a good idea to choose a Christmas tree while I had time this weekend, before the rush of next week. The idea of snow arriving had put the idea into my head.

As I walked through the building site that at the moment surrounds the nearest outdoor Christmas-tree selling-point, the snow really did start to fall. Snow in the middle of Nürnberg is a rare occurrence and although today’s was not much, certainly not even enough for a table-top snowman, it was white and it felt lovely, really tingly on my tongue and cheeks.

When it snows a little harder I will take my glasses off as I always do, so I can feel it in my eyelashes too, a la Julie Andrews.

I had decided to get a bigger tree this year as, with such high ceilings in my hundred-year-old flat, it seems such a waste of space not to. The only problem would be that the larger they get the heavier they get too, so how would I get it home? Although I only live two blocks away from the selling point I struggled last year just with the metre-high tree that I hadbought.

Nothing is a problem in Advent, especially in Johannis!

The young lady selling the trees asked whether I needed any help with my choice. I explained to her that I have high ceilings but smallish rooms so tall and narrow would be ideal, and one that kept its needles for ages. The one that I had last year didn’t loose its needle for over a month, so I was looking for the same sort. The lady found just the one but I said I couldn’t take it as I couldn’t even lift it, let alone carry it. “No problem,” she promptly replied “my husband will walk it home with you”.

Hubby didn’t only walk home with me, he said that if I fetched the Christmas-tree stand first he would chop the stem to fit. So home I went, hunted out the stand, cleared the space for the tree and returned to collect the already chopped-to-size tree. It was then fitted in the stand, positioned so that the fairy wouldn’t look wonky on the top. Home I trotted, proud owner of a Christmas tree. Not only did hubby carry the tree home for me, he settled it in the corner of my living room, complete with stand.

It looks perfect. It is the nicest one that I have had since we chopped one ourselves for my first-ever Christmas in Germany, in 1993. That year I decorated it with red bows and real apples, this year it will have all the childhood memories hanging on it that I have brought with me from Norwich.

It is a bit early and I won’t be decorating it until next weekend, but it is nice to have it there smelling sweet and earthy and making the living-room look cosy.


The Baustelle, building site, is there because of the new underground extension stretching out to the north of the city.This work has been in progress for three years now. I asked the Christmas-tree seller how it effects sales. Apparently it reduces them by a third. By next Christmas the cranes and diggers will be gone. I do hope the Christmas-tree seller will be able to afford to return.


Unfortunately due to copyright I cannot give a Youtube link for Julie Andrews and her "My Favourite Things". I am sure most of you know the song and were able to hum along while reading.


How about this for service, it is just as good as the Christmas-tree man!

This posting not quite finished off properly, that last sentence in NOTES still hot off the press when these links below arrived in my inbox. Thanks Becky!