My visitors today

Sunday 31 January 2010

Observation + Spontaneity = Hugs

"Receiving, giving a hug" by Susie Mallett

My friend and colleague gave me a big hug just as I was walking past her on my way to collect a potty. That‘s team work for you, seeing what is needed and spontaneaously doing it. Or in this case giving it and receiving it.

I really needed that hug, it made the rest of the day go like a dream!

Helping out, oiling the wheels

It is not really my group that we are working with at the moment. It has just turned into it for a while.

We share the leadership of the groups and this one is usually my colleague‘s responsibility. It is the group with five members and five mother tongues, the one with the children who attend the integrated Kindergarten. I have informally taken over its running, for this block only. This happened sort of spontaneously when for the first few days of the block my colleague had lost her voice and was feeling quite poorly, but not quite poorly enough not to be at work. She couldn’t lead any programmes though as no one could hear her.

Later on, although my colleague‘s voice returned the leader of the Kindergarten did not. She was signed off sick for several more weeks. My colleague is now needed early each morning in the Kindergarten, which means she cannot spare time to prepare for our group too.

So I spontaneously took over

I enjoy doing all of this with the very small children, but I find it very hard work. Five years ago if I had dared to give it a go I would not have been as good at it as I am now. I doubt too that I would have said then that I enjoyed it.

I have changed a lot. Now at fifty-two years of age I can enjoy rolling around the floor, playing, telling funny stories, putting on funny hats, and generally playing the fool. Today I was even chasing a stray cat around the room. He jumped in the window as we were breathing in the minus-fourteen air!

With it being that cold outside it was no wonder the ginger cat wanted to stay with us, and that I had great difficulty in catching him. The screams and hoots of laughter from the children and staff of course didn’t improve matters.

Perhaps it was the fun that we were having attracted the cat more than the warmth.

The children in the group are only four years old and younger. I do not feel that I am at my best with this age group, not least because I cannot sing but every day, when I ask whether my colleague is well enough to take over again, she replies:

”Oh, but you do it so well.“

I can tell by her voice that she means it. The children seem to have fun too and they are learning so much. And so am I.

“Just another day“ has turned into two weeks and, as there is only one more week to go, I expect that things might just as well stay as they are right up to the end. The only thing is that I may need a few more hugs before we get there. As the observation and the spontaneity are always there, I expect that the hugs will appear at just the right moment, as always.


Not only the right kind of snow, but an hour of sunshine to go with it

How many conductors have experienced a parents' meeting where the parents don’t have a notebook with them.

Lists for parents

I learnt a long time ago that, when I show a parent the many different things that a child can do, whether at home or at school, in the playground or out on the streets, then I must always provide two sheets of paper, one for me and the child and one for the parent.

I already have my own notes on a separate sheet.

These new sheets of paper are for jotting down memos. The parents I leave to find their own method of recording these memos.

Lists for children and for adult clients

Together with the child I drew our memos as pictures, the child deciding on the images that will represent the tasks and activities.

I also use this method with stroke-clients with aphasia. If they are able, they tell me their suggestions for the images that they associate with the tasks, movements and activities. If they can’t tell me, then the other members of the group suggest something.

When I work at home with families I find a place together with the children to pin up their list. A place where they can see it every day and I practise with them how they will choose one or more items on the list to think about and work on throughout the day.

The parents have a paper too. Perhaps they have included things that they can talk about with physiotherapists, speech therapists or with teachers. Or they canhang their paper in the kitchen or the bathroom, to remind them during their busy days what can be done and when and how.

The need to teach

I was reminded of how I do this one day this week when my colleague was preparing for a meeting with a mother. I said not to forget two pieces of paper and two pencils. She asked me what for, indicating that the parents don’t write anything.

Parents generally don’t, she is right. As with many other things we need to teach them.

It doesn’t take much, just two pieces of paper and two pencils and a few suggestions at first of what they could write down. They learn fast. As with many aspects of Conductive Education this is common sense, but it has to be thought of first.

Many of my parents still arrive with no pencil and paper but most of them now ask me where they can find them, and then they fetch them for themselves.

The children and adult clients all know that they will receive such a list from me and actually get excited at the prospect of being asked later how they have used it.

Lists for the littlies

Just this week I started to make lists with my littlies in the group. They are often brought to the group by people other than their parents, either grandparents or classroom assistants, or taxi- drivers.

This week we started a list called “Things Mama and Papa should know”.

These children have just started school. They are so enthusiastic about the new-found ability that they have to read the words that they come across. They read words everywhere. Words that are written on the furniture, words that they see in the street in advertisements, and then there are the words on the back of the cornflakes packet. These all get read and talked about.

It isn’t only the reading that is so thrilling for them. They use every opportunity that they get to grab a pen and write down whatever comes to mind, either what they have learnt at school that day or just little notes to each other.

They were delighted by the idea of writing lists together.

We wrote with words too, not just with pictures. The children decided which information needed to go home, several of the points that I wrote for quickness, and they had a go with writing and depicting some of the others. It was a success.

Some of the successes and the information that I wrote for them

  • I am practising to walk holding someone’s hand.
  • I want you to know that I prefer to do jigsaw puzzles on the floor because I need to use my knees to hold the puzzle in place.
  • I baked bread today standing up.
  • I stepped onto a box and stood there alone for the first time today.
  • I scrubbed my fingernails with a brush.

And they wrote...

  • I learnt how to sew this week.
  • I am learning to walk using sticks.
  • I was pleased to see my friend again today.

I think that perhaps I should have written:

  • Please do not feed me, I am not a bird.
  • Please listen to me, as I know what I need.

The blogosphere lists

I have been collecting my thoughts all this week for this posting as things cropped up. On one day there was a Google Alert amongst my emails that seemed to fit the bill.

I get up to ten Google Alerts each day, about all things conductive, sometimes even electricity. I sift through them if I have the time before I delete them. Some I send on to Gill Maguire just in case there is something new to her that could be of use for her valuable lists, and sometimes there is one, like the one this week, that fits in with what I am thinking about.

Google alerted me to another parent blog. This time it was a Mum writing about how she puts her list on the fridge door, so that she can be reminded regularly of her visions for the near future.

I have decided that I am going to buy lots of magnets for my parents, carers and groups, so that we can design our own fridge magnets with our own lists and messages on them.

Now it is time for me to start ticking of things on my list for this "getting-ready-for-Monday" Sunday.

It snowed the right kind of snow

Friday 29th January 2010

How many times do we hear that a train was delayed due to the "wrong kind of snow"? In Nürnberg we know all about the wrong kind of snow. It has been falling here all winter. Now, though, for the first time during the big, grey and snowy winter-chill, that has lasted for weeks, we at last got what we have been waiting for.

The right kind of snow!

For many people it was still the wrong sort of snow as it is the warmer snow that makes the streets in the city really wet, messy and slippery. But for those of us who enjoy building snowmen and having snowball fights, it has been just perfect.

The children at work had been so disappointed with the wrong kind of snow falling day after day. Snow that just crumbles as soon as it is picked up. So soft and dry that no amount of squeezing and patting would make it stick together. That's not much fun for anything other than sledging, and there are not many hills near our Kindergarten as you can see in the photograph above.

On Friday afternoon, as I walked across the snow-covered fields to work, I saw a sight that I realised had been missing all these snowy weeks. There outside the Kindergarten, standing as large as life, were two snowmen, the first that I have seen this winter.

I had missed the building action, this had taken place during the morning, but the results were there to see.
The temperature has dropped overnight, the wrong sort of snow is falling again, so I expect that the chilly sculptures will still be there to greet me once again on Monday morning, complete with carrot noses and matching orange "hats".

Saturday 30 January 2010


Manhole cover at the top of Elm Hill, Norwich by Susie Mallett

I got the feeling this morning that my sister must be about

In our family we always say that, when the discussion gets around to the subject of toilets, she must be somewhere in the vicinity. As James Forlitti has pointed out, there has been quite a lot of toilet and bathroom talk on the conductive blogosphere recently, (Andrew Sutton, James Forlitti and myself). I immediately thought of my sister.

Why my sister?

Because my Big Sis collects toilets and toilet paraphernalia.

She has been an avid collector of all things related to Mr Thomas Crapper and earlier, for at least thirty years. She For her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, she received from her husband what is probably the best item in her collection.

The jewel in the crown!

In her bedroom there stands, in its old wooden casing, a wonderful toilet, one of the first with a flushing system. A toilet that was once used at Sandringham House, the Norfolk home of British Royalty!

In my sister's bathroom there are the larger models of toilets, in the guest toilet are the smaller items including tiny chamber pots, and covering the walls is the postcard collection.

Out in the garden the British Rail “Ladies” sign hangs from the side of the shed, and real-life toilets in pastel shades are filled with sweet-smelling miniature roses.

The family always have their eyes peeled for “toiletries” and there is always a suitable present for her in someone’s present store! When my Mum died, amongst her treasures we found a couple of junk-shop finds that had obviously been intended for Sis’s next birthday.

Sis has items in her collection from my travels around the world, from my parents car-boot sale visits, drawings from the children and several antiques. Once I even made her a ceramic toilet that flushes. Not with the ball-cock system invented by Thomas Crapper, but it works nevertheless.

She has mini-toilets in many forms: ashtray toilets, toilets that make noises, flower-pot-holder toilets, wooden models of outdoor toilets, signs for toilet doors, books on toilets and much more.

First-time visitors to Sis’s house don’t get lost on the way to the toilet, as Andrew Sutton did at the university in his toilet-blog, but they do tend to get lost once they find it. They get lost in the world of her wonderful collection. We don’t send out a search party, we don’t even ask why they have been away for so long.
Unfortunately I cannot find the photographs that I once took of her collection. Perhaps she will send me one later.


Sis isn’t the only person to collect “toiletries”.
There used to be a lovely private collection of chamber pots in Munich at the “Centre of Unusual Museums”, ZAM-Zentrum für außsergewöhnlicher Museen.

I have just discovered while I was searching for the link that it closed down in 2005, due to the death of its owner. I visited it several years ago so that I could report back to my sister, and alongside the chamber-pots I discovered many other wonderful oddities, amongst them a collection of pedal cars, a collection of perfume bottles, a collection of Easter-rabbits and a Princess Sissi collection.


Andrew Sutton -

James Forliti –
Susie Mallett -

A "PS" because I am me

Playing with butterflies, 2009

The "Weil ich bin ich" Littlie said something lovely today.

We had received unexpected visitors to the group just as we were starting and I had fogotten to prepare something that we needed.

I said "Oh dear, I am daft and old and forgetful". She shock her head and said loud and clear: "Nein!"

I asked "Nein what? Nein nicht doof? (not daft) Or nein not old and forgetful?"

With a cheeky grin she replied ,very clearly: "Nicht doof".

I then suggested: "But old". She smiled and told me "But not as old as Oma (Grandma), but older than Mama."

That’s a lot of words for someone who has to fight to get each one out. I think she knows how much I love her anecdotes and perhaps that motivates her to speak. She gets so excited because we understand her so quickly these days.

And how diplomatic she is!

A PPS (because I am me)

Of course this conversation was carried out entirely in German. Perhaps soon this may actually take place as reported above, as she has asked me to teach her English!

Thursday 28 January 2010

Weil ich bin ich

" First ray of sunshine "

" Second ray of sunshine "

Because I am me

The sun came into my life at least three times yesterday, and not because it at last peeped through the grey, cloudy sky. It didn’t do that until today! They were three rays of sunshine, however, that I felt inside me.

Yesterday morning, though still dark, I discovered some "rays of sunshine" on the breakfast table. The spring bulbs had sprung overnight and there were the bright colours of daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocuses to greet me, all smelling as delicious as my coffee.

The second rays appeared when I stepped out of my front door. Still no real sun but as dawn was breaking, I discovered that my grey world was once more turning white. And what’s more it was being covered in the softest snow imaginable. that warmed me like the sun does too.

The third rays of sunshine turned up towards the end of a lovely day at work.

Human sunshine, a shaft of insight

I was in the bathroom helping one of the littlies.

Many of the best conversations with children take place there.

Only last week I had a conversation about learning French with a seven-year old in the very same spot. He told me all about his "botte noire". I surprised both him and myself by knowing what he was talking about, although I have no idea how to write it down!

Today I was with another bright-as-a-button Littlie, this time only six years old. She is at the stage where she is learning very quickly how to do many things alone. She could do even more if she weren't quite so little. If only her hands were bigger or her arms longer and her legs just that little bit longer and stronger.

These are problems that she encounters every day. We try to use whatever is at hand to help her achieve her independence in as many situations as possible, despite being such a littlie!

When I say "we" I really mean that it is she who makes the discoveries. She finds new solutions. I just follow the directions of her eyes or listen carefully to her speech as she indicates what she needs.

She always knows and I am always amazed by her, and she knows that too.

Today there were some very light-weight four-point sticks at hand so I grabbed them and placed them beside the toilet, thinking that, because the hand rails are too fat for her to grasp and too far apart, the sticks might be useful for when she had to hop down.

I returned to find this little girl still sitting and fumbling with the sticks. At first I wasn’t sure whether she was just playing with them, with her jerky athetoid movements making them move, or whether she wanted to move them.

I asked Littlie if I could help her with something and between us we turned the sticks round so that the narrowest section of the handle was facing her. She knows better than I do how big her hands are and where she wants to hold on! As we were not intending to walk with the sticks I hadn’t given much thought to how I had placed them but obviously she had done so while I was away.

As always she knew what she was doing and what she wanted and, as it turned out, she intended to walk with these sticks too (but that is another story!)

I was astounded as I often am when in a completely new situation this littlie knows exactly what she needs.

Today I asked her how this can be. I asked how it can be that she always knows better than I do, even when we are in an entirely new situation.

How does she know as much as she does when she is only six years old?

She looked at me, rolled her eyes up to the ceiling as if exasperated, spoke loud and clear and said:

"Weil ich bin ich!“

"Because I am me"

I asked her whether she also meant that, because I am not her, then I can't possibly know? She answered "Yes".

She is right, she knows what she needs because she knows what she needs!

And because she knows, now I know too.

The perfect end to a lovely day at work.

Red-boots part III

A very small picture of a very small pair of boots!

I have been informed that the red-boots pin is in place on the lapel of the new coat that it was purchased for and that the owner is a satisfied customer.

Thank you for sending the photo.

I have recently received a Google Alert informing me that there is now another red-boots badge on sale!

I wonder how many more there are out there.

Monday 25 January 2010


"Over fifty years of TLC, times three"

Between getting that last long posting sorted yesterday and warming up after travelling home in the cold, I read my favourite magazine that arrived on Saturday from England. Actually I was not reading the whole magazine I saw something staring at me from the cover and immediately turned to that page.

Noddy has made a come back!

To celebrate this evergreen three-year old’s sixtieth anniversary Enid Blyton’s grand-daughter has written a special edition, Noddy and the Farmyard Muddle. The book is illustrated by Robert Tyndall, one of the many artists who have succeeded the original artist, Eelco Martinus ten Harmsen Van der Beek.

I liked Noddy in his “red boots”, I wasn’t very fond of Big-Ears although he was my sister’s favourite. I loved Mr Plod. Mpost of all, though, I loved the Gollies. It was through reading these books with my Mum that I fell in love with gollies!

I had lots of golly-badges, collected by saving Robertson’s jam-labels, and I had three golly toys.

Auntie Dick's tricks

I remember so clearly the day that I was bought my loveliest golly, dressed so smartly, he even has a tie. I was about four years old at the time. It was just about the biggest “doll” that I ever owned, bought for me by a friend of my Grandma's.

We called this friend “Auntie Dick”. I have no idea why, as her name was Lilian Rump! She had worked in the same garage, keeping books with my grandmother in about 1920 when they were both young girls. I remember my Grandma telling me that Lilian had always been called Dick. Perhaps her father had longed for a boy!

Auntie Dick used to do such wonderful things with us. Like pretend she had lost something very precious down a drain and stand in the street pointing it out to us, and we would believe her, and crowds would gather and want to help her recover it. At other times she would point in amazement up to the sky, as if she had seen a wonder, and all the world would look up, searching for the object of her joy.

When we were a bit older, but still young enough to enjoy the joke, we caught on to what she was up to and egged her on to do it for us,whenever we met her. Sometimes I would pretend that I wasn’t with her so that I could stand by and watch the reactions of the passers-by. Grandma very often turned her back on us all!

As teenagers my sister and I took on the same habits as Auntie Dick. We got quite good at it but never as good as Auntie Dick had been!

I had almost forgotten that we did such daft things. My Grandmother said that she would sometimes disown her friend when they were younger, as she got up to such "dreadful" tricks

My mum kept a wonderful picture of the father of this Auntie dressed up in feathers and finery as the Carnival King in Gt Yarmouth, probably in the 1920s. I must hunt for that photo when I am home.

I still love Gollies

They are very hard to come by these days and there is not one to be found in the new Noddy book, not even manning the garage. This is, I presume, because they are politically not quite correct.

No worries there

I still have Auntie Dick’s well loved Golly sitting beside my bed. He hasn’t moved an inch for almost fifty years. Just flown a few miles, but always to be beside my bed. He is there now, complete with original outfit, even the tie didn’t go missing! He sits beside the even older tiny teddy that the same Auntie’s older daughter passed down to me when I was six. I loved that teddy too, so much so that he no longer has a hair left on his head. That Tiny Tted really did go all over the world with me in my suitcase, whereas Golly had to spend a few years lodging in the family home without me before he returned to my bookshelf!


My favourite magazine
The Best of British


The first link cannot be opened because of the bracket not workins, so please cut and past to view it.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Making marks

"Marks made"
Sone artwork created by children and adults,
from over the past twenty-five years

I have been collecting thoughts for a posting on drawing ever since I began this blog.

Despite the fact that my yearly resolution to do a drawing of my own every day is never fulfilled, I do at least draw or do something arty at work most days.

This perhaps doesn’t always satisfy my own creative needs but it certainly does those of my clients. The children call out most days "When are we going to paint?", and I nearly always find time for them to do so.

Julia Horvath on drawing

After reading a recent posting on Andrew Sutton’s blog, referring to an article on drawing by conductor Julia Horvath, I thought it high time to gather my thoughts and write something.

But what?

It is weeks since I down-loaded the PDF-file that Andrew mentioned, I have been carrying it around in my bag until I found enough time on buses and trams to read through it. Now, with the cold weather, and the bike wrapped up warm, I have had a few more tram journeys to and from work than usual, so the article has at last been read.

I have read other presentations written by the same conductor and have read many books on the development of artistic skills in children, both during my art training and since, as an art therapist and as a conductor . There was nothing really new being reported here.

I don't want to review the article it is there for you all to read.

Just do it!

I still don’t know what I will write

As well as having read a lot on the subject I also have my head full of collected experience, gathered over the past thirty-three years, since the day that I started studying art and pedagogy.

I began working with art and disabled people when I was nineteen, being involved in many wonderful projects with a community arts group during the four years that I studied fine art. Later, before continuing my training, I worked in several art and craft workshops for the disabled. Since becoming an art teacher, an art therapist and eventually a conductor, making marks on any surface available has been a part of daily life. Not a day goes past without me or a client producing an image of some kind.

I tend not to analyse it much, not like the books do, or the article that finally sparked me off to write this. I observe and ask questions, I facilitate the doing and I gather lots of valuable information, as yet all stored in my head, and in photographs and drawings.

Basically, I just teach people how to look, and then how to make marks to represent what they see. If they can’t see, then I teach them how to touch, and to make marks /textures to represent what they can feel.

Learn from the process

Of course these drawings represent who the artist is, just as mine are a representation of who I am. I believe that these pictures are there to be learnt from and enjoyed and not to be analysed. Most learning in fact takes place during the process, from the conversations that take place while drawing, from the descriptions of the colours and forms, and from the stories told about the images.

One can learnt from the mood of the artist while creating, and from observing how paint, paintbrush, pencils and colours are used.

Without the artist there to tell us we will just be guessing anyway.

Yes of course, as is often stated and presented, there are differences in the drawings made by people with different physical abilities, just as there are differences in the drawing of people from different cultural backgrounds. There are difference in the drawings made by people from lands with differing geographical and natural features, and, as can be seen in all our work, upbringing makes a lot of difference too.


I remember, when I first came to live here in Germany, how interested my new German family was in what an art therapist was is what one does. One Christmas, after we had eaten our very English Christmas dinner with turkey and all the trimmings (I am a vegetarian by the way, but I cooked it for them anyway), the children amongst them decided that I should draw and paint with the whole family. So, after the pudding and custard, that is just what we did.

I was surprised, although I of course I shouldn’t have been if I had really thought about it, when nine out of ten of the family drew fir trees in their pictures. Tall and dark and oppressive is how I see them, a trunk as straight as a die, with no spreading branches as I would have drawn. I wasn’t used to seeing so many coniferous trees. Where I am come from I would be lucky if someone around the dinner table actually drew a tree at all, Norfolk is very flat and often very bare.

Here in Bavaria there are hectare after hectare of coniferous forest. This is what people are used to. To my new German family around the table these trees are not dark and oppressive, they are part of life. So this is how they represent trees, this is what they had learnt to use as the image to represent a tree from when they were very young.

Without the artist to tell the story we should not be interpreting the pictures. I would have made such mistakes over these trees.


Certain characteristics in drawing are not specific to people with physical disabilities. There are many factors to be overcome by everyone beginning to draw or paint. I have taught many people to draw, people with and without physical disabilities. The first step is always to teach them really to see what they are looking at.

The article that I have mentioned is concerned specifically with small children, but in my work I do not really differentiate. Drawing or painting is often a new activity for teenagers and adults, as much as it is for children. None of them may ever have used mark-making as a means of expression before. It is often an entirely new activity, or an activity that is being re-learnt or revived from childhood.

Drawing with a group of adult stroke-clients is not so very different to the early stages of drawing with children, except that these adults have experiences to draw on from earlier life that a child has yet to gather.

What is important then when teaching children with disabilities to draw? In a nutshell, allowing them to gather the experiences that they wish to describe on paper, or would wish to if they knew about them!

At first it is usually unnecessary for the viewer to recognise the image as something concrete. What is important is the will to express something that has been experienced by the artist, and for the artist to be given the opportunity to do this. It is then my job to discover ways to do this, once the artist within has been awokened. People don’t need to know how, it is my job to teach them. Where there is a will, the way can be found. The artist just has to have the idea or will to paint, then together we can overcome the disabilities. Sometimes we can even use the disability to create the images.

It is not true that in every child there is a hidden artist, as is often proclaimed. In everyone who is experiencing life, however, whether with good or bad experiences, there is perhaps a wish to express this in some way, through speech, writing, music, acting, or as a painting.

Learning and drawing

Whether disabled or not disabled, a child needs encouragement to start making marks, needs lovely, good-quality paper, and paints and pencils, to excite enthusiasm and get good results. Then perhaps we will see the artist emerging.

If a child is not physically able to move around, in the immediate environment or further afield, many of the stimuli needed to promote the motivation to do anything at all, then whether drawing or crawling, playing in sand or climbing on someone’s lap, or banging a drum, then these are missing.

I teach disabled people to draw just as I teach them to make coffee, bake cakes, ride a bike, hike the hills, drink a beer, cheer at a concert. All of these activities have characteristics from their disabilities, all their results are a step in a process of learning. I cannot "diagnose" from these activities, I cannot say "Look at this cake it is lop-sided because one of my hemiplegic clients made it", and I cannot "diagnose" from the paintings.

I teach people to draw and they tell me about their pictures. I can watch what they do and I can see how they interact with me if we paint a picture together. When the picture is finished and the artist is no longer there to tell me about it, I am left with a work of art, a step in their development, and nothing more.


Andrew Sutton -

Julia Horvath -
Some thoughts about visual education in the Kindergarten of cerebral palsied children
Practice and theory in systems of education, Volume 4, No. 2, 2009

Saturday 23 January 2010

Bits-in between... birthdays

Some of my friends are celebrating birthdays today

I sat up late last night sewing and painting, so I have a present for one of them ready to wrap.

I haven't seen this Nürnberg friend yet in 2010, so we will be especially pleased to see each other. I will also be pleased to meet all the other friends who will be joining in her celebrations.

This birthday-in-Nürnberg friend is the great friend who painted my flat for me when I was in England for so long in 2008, at the time when my Mother died. It all seems so long ago now, but I will never forget my lovely Mum or this special friend who somehow or other found a key to my new flat and went in there and decorated it for me before my return.

She really is just like her name says, an angel.

Are there any other birthdays to celebrate today?

There is one special friend, who bid for and won the Red-boots pin on eBay.

Happy Birthday!

Please let us know when the pin arrives.

And then there is my blog!

My blog is 400 today!

I can't believe it, so young (March 2008) and yet so old. Where did all those words come from?

A la Mr Bean as always,

"Happy Birthday, Blog"

Friday 22 January 2010

On seeing wood from trees

"Tuesday's darkness" from a 1979 notebook
by Susie Mallett

Just a PS to my last blog

I was thinking a bit more about what Judit wrote and what Dr Hári used to say. As I have said about many of the things that I saw and learnt in the Petö Institute and have experienced in conductive upbringing over the years as a conductor, and I say yet again: this is just 'common sense'.

It is common sense to tidy up and to put away the clutter so you can see the wood from the trees and get safely to the other side of the room. It is common sense to clear away the snow to make room for the next lot that has been forecast. Where should it go otherwise? We clear away after Christmas to make way for the motifs of carnival time. We clear away after carnival for the arrival of the Easter bunnies.

I quite agree that things we don’t use must be put away until they are needed, not thrown away because one day they will surely be needed. The working environment should be just that: working.

We do not need unnecessary clutter but on the other hand we do not need bare walls.

The set has changed in my small part of the world

Winter, somewhere in Southern England in the 1980s

by Susie Mallett

“The world somehow looks odd today...

...I see it for the first time in a week in daylight and it is grey from top to bottom, no white snow no blue skies. Just greyness. It is the sort of greyness that seeps into the bones if you let it.”

The above is part of an email that I sent to an arty friend who replied that it should be called “no weather” and that today is the colour of the paper that is just perfect for painting on.

I prefer white paper, as it makes the colours sparkle even if the colours are just greys.

The cold returned

The wet, melting snow has dried up, so today has a uniform light-grey greyness. No dark, wet tarmac and light grey skies any more, just the same tones of warm and cold greys.

As I walked to the tram stop this morning in what could be called daylight, it took me quite a while to work out what was different in my world today. It is not only the greyness. The streets are untidy!

The streets and pavements are full of that awful grit that gets spread everywhere by the Winterdienst, those tiny crunchy stones mixed with salt that make shop floors black and ruin shoes, wooden floors and lino. These stones have been covered by layer upon layer of snow and ice that has now melted to reveal the rubbish. This is not only the grit but also the left-overs from Silvester. That’s the New Year celebration when millions of Euros went up in smoke leaving rocket sticks and plastic bits and pieces from fireworks littering the streets.
This New Year's rubbish is usually cleared away by the street cleaners on the first working day in the year. Not so in 2010 as by the time the weekend was over most of Germany was covered in a blanket of snow.

Today the street-cleaners are out in force. Even in the underground trains there were cleaners with brooms and shovels getting rid of the grit. I even saw a chimney sweep doing his rounds.

Germany is doing an early spring clean, it is getting the disorderly world in order again.

As I waited at the tram stop and watched the mini street-cleaning-truck running up and down the tram lines I thought about how right Judit Szathmáry is in her blog posted early this morning. But it is not only in the CE environment that we need to find some order. We all have times when we need to put our world in order, so that we can get on with the next stage. I often need to do the housework before I can even think of doing anything jolly or finish the six paintings that I have on the go before I start a seventh.

I don’t think that we have seen the last of the snow. It is too cold and too early to see any signs of spring, there are no snowdrops to be seen yet peeping through the snow-flattened grass.

I am sure we will see more grit and salt on the streets before winter is out but now the way is cleared for the next snowfalls and the remains of the old year have been swept away. There won’t be a rocket stick to be seen by Monday.

Germany is looking spick and span again, but in my part of the world it is still very grey.

PS Lets get the weather in order too

Nürnberg has had less sunshine in the last four weeks than anywhere else in the country, just twenty- four hours, so my stroke client told me this morning. She is also waiting for some sunshine.

I just got another email from the same arty friend, suggesting some cloud-clean-up action for a making a brighter day:

“You blow your breath against the sky and I will do it too. We will start a little hurricane and perhaps in the middle, in our eye, we can see the blue sky”!

Well it is worth a try, then perhaps I will paint what I see. But only when I have finished the painting still on the easel!


– that’s the gritting lorry

Judit Szathmáry

Thursday 21 January 2010

Highlighting the week

This week's works of art

Present for Dad!

After thirty-six hours back at work I am exhausted. We are putting it down to the weather but it is probably because of staff shortages.

I jump into all the empty spaces and do my own work as well. I am not complaining. I was about to say that I love it. My work is so diverse. I find every exhausting minute of it exciting.

This week I have had four mornings with four-year-olds from the integrated Kindergarten, at long last working again with my colleague.

I have had two afternoons with a seven-year-old (with six years of CE behind him), who is coming on in leaps and bounds since he started mainstream school in September 2009. One of these two afternoons was with his mum there watching us, clapping, enthusing and gathering info.

I have spent one afternoon in the office writing the letters-of-invitation to clients for the next adults' block. That was the one time this week that I felt like tearing my hair out, as computers and me only rarely go well together except in my blog-writing.

I have had one wonderful art-therapy afternoon. That is often one of my favourite bits of the week. The young man who was there this week is also coming on in leaps and bounds. We are all smiling because he decided for himself, for the first time in his life, that he needs a haircut, and asked for an appointment to be made for him. Maybe soon he will be picking up the phone and making the appointment himself.

Last but not least there was the CP adults after-work evening group. The members of this group are at last, after much practice, organising their next cooking evening themselves. I don’t have to do anything in advance, just turn up next Tuesday to cook with them. They are inviting the guests and organising the shopping for ingredients themselves. That has taken several years of routinely cooking the same few dishes on birthdays. This has of course been more work and preparation for me than in a “normal” Petö session (what’s normal?) but not any more. We appear to have achieved orthofunction, although the proof will be in the pudding, or in seeing whether they turn up with all we need for our party.

The next step? When I don’t turn up for the cooking, only when the meal is on the table!

As well as all these groups this week I have been stepping into the breach at lunchtimes in the integrated Kindergarten to make sure that all five members of staff all get their allotted half an hour off. All I have to do is to sit at the table with the integrated children and make encouraging sounds, and practise all we have been learning, making sure that their drinks get to mouths and that knives and fork are used as they should be. checking that teeth get cleaned and hands washed before the Stillepause.

To finish off the working week I have a home-visit tomorrow with one of my stroke clients and then, when its all finished, a lovely cup of tea with a friend!

Highlights of the week

Highlight number one

A twenty-six year old young man cleaning the paint off his face and hands himself. I delighted in seeing him getting unusually messy and also in the knowledge that he can at last go to the bathroom to wash away this mess on his own.

Highlight number two

Fours days' worth of painting hanging on the group door!

The four-year olds were really amazed that they could order, like at a take-away service in a burger bar, the animals that they wanted to colour in. Mesmerised, they watched as an outline of their chosen animal flowed out of the tip of my thick felt pen.

It was only the second or third time that they have used watercolour paints and they loved painting such enormous animals faces. We will stick them on cardboard and make masks. Yes, its that time of year again, doughnut time, carnival time, Mardi gras! Time for dressing up in daft clothes!

Highlight number three

A child who as yet reacts to very little in the group crawled over to the switch and put the light on early this morning. He was the first to arrive on yet another dreary morning, and we needed some light. I admit this this didn’t happen of his own initiative, I asked him to do it, but I really did not expect him to do it so spontaneously. He just up and went and then we had light!
That showed me! My always very high expectations have risen no end since that happened.

Highlight number four

A diplegic boy who still stumbles constantly over his own feet, as he has yet to learn where the floor is or what is on it, sewed a wonderful birthday present for his father. He may yet need to conquer the stumbling feet but he has conquered many of the problems with the stumbling hands and now has nimble fingers. He has learnt what is up and down, and what is inside and outside. He uses pens and pencils skilfully. It is just the scissors that still cause a few wrinkles to form on his forehead. However sharp they are, he just cannot cut the thread because he pulls the blades apart.

When sewing I showed him only once how to negotiate the cloth with the needle and he was off, all the time delighting in his own skills, showing his joy by giving me a running commentary on what he was doing. My colleague told him to steady on and not to do so well, as she could see he was soon going to reduce me to tears. Happy tears.

Highlight number five

Praise from my colleague this morning. Once for a jó fekvö (a good lying programme) and again for the fifty-two sit-ups that I did. I always ask the children how old they are and, if they can, they sit up that many times. If they can’t then we do some maths and they use the resulting number. Sometimes they don’t tell me the truth, pretending to be younger, and they get away with that too as we enjoy the joke so much.

As I can I didn’t get the chance to do any maths to reduce my age! I had to do all fifty-two sit-ups. The littlies loved it and started to join in, and did at least five more to add to their totals.

Some of the advantages of working with colleagues are giving and receiving praise, giving and receiving motivation. Feeling a sort of reassurance. Having a different kind of fun. Enjoying success together. Getting a cup of coffee at break-time!

I look forward to the highlights of next week, but only after a weekend of bits-in-between for conductors and hopefully the return of the sun. We haven’t seen much sun in Nürnberg since the beginning of December.

Monday 18 January 2010

Listen with Mother….

"The first ever Böbbel, bouncing", by Susie Mallett, 11.01.10

" Böbbel number two, juggling tomatoes on a cloud", by Susie Mallett, 14.01.10

"Three Böbbels on the microwave" , by Susie Mallett, 14.01.10

"A third Böbbel, bathing" by Susie Mallett 14.01.10

…or with father or a friend

When I started work again today, I was reminded of Judit Szathmary’s latest posting, about the joy of team work when it works.

One of the things that I find most inspiring about this work is that, although we go in with lots of material prepared for the children to work with, we are always distracted from this and led on to new things by the children’s own ideas and words. The nicest thing is that my colleague is as spontaneous as I am. She goes with the flow and we all go with her. We end up with some wonderful stories and some gorgeous art work, and some great successes. Most of all there is tons of fun and laughter.

There is nearly always one child in the group with a passion for toys, one who brings a different “favourite” to show us every day. Sometimes children arrive with the toy hidden somewhere about their clothing so we have to search for it, sometimes it is grasped tightly in a small hand.

I have worked with conductors who insist that personal toys stay safe and sound in the owner's rucksack. I don’t do this as we get so much fun out of these toys and the children are thrilled when the toys get names and life-histories, and sometimes the toys end up finding new friends in other children’s toys.

We use these toys, on and off, all day long it helps to get the children communicating with each other. It all helps to make the day enjoyable for everyone.

When we need a break from them the toys get on with their lives. They go shopping, have a sleep, go to school or on holiday. When they return they get to tell us all about their purchases, their dreams, what they have learnt or their adventures.

One day I changed. I learnt. Now I tell stories

I used to think think I was not very good at story-telling but that changed. Two things happened. I started writing and I also started to work with littlies. I also work with a colleague who is absolutely brilliant at the spontaneous creation of stories and play. I have learnt so much from her.

I have got so good at this now that I can do it even when I work alone! Dr Hári would have a word for this, probably "orthofunction"!

Was it a working holiday? No, it was a complete rest, but…

As I have described, I have been on holiday. It was a holiday so different to those I am used to. In some ways I did nothing, I didn't even have a book with me to read, but I nevertheless spent the week learning. I learnt so much and I also got to put my new-found, story-telling skill into practice.

One afternoon after Kindergarten I had remained in the car with the children while my friend went to print some photographs. The photo-job was one that needed one-hundred-percent concentration, not just the bit left over while watching over two children in a shop.

I offered the children to tell them one of the many stories that I keep in my head. I actually don’t have many complete stories permanently in my head, they appear only at the moment that I begin to tell them. To start them I need just a few words from my audience. I suppose that it works in much the same way as improvised theatre.

The creation of Böbbels

This time my starting point came from my little friend in the car. It was the name of a tiny, blue, bouncing creature. This turned out to be a Böbbel, a friend of children, with mini feet.

We went on to discover that, despite having tiny feet and hands, Böbbels can bounce as high as a car, they sometimes live in a bakery, and often go home with children hidden in the Brezen that they have bought. There can be up to three Böbbels in one Breze!

We learnt that late one evening, having gone home with the children in their bread, one of these Böbbels bounced into a dustbin. Despite his greatest efforts he just could not bounce back out again because the heavy lid had closed behind him. Nobody heard the calls for help so here the Böbbel remained all night, wrapped up as cosily as he could get in a relatively clean paper napkin. Of course he was rescued early the next morning when the first breakfast banana-skin fell on his head. He was soon able to bounce out, really stinky, and in need of a bath, but full of life.

Böbbel was a hit

That is not surprising when the story came from my little friend and I just added the words in between.

I succeeded in holding the fort in the car for long enough for Mum to get her photos printed. The story was a hit, though unfortunately Mum was in the bad books for quite a while after for not letting Littlie go with her.

The Böbbels got really angry on the journey home but outwardly not the Littlie! Mum told Littlie that the Böbbels had gone away to play on a cloud until all was peaceful and it was time to come back to play with him again. Soon all was OK with the world, both ours and the Böbbel’s.

Not only was the story a success in the car it led to a few nice, quiet moments back home. At these moments when as I sat with my crayons and paper in front of me, I would feel a littlie with a cosy orange cushion squeezing on to my lap so that he could watch as I drew the pictures to go with his stories.

The wiggly lines, caused by the wriggly child on my lap, remain in the pictures, to remind me of those cosy moments. The car on the window-sill and the trucks on the clouds are special requests from the new-found friend sitting on my lap.

A birthday-book of Böbbels

I plan a book of Böbbels for my little friend’s next birthday with text in English (from me) and German (from his Mum)!

I have no idea how I will do this technically, but first things first. In the photographs at the top of this posting you will see the first attempts at the illustrations.


Breze/Brezen – a small twisted piece of bread that you often see gripped tightly in a baby’s fist. They are most common in Bavaria where the best tasting Brezen are to be found!

Sunday 17 January 2010


Fossil sea urchin and a Red-Boots pin

The history of the red-boots pin. Part II

Do you remember that a week or so ago, over on Andrew Sutton’s blog, he and others were wondering whether the sale of a “Red Boots” pin on eBay was something to be sad about or not. Then both Elliot Clifton and I wrote about the memorabilia that we have from our Budapest days.

Sometimes wierd things happen

Throughout my travels and my working life I have been accompanied afar and near by various friends from around the world. They were always there with a postcard, a phone call, or even a visit, to make lonely times less so and to have fun times from whic to create happy memories.

I just tis afternoon received an email from one such friend, a friend who also reads each and every word on my blog. A friend who twenty two years ago pressed into my hand a millions-of-years-old fossil for me to take on my trip around the world. With it were the words “If this tiny object can survive alone in the ground for millions of years then you can survive for six months”. I have taken this precious object with me everywhere I have been since, just stuck in my jacket pocket, and we are both surviving today!

After telling me in today’s email all about the temperatures and the snows melting in England, and about how the weight of the snow has damaged his hedges (he is, by the way, a geography teacher and a geologist), he then wrote the following, just like that, as if it was an everyday piece of news:

I won the little shoes; I put a pound as my max bid and sort of forgot about it. There were no other bids! They haven't arrived yet but I have bought an expensive, dark grey formal coat for winter hatches, matches and dispatches and I will put them on it. Connections and all that.

I wonder at my not having already given this friend a “Red Boots Pin”. A bit neglectful of me, really, after all that that his friendship has given me throughout the years.

I can’t think of a better home for that eBay pin. I am sure that it will remain for ever on the lapel of this expensive coat. Maybe I will get a photograph of it for Part III in the series "The history of a red-boots pin".

“Not disabilities at all, more abilities”

" My world", i1.12.1964, by Susie Mallett

"The sound of potential"

I have just watched this video, for the third time:

What caught my attention and made me watch it a second and third time was Patrick’s Dad talking about his son as his “hero”, after saying earlier in the film, about the birth of his son: “It is just countless the number of dreams that die”.

Again I was hearing about that hope that dies when a child with disabilities is born and about how it is that same hope that is given back to parents by something that they discover later. In this case this was through music, and in others it is Conductive Education.

"Where has all the CE gone"

I had found this video on what used to be my favourite CE parent’s blog:

It is not a CE blog anymore, but a general therapy one. I still enjoy the blog but now for different reasons.

I still look at it because I learn a lot from following how a family lives with a child with a disability. Kate writes very clearly about the problems and the successes, but unfortunately Conductive Education is no longer there in the foreground (though I do sometimes see glimpses of conductive upbringing).

It is a point that Andrew Sutton has made often on his blog. He points out how parents write enthusiatically about CE on their blogs while at a camp but once home again it is soon forgotten, lost to the rounds of therapy visits. Andrew has suggested that Conductive Education seems to be loosing a lot of people, all the time, and that we need to wake up to what this says about how Conductive Education is provided. I think he is probably right.

Perhaps the problem comes not just from how Conductive Education is provided but also from how it is presented to parents. If it is presented as a three-hour therapy session then the family will see it as this. If it is presented as upbringing there may be chance of its success at home as well as in a group.

PS. Here's a problem

There is a note in my note book made while I was away last week, just one line in the middle of an otherwise blank page. I noticed it last night as I was checking that all my scribbled blogs had been posted and I wondered what I was going to do now with this line:

“Now I realise why Petö thought that CE works best in an Internat (boarding school) like the PAI. With a family with two or three children and ………”

The words in my note book petered out here. Perhaps at this point, I was probably being asked by a three-year-old to draw a picture or warm his evening milk while Mum was looking after his baby sister! Or perhaps I wrote it after I had observed how long it had taken to put on snow trousers and winter boots alone and, that there was not enough time left to put on jacket, gloves, hat and scarf without help and then still trudge through the snow in time for a doctor’s appointment.

I think that I was going to finish this sentence by writing:

"... ... in a family with two or three children and one of them disabled it would be impossible to bring up a child conductively in the same way as in the PAI."

Petö at his Institute had all the time in the day for conductive upbringing, parents of three children perhaps do not.

What is the solution?

I don’t know, but I do know that my success stories have happened when, after the child has spent some time in the group, I have then spent a lot of time working in the home.
Where the parents are presented with conductive upbringing, from the word Go.

Saturday 16 January 2010

The dangers of city life

"The Street where I live", January 16th, 2010

I was able to go outside today without a hat on. It was nippy, but not painful as it has been all week.

It is getting just a bit warmer and the sun has been shining. The snow is easier to walk on without riskingwringing an ankle on the lumpy, frozen bits. A few people were out and about with their shovels, trying to move the piles of softer, greying snow from their gateways. More snow is forecast for tonight and it has to go somewhere. Space has to be made for it.

In some parts of the country the corporation trucks come round and scoop it all up from the sides of the roads but it probably won’t come to that yet, especially here in the city where it is always a few degrees warmer.

Tonight there will be a danger of black ice forming on the wet streets.

Today there were day-time dangers that I hadn’t come across before.

As I came out of the supermarket there was a lady looking very perplexed, wondering why one of the wing mirrors from her illegally parked car was lying in pieces on the pavement. It hadn’t been knocked off by a passing car,as it was the inside mirror that was broken.
On seeing her arrival a delivery man and witness crossed over the street to tell her that the culprit was a huge lump of ice that had fallen from the roof of the five-storey building beside her. She was lucky that she had not been standing there herself.


As I made my way home, keeping well away from the dropping-zone and sometimes actually walking in the road, I realized that the pavements beside the apartment blocks were strewn with blocks of ice and the sharp points of icicles. Looking up I saw that there werere now huge gaps in the rows of up to fifty-centimetre-long icicles. Compacted snow is creeping over the edge of the rooftops, waiting like an avalanche to come thundering down. It is getting dark so it will freeze again in the night which will stop the glacial-movement for today.

In the city the dangers are of lumps of ice and icicles landing like spearheads on our heads or on the cars. In the countryside it is the trees that are dangerous, and there have been warnings not to take walks in the woods for the next few days.

As can been seen from my recent photographs, over my the previous postings, the snow is freezing on the trees and making branches so heavy that many are breaking off under the strain.

So yes, it is warm enough to go out without a hat but it may be advisable for the next couple of days, in both urban and rural areas to put on a helmet and, whether snowing or not, to walk around with an umbrella up!

Even out on my balcony I was in danger as I fed the birds this afternoon. I heard an avalanche of snow coming and ducked quickly indoors, just in time. And even as I write I can hear ice crashing down on to the windowsills from above.