Monday, 18 October 2010

Breaking the ice

"At the crack of dawn" 18th October 2010

A journey to and through school

I have just got home from a school visit. I I had been there in an advisory role, to help the classroom assistant and to see whether the teacher had any questions. Also to see what I can do to help ease my Jolly Professor's journey through school and to school!

I arrived in time to walk the route to school with the school assistant and the younger brother, while Jolly Prof went off on his bike. He could do the journey alone but for one spot where there is no lowering of the pavement to get across the road. It is not a place where it is safe enough for him to bump down on to the road, and the kerb on the other side is to high for him to bump up again without a push. We have decided to write to the city council to suggest that the next time there are road works in the area they lower the kerb. It is a spot where many school children cross and there are often mums with pushchairs. I have know this to work in several cases, so it is worth a try.

We did not go straight to the classroom. We hopped on a big red bus that was taking two classes of seven-year-olds ice-skating. German children need to learn this at a very early age if they are going to be able to join their mates on the canals and lakes in the winter. Even the duck-pond in the village near work becomes an ice-hockey pitch in the winter!

Jolly Prof. is no exception. He is learning too. This was his third time on the ice and he really had taken to it like a duck to water or a penguin to ice!

He has a small chair on wooden skis that he pushes along in front of him, It would be better if this were a ladder-back chair, as he would be able to stand up straighter and find the correct height for skating, but he managed very well he propelled himself along, slowly put surely. He managed especially well when he was tired, as then he could sit on the chair and one of the queue of waiting friends would push him. There was one expert eight-year-old skater who got up quite a speed.

Now I have lots to think about how to make this time on the ice even more successful! We need something better, and I know just the person to ask.

Back to school

It was just after nine and we were back at school. This seemed strange as school in England was just about starting at this time and we had already had a skating lesson and now it was time for a break. First outside in the autumn sun and then indoors for “ breakfast”. Jolly Prof went out into the playground alone to look for his best friend, the next-door neighbour, before returning to his desk, sorting out his bag and tucking in.

Then the lessons began in earnest

And do you know what I did? I spent at least half of the next two hours in a class of twenty-seven seven and eight-year olds, watching the other children.

I was looking to see how the others "did it". If they sat comfortably on the school chair, if their feet touched the ground or elbows stayed up on the desk. If they looked at the blackboard, if they were easily distracted.

Sometimes I wonder whether my expectations of my clients are just too high, so it does me good once in a while to discover through observing in a situation like today's, that they are not.

I always think a lot after such a visit and today is no different, the main thought being about how much all of those children would benefit if they were brought up and educated conductively. I wonder how long it will be before we see a main-stream conductive school!

I did of course observe my Jolly Prof. intensely the rest of the time and what I saw was that he was the one doing the problem-solving all morning.

Today even before class, he worked out how to get up from the floor ice-skating, Yes, he managed it using the chair. I advised his assistant to try it as she was on the way to injuring her back helping him up from the ice.

Actually I was watching as he was skating although he could have done with someone on the other side to get the feel of the movement. I can skate, I learned here in Germany when I was forty, but when I was forty-three and thoroughly enjoyed my new skill I fell. I sat on my wrist, that cracked in a couple of places and gives me gip even now a decade later. So today I watched .

In the classroom he still has lots to learn so that he can keep up with the tempo. Already he has learn such a lot, he keeps his table tidier and he has worked out the best way for putting folders back into his school bag. He concentrates well and is determined to do as well as the others.

He undresses and dresses, when he arrives at school and before he goes home, completely alone. I was surprised at the speed in which he does this in comparison to the other, not-disabled children. He is quick. In the conductive situation I had not realised just how quick he is, until I saw him with the rest of the class.

Jolly Prof. has also just learnt to carry his school bag on his back and walk!!! German school children start to ruin their backs at the early age of six, a they carry huge bags to and from school every day with their books, food and drink in them. It is a feat for all youngster to get that on their backs, and my client does it how I always used to do it on the train as a student. He puts it on the table and slips his arms into it. He does not fall over backwards as I often did, he walks!

This little boy learnt to walk totally independently during the six months before he started school. That is about two years ago now. What impressed me most today was how he can stand still in a queue of children waiting to get on the bus or go into a classroom, without moving forwards or backwards. He can stand still for a long time and not bump into anyone. Not anymore for a time measured by counting, as we did it in the conductive group. Now he can stand in one spot, so it appeared today, for as long as he needs to!

It is only in these real-life situations that I get to learn all these things.

There are several things that I can do to ease his way through school life. I can find him a better chair, or even a ball in a frame to sit on. We can perhaps get him a seat that tips forwards and a desk that can be tipped too, to enable him to write more fluently.

We will see what we can find and what suits him best. We can get some anti-slip mats to put on the seat of the chair so that he does not slide under the table, I can do all sorts of tweaks here and there to make being in school work more easily.

In our conductive sessions I will continue as we are with lots of movements to increase his stability while walking and his general posture while sitting and standing and moving around. I will introduce as many games as possible to improve the skills that he needs at school.

We play games that improve movement of the fingers and wrists, that help him to form shapes when writing. We draw and paint and sculpt in different sizes, improving the manipulation of a pen or a paint-brush in his hands. We play games that teach him to move his head and his eyes in order to see things as a whole and not in parts. This will help him improve his reading skills no end, and copying work from the black board.

I place objects all over the floor so he has to look where he is going and not trip over, and we walk on benches and over boxes, and climb ramps and go for tramps in the woods.

Apart from assuring me that the afternoon work that we do is just what the Jolly Prof. and his colleagues really do need, this visit also made me realise how amazing it is to see all that this child has achieved, and also that there is more work to do so he continues to keep up with his peers.

There are the other twenty-six children in the class who also find it difficult to sit still on the school chairs, who also find it difficult to concentrate when copying from the board, who also get things wrong and rub out and start again, but somehow keep up with the tempo. Jolly Professor manages it too and is doing very well.

I think it is time that he started to use a computer

Each year the tempo gets faster. To be able to get his homework finished with time enough to play as well it is time that he began to learn how to use a computer so that his thoughts keep pace with his written words, or vice versa! This evening I have received an email with the phone number of just the man for the job, a computer expert for devices for people with disability.

Jolly Prof. is the child about whom at two years old it was said by his therapist that he would never walk. Today after only five years of conductive living he walks, cycles, runs and has been "skating on ice". He even walks carrying his very heavy school satchel on his back!

In German we would say Hut auf! to Jolly Prof.. In English we would tip our hat to him and say well done!

I was really impressed.

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