Thursday, 6 September 2012

Just-do-it-yourself






Infectious enthusiasm travels the world
I do not spent as much time as I used to surfing the net reading other blogs and websites that are connected in some way to Conductive Education, but I still have some favourites that I open up now and then to discover what is going on in other conductive communities.
One such website that I have found so inspiring and have looked at regularly is that of conductor, Eszter Agocs. Take a look and find out why -
I met Eszter in Hong Kong. She was at the 2010 World Congress for Conductive Education with a conductor colleague of hers, someone whom I knew from a few years earlier when she worked in Germany.
Yes, it is a small world this world of conduction.
I have a relative who lives not far from Ezster’s centre in Adelaide who has also met her with the hope that her family can use her services for her grandson. The world gets smaller and smaller!
Eszter made quite an impression on me when I met her. She and her colleague are both young and bubbling, full of enthusiasm and with exciting plans for their futures in the conductive world. They had that kind of enthusiasm that is so infectious that it oozes through cyberspace too. I still feel it when I open up the website to look through the pictures and read of the work at Future Footprints.
I was so delighted when, not many weeks after our meeting in Hong Kong, I discovered Eszter’s website for the centre that she opened in February 2011, in Adelaide, South Australia.
More about the furniture
Readers of my blog will know that I have a strange and changing relationship with the furniture that we have in our conductive centre. It is so very heavy, it takes up so much space when not in use and, really, I can take it or leave it. If it is there when I need it as a means of facilitation I use it, but if it is not available I use something else. This is especially true when I am working with families in their homes, where I use what is available.
Creative planning
I plan many arty activities for my groups well ahead, so that I always have something in store to fall back on in a time of need.
One of the plans that I had for 2010, that followed me into 2011 and 2012 because I had not made my deadlines, was for us to produce hand-painted furniture to auction at our summer fetes. It is still an on-going project and we are beginning to get some orders for our work based on the results of what I describe below.
Dolly Mixtures
In Eszter’s new centre she has the most wonderful furniture, all designed and made by herself and her family. At first glance it looks like the children are working and playing in a box of Dolly Mixtures! With furniture that looks like a packet of sweeties, the pastel shades make it look like they are working and playing in a fairy-story book!
Inspiration to get going
I have been planning a paint-the-furniture project at our centre for years. Not only did I want to paint the furniture, I actually wanted to put the finished products in an auction at our summer fete.
I always seemed to run out of time and the summers came and went. Then, one day in the autumn of 2011 I received a call asking whether I would still like some flat-pack chairs from the local branch of a well known Swedish furniture store.
Always ready for an arty project and very much inspired by the pictures of Eszter’s Dolly Mixture colours, I immediately said ‘Yes please’ and the chairs arrived the next day.
It was a day when all but three from seven members of our staff were sick and I was left holding the fort with two groups of children. After a bit of shuffling of people and spaces, in the end I had just five children with me, all of them very eager to assemble the Swedish flat-pack chairs that they could see stacked up in the corner.
Child’s play!
They all turned out to be experts.
Not only experts at furniture assembly but at teamwork too.
Each child not only knew exactly where their own talents lie but also knew who best to team up with to compliment their own skills. It was a joy to watch them, and watch is what I did most of the time, except when I would quickly turn a piece of wood round before it got screwed into (the wrong) place, or offered a longer tool with a handle to afford better grip.
One lad with hemiplegia was employed by all the  groups to make the final turn on the screws and an athetoid girl was the best at sorting out the order of assembly and spotting the difference between all the nuts and bolts.
We had six chairs assembled in no time at all. By the time that we went home for the day the chairs were all lined up, tried and tested, with plans being made for their decoration at a later date. My colleagues were quite astounded to see what we had achieved on a day when we were so short-staffed.
These children did not need adults to assemble furniture, just each other. One to read the instructions, one to get the bits of wood sorted, another sorting nails, another who was good with an Allen key, and another who was strong and could hold on tight.
I do not think that I have never experienced such a motivated, active bunch of children. It was a lovely experience for me and I thanked the person who turned up with the chairs at just the right moment for making what could have been a difficult, short-staffed afternoon into such a successful day for us all.
The project continued!
In the autumn of 2011 the school children were delighted that we were at last able to organise a weekend sleep-over at our conductive centre. We had a wonderful time and were incredibly busy. It was autumn and Halloween, so we were not short of inspiration for our creativity, and to top it all we had our chair project to get on with.
Upon the advice of a lovely young man at the hardware store I had purchased a huge can of white paint and four very tiny pots of highly concentrated colours.
We had all that we needed to mix just about any colour under the sun, which is exactly what we did.



Before we went to bed on the first evening of the sleep-over we had four pastel-coloured chairs. Over the course of the following months, whenever the children found the time and the motivation, they painted and stencilled away until they were satisfied with their creations. One child whose hands are not always as steady as she would like them to be printed spots on her chair with the tip of her nose!
An instant make-over
Throughout the creative period the chairs where used – after they had dried, of course!
Abandoned to the cellar were the ladder-backs.
We now had our pastel dolly-mixture chairs to sit on at the dinner table, so the dull, fifteen-years-old ladder-backs from the Pető Institute have been confined to the corner of the room (just-in-case), and some to the cellar. Our new, brightly painted chairs immediately changed the atmosphere in our group room through their vibrancy of colour and flair. They also attract many comments and now –
Orders flowing are in!
When we had a festival in July to celebrate the roofing of the new Kindergarten the Boss of the association, of which our conductive work is just a small part, came into our room and noticed our lovely chairs around the table. She immediately wanted to have one to give to the building firm as a thank-you present,  but I told her that she would have a lot of explaining to do if one of the children arrived the next to find their chair was missing!
She of course understood this immediately and said that she would send us some more flat packs from the well-known Swedish store as soon as she could, so that we could get creative on some more chairs to use in the Association as gifts and to auction off at fund-raising events. 
And now the stroke group get roped in!
Something else that I have been waiting for from that same store, something for the group-room, is a small flat-pack step-ladder. We wanted it for the children who are just a little bit too short to use the kitchen. With two ladder-back chairs beside it it is ideal for some of the children. I had tested one from the Kindergarten group a long time ago and at long last ours arrived.
The children were delighted and unpacked the box with glee. They soon had the cartoon-like instructions in their hands and the nuts and bolts all sorted. It was not long before they realised that this time they needed more elbow-grease than any of them could supply and the whole package was left all sorted out for the arrival of our stroke group the next morning.
It was interesting to see how that group worked together.
The one lady in the group took on the role of observer. She made sure that everything flowed according to plan. I had warned them all just before they started, before I retreated to another part of the room, that there were a few tricky pieces, similar bits of wood with holes in different places, that they should be aware of.
I learnt as much from this adult furniture-building session as I had done from the session with the children. I was not at all surprised to see who it was who took charge of the group, in a kind and encouraging way, not doing it all himself but knowing that he had the better fine motor skills to do the work.
He and one of the other men were so patient with a third man who kept insisting, despite having the instruction sheet in front of him with its very clear pictorial instructions, that the second side panel should be attached before the steps were all inserted. Our female group member was able to explain to him the reason why they were still not ready for that piece but I observed that he still kept offering the same piece several times before he realised what needed to be done first.
I love it when we introduce such practical tasks to the sessions. The clients are so highly motivated, both the children and the adults, to show off all their skills and their ability to work as a team. I am not sure whether it is not I who learns the most from these moments, especially when the clients are so good at the task in hand that I can take a back seat and observe their conversations, notice who helps whom and how, and who asked who for help and why!
I am really grateful that we have this certain Swedish furniture store just around the corner that has such good-value products that are useful to us and come with child- and disability-friendly instruction sheets. We supply a few extra tools from the box-full that we have accumulated over the years of conductive work. It is full of long spanners and keys that had come with long-since-out-of-use leg and foot splints and bicycles.
The next stage
When the next flat-packs arrive I shall organise a joint venture. Adults and children joining forces, coming together to enjoy an action-packed, furniture-making creative experience!
Then next summer I will get all our clients out there at the summer fete auctioning off their wares!
But first a different celebration
We already have another creative project in hand.
We have been asked to make costumes for a Golden Jubilee fashion parade that will take place at the end of this month to celebrate fifty years of the Association that the conductive department belongs to!
There is never a dull moment in our conductive lives! 

2 comments:

Andrew said...

Conductive upbringing indeed!

Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking example of your practice. It could usefully be analysed as a beginning to articulating some principled bases of non-residential conductive upbringing.

I do hope that your notion of integrating adults and children's groups in a common activity does come off, it manifests represents areal and important aspect of the lives of real families and communities and a priori looks to be a very real motivator for everyone involved.

I am sad to say that my first thought on reading this was , however, 'One would never get away with that in England'. Good luck in a less demon-haunted society.

But why so coy about sourcing? 'A well-known Swedish furniture store'? Surely you mean IKEA – and just as surely neither IKEA nor anyone else would be offended by its being named here.

Susie Mallett said...

Thank you Andrew for your comment.

There is absolutely no reason why I did not name Ikea, I just liked the sound of ‘a well known Swedish store’, and I knew that most readers would know exactly which store I was describing!

I am considering asking our publicity department to get in touch with Ikea to ask them whether they would be interested in filming our children and adults assembling their furniture. Of course I will report on the event here, with or without Ikea's involvement.

Such a film would not only show that building Ikea furniture really can be child’s play but it would also show a wonderful living and learning experience for our clients and the conductors.

Thank you too to Eszter Agocs from Future Footprints for her message on Facebook.