I am often asked to help out, especially at lunchtimes or to help on special arty projects.
Each morning for the past three weeks my conductor colleague and I have had the four-year-old integrative children in the conductive group. The other kindergarten children peep in the door when ever they get the chance, to see what we are up to.
Many of them, given the chance would love to join us and many of them would certainly benefit from doing so, especially the clumsy ones and those with a wiggly bottoms who cannot keep still for two seconds. I would love to invite them to join us but I don’t think that this would go down well with several people.
What is this introduction all about?
It is simply just to say I love having this opportunity to observe non-disabled children. It is one more of the special presents that I receive from my work.
Speaking and singing and and rhythm
In most writings on CE you will find only short paragraphs on this subject.
This was just not something that was talked about an awful lot during my training. It was naturally part and parcel of practice and that is how I understand it.... part and parcel of life, all our lives. Part and parcel of the life that I observe in the Kindergarten.
Using some kind of accompanying sounds, noises, words or songs is nothing unusual when communicating with children. Parents do this naturally from the moment their babies are born.
How many galloping, riding rhymes are there? Or rocking lulabies? Most children’s songs, rhymes and verse involve some kind of movements or rhythm-making.
Nursery rhymes use music and rhythm to encourage the development of balance, or to strengthen muscles, or to improve coordination. Or even to encourage a state of relaxation and sleep.
Songs are sung while pushing a swing, the words encouraging the bending and stretching of legs. A blackbird flies down from above to nip noses, encouraging the use of pinching movements with the thumb and fingers. Toddlers sit on the knees of adults, imagining this is their horse. A song is sung about the different ways in whichhorses are ridden by different people ,and the children do their best to imitate without falling off, while all the time they are improving the strength in their trunk muscles and their sense of balance.
All children are using rhythmic intention from the earliest possible age while playing with their parents. While playing with siblings and the extended family.
When children are older and begin to play alone it is possible to observe them doing their own intending. Who hasn’t seen from a distance the moving lips as children speak or just mouth the words as they execute something new, or as they sing the special songs that go with their games?
They use the speech to give a rhythm and a purpose to their actions.
And what about when children begin to read, write and arithmatise?
Here again they talk out loud to themselves, almost continuously, until they have internalised everything.
Children need to read and pronounce the letters out loud and hear what they are reading before they begin to recognise words as patterns as adults do. They give a rhythm to their tasks by speaking or just mouthing words long after they have reached this stage of internalising. Some adults do this too. I do it often myself when reading poetry, until I establish the rhythm of the piece that I am reading.
Recently I was teaching a group of children to sew.
How differently they all learnt.
An athetoid child not once put the needle back into the cloth from the wrong side. She understood from the start what to do. Her difficulties lie in the physical process of grasping her extra-large needle and moving her sewing frame up and down to get herself into the correct position for the next stitch.
Diplegic children, now that is a completely different story. They tend to talk. In fact they tend to talk a lot. The diplegic child in this sewing group knew from the start what to do too. He had to talk his way through each stage. He knew that he needed to do this to overcome the difficulties that he sometimes with turning and with looking underneath and on top, and his difficulties distinguishing left from right etc.
It appears at first that, despite their glasses, children like this still have problems with their sight. They do have problems seeing and looking and understanding what they see, but these are problems solved by doing, by practising, by doing lots of looking, seeing and touching, and have nothing to do with needing a new pair of glasses.
The child in question would sew all afternoon, given the chance. He loves it. He is absolutely intrigued with the patterns that he can make with a needle and thread. He accompanies each stitch with his very own form of intending. It goes a bit like this:
If I go in here I will make another narrow stripe.
If I turn over now I can snatch the needle and put it back in.
No, don’t go in there or the stripe will be too wide.
Come out here and snatch the needle again and pull it tight.
That makes another nice stripy pattern.
Every so often he stops talking to himself, and say to me:
Oops, can you help me!
Yes, in the beginning I initiate this speaking. The athetoid children internalise it immediately. But for the others I continuously give instructions to turn and put the needle in, and turn and pull it out, until they too take over for themselves in their own way of out-loud or internalised talking or singing. They find a rhythm and it helps them to concentrate, therefore they make less mistakes.
When I begin teaching sewing we just stitch anywhere on the cloth, just to get the rhythm of turning and sticking in the needle. As we get the hang of it then we venture on to more complicated works of art! All the time, if it is needed, then verbal or internalised intending takes place.
Words and actions for all
Most children will do this especially when playing intensely on their own. I find such situations is the ideal opportunity for me to observe how they do it and learn from them how I might encourage our “Petö” children to do the same. Most parents initiate it too. We do it when singing "Row, row, row the boat", "Hickory-dickory-dock", "Ring-a ring-a-roses" etc., etc., etc.
Often when I speak about conductive pedagogy I say that most of what I learnt seemed, usually, after learning it, to be common sense. I suppose it is common sense but I had to know how to use it.
We as conductors are not trying to teach disabled children to do the same things that non-disabled children do. We are there to offer them the experiences that encourage the psycho-social development of these children just as life experiences develop this in non-disabled children. There is no reason why the methods used to do this should be different. Nursery rhymes can fit the same purpose in experiencing movement, developing balance stretching and relaxing muscles with disabled and non-disabled children.
Or if it suits, as with some of the children when sewing, nothing at all.