Kapelle, 9th January 2010, Susie Mallett
Observing: I believe more and more that good observation is the most valuable skill that I have. This is a skill that I use constantly, not only when wearing both the artist’s and the conductor’s hat but when wearing the many others that I do too.
I have spent a few days with a friend
As well as a friend she is a conductor, and a mum. I am not a mum so I have really enjoyed watching my friend wearing her mum’s hat. She is as good in that hat, as she is in the friend's hat and in the conductor's hat.
I have not been in the position actively to observe small children without disability in their family environment, for a very long time. It is twenty-six years since my niece and my nephew were babies. That was a time when I spent many hours on the floor with these twins, being whatever animal came to mind, or later at a table being messy with paints, or on the beach being creative with sand.
I haven’t done anything quite like it since.
I was on holiday this week. Or was I?
My hats as usual just pile up, one on top of the other, rather than exchanging places. Often I just don’t seem to find the time to take one off before I put the next one on. Sometimes I think that I might need the last one just a bit longer, so I keep it on. So, on top of all the others hats, came the holiday hats!
During my holiday I have been many things, amongst them a tourist, a visitor, a conductor, a sort of auntie-cum-godmother, a traveller, a tramper, an artist, a babysitter, a friend, and a writer. And while wearing all or one of these hats I have been constantly observing, with my conductor hat right on the top.
There has been a wonderful snowy landscape to observe, to draw, to paint and walk through. On my journey there, I called in on a young man, a client of mine, , so my conductor hat got pulled back on top of my listening, artist, friend and walking ones. We walked miles in the snowy countryside, discussing the future, and had to do quite a lot of one-two, one-two to prevent both of us landing on the ground with a bump. There was lots of observation going on there, with my young client telling me about work and walking through deep snow, and trying his hardest to slide on the icy roads, all at the same time!
It is quite something to observe someone with athetoid cerebral palsy who, over the years has step by step learnt to walk, to jump, to climb stairs and to run, now sliding on the ice and snow, on purpose. It brought tears of joy to my eyes to observe this, and also when seeing him run his hand along a wall thick with snow, just as you or I would absent-mindedly do.
What is my reason for writing this posting?
It began when I started to realize that, although I have been on holiday, I have taken every available opportunity to learn. Maybe I could describe it as catching up with something that was missing in the library of information that I keep in my head. Now I am writing about the observation that I have been doing constantly in the company of my conductor-mum-friend, and her three-year-old and her three-month-old children, and my young adult client and his family when walking with him in the snow-covered hills.
I thought that if I were a mum I would never do anything else except sit and watch or play and watch, or talk and watch, or walk and watch. ,
I observed at breakfast, dinner and tea. I observed at the Kindergarten, on the sledge, at the ice-bar party in the street, and playing with tractors. I observed at feeding times and sleeping times, crying times and gurgling times. I even had a few hours all alone with the little one. Now that was a treat.
I observed while drawing them and for them, and while playing with them. I observed while walking along the street with them, while watching TV together and when reading bedtime stories with them.
I was surprised by how fascinated I was, especially when I was with the two little ones and their mum. At the same time as having a holiday I have been doing an awful lot of unexpected learning.
I have just realized why I stand at the window of my conductive room whenever I have a break from work. From there I can watch the disabled and not-disabled Kindergarten children playing in the garden.
I had more time and opportunity to do this while on holiday. I was observing not only the movements of the children and a young adult but also their developing social skills and the many environmental social influences.
I trained to be an art-teacher at college/high school level and I spent some time during this training with non-disabled children. Since then, however, I have worked only with children and adults with disabilities. I have had very little contact with children with no physical disability, really just with my sister’s twins and a few older children of my friends. I realize now that over the years this probably has not been enough!
I certainly had no intensive contact with non-disabled children during my conductor-training. The Hungarian students were training to be teachers at the same time as doing their conductor- training, so they were doing teaching-practices in junior schools at the same time as in the conductive groups. We British students at that time were already teachers; some were special-school teachers already working with disabled children. As student-conductors we worked in the groups at the PAI or at the Birmingham Institute but not in junior schools or Kindergartens as the Hungarian students did.
It is good news to hear recently that there is now an integrated Kindergarten at the Petö Institute. This will certainly be a great place to observe in just the way that I do here in Nürnberg.
How does this work in other centres where training takes place?
I have had a wonderful holiday but I have also had my eyes opened, not only opened to the movements and learning that takes place so quickly and before one’s eyes in babes-in-arms and infants, but also in the comings and goings of family life. Of course I know about this. I work in family contexts with my clients. But somehow this was different. I was with my friend. I was with my conductor-friend, my conductor-friend who is now also a mum.
We talked a lot about the things that we were both observing at her home. We talked some more about what we observe in our work and of the differences and similarities between these two worlds. One theme that kept cropping up was the enormous amount of spontaneity in a child without disability, and the importance of encouraging this at all times. We were not only observing the deftness of movement, the jumping up on a chair to fetch a hook from the kitchen wall to use as a crane, but the quickness of thinking, the problem-solving the deciding that this hook could do the job perfectly.
We both had a lovely time, me on holiday and with my friend having a-change-is-almost-as-good-as-a-rest break.
And my young adult client? What about him?
I think that, with our discussions about how to carry on our work together, he discovered a different side to conductive upbringing. We have plans for him to travel to visit me, to join my adults' groups and try living in a “sheltered” holiday flat. We plan trips to museums and art exhibitions. We want to learn how to use trains and buses, banks, cafes and restaurants. We still have a lot to do together and will continue with our long tramps in the hills.