A group of friends aged 6-14
With half-term (Carnival) holiday coming up next week our school children have received their half-yearly reports and we are all so pleased with them.
The whole group was especially pleased to hear that our two grammar-school (Gymnasium) children did really well in their first half-year, achieving a couple of As, lots of Bs and one or two Cs.
It is lovely to observe how all the children enjoy discussing their marks and how they all find it so easy to enjoy each other’s successes. Between them, these children attend primary schools, a grammar school, the school for the partially sighted, a special school, the Steiner and Montessori schools, but it makes no difference where they go, they all get excited and pleased about the achievements of their friends, whatever their ability. My observations of these children helps me describe my own meaning of the word ‘integration’, the word that we hear so much these days in Germany when talking about children with special educational needs, and adults too who need assistance at work and in everyday life.
Some of the children in our conductive afternoon group will live independently but perhaps have difficulty to find a job, others will need assistance to live independently but will able to work on the open market, others with go on to university needing differing degrees of physical and psychological help to achieve this.
Learn, learn, learn
These children spend years attending conductive groups learning about living as independently as they can, learning how to socialise in all sorts of situations, learning about what society tolerates and what it does not tolerate, learning about the motivation that they need in life, and the need to have a will to achieve something. These children learn about what it to be accepted in communities and to be able to participate in different walks of life, they learn how they can give, to share with other people those abilities that they have but perhaps other people have not.
Tears often well up in my eyes when I observe a fourteen-year-old girl, who attends the school for partially sighted children, help a ten-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who attends grammar school, put food on her fork or put her coat on – then vice versa as the fourteen-year-old gets help with spelling from the ten-year-old while writing a report about all the children in the group that one of our many visitors last year said she would be delighted to receive.
On Friday afternoons we often have six children in our conductive group. They all get up between 6.00 am and 6.30 am the whole week long and when school finishes at 1.00 pm they either have music lessons, physiotherapy, speech therapy, football training, appointments to meet a friend, they have a haircut, go to the dentist or spend a few hours with brothers and sisters, or they come to us for three hours. They all also have homework to do!
Fun on Fridays
So, as well as hard work, we also try to make our Friday afternoons especially relaxing and fun.
We always prepare lots of activities that take place lying down, sitting, standing and when walking. There are games playing with bats and balls, bean-bags, basket-ball nets ping-pong balls, feathers, finger footballs, etc. etc. When preparing the activities we think about what each child finds difficult at school (we make visits to school and the school assistants visit us to share this information) and in other parts of their lives (parents meetings and home visits provide this information). We consider together what the children find difficult, what they wish to learn and which activities we think could help them.
There are of course always lots of arty-crafty activities to choose from to improve among other things fine-motor movements, eye-hand coordination, concentration and sitting posture, and to make presents for all occasions at home! This week the children had so much fun playing the prepared games, spent so much time discussing school and making up stories about the pictures collected while walking around and through obstacles, that they decided to spend the rest of their afternoon on playing bat and ball games instead of painting T-shirts or sewing pictures. Their tiredness was forgotten, it was hard to get them out of the room at the end of the session!
On Fridays, when the children first roll in between 13.30 pm and 13.45 pm they look exhausted. They arrive ready for their lunch, a sit down and a chat. It is amazing to watch how they slowly come back to life, how their faces slowly light up. This is especially noticeable when they get to sit next to just the right person at lunchtime. When the chemistry fits they just chat away about their week at school as if no one else is around. This is what happened this Friday – an eleven-year-old grammar-school boy spent thirty minutes discussing the difficulties of second-year primary school with a seven-year-old! He gave advice on maths and also on football.
These two are both very independent so I left them alone at the table with their manly chat and turned my attention to our shoe-man who had arrived to plaster Little Princess’s feet and lower legs, for the umpteenth time in her life. They are the best of friends, they organise these appointments with each other on their smart phones on WhatsApp!
Ever since she was two years old Little Princess’s face has lit up each time that he comes into the room, in anticipation of their lovely chats. This week, once I had helped Little Princess undress and get decent with a towel wrapped around her, ready to sit still for forty-five minutes, I left the two of them to their private conversation.
Our shoe-man is wonderful. He is a dab-hand at splint, shoe, rolators and wheelchair preparation, but more importantly he is so good at engaging our children in such interesting conversation. They tell him everything that is happening in their lives, then they sit perfectly still in anticipation of the next story from him as he pulls net stockings on their feet and puts a gooey mess on their legs before eventually cutting off the finished plaster casts, ready to prepare for the next stage and a new fitting.
I watch with joy to see this child with severe athetoid cerebral palsy remain so calm, her eyes fixed on the face of the man who tells her stories about his daughter, his son, or of his family in the Andes. She never moves a muscle in her body as she listens, then waiting for his all clear signal, when the knife has been put away, before she begins to speak – as this she cannot do without moving.
Children who rarely speak a word chatter away to their favourite shoe-man as he works away at their feet.
We give the shoe-man and the children the help that they need in this process but I try to leave them on their own to their private time as much as I can. I sometimes stay as near as I can but still at a distance so that I do not disturb them – I do so love to watch this social experience. It is all part of growing up, learning to communicate with people, and we try to give our children as many experiences to learn this as we can. This week on Friday the social interaction with one of her favourite people gave Little Princess the motivation she needed to later take part in activities with the other children.
Visitors to such afternoon groups, and we get many, always tell us how much they enjoy seeing conductive living and upbringing in action. They rarely see the conventional conductive programme that groups can organise when children attend the all-day sessions that take place in holiday times for three weeks.
In our afternoon groups we have a short amount of time and a very mixed group of children in ability and age. The children come to us after a long morning at school, often hungry and tired but usually motivated to take part in a fun afternoon.
The children learn to set the table if they arrive early enough or they clear up afterwards and learn how to fill the dishwasher, they comb their hair and make themselves tidy before coming to the table, they make sure that their belongings are tidily placed in the cloakroom with room for the other children to move around when they arrive, and they help their friends and chat to them as they arrive. Over lunch we all talk together or listen to a story that someone has brought along. Lunch is followed by activities that are planned to suit the children who are present on particular days, depending on what they are learning at school and what is needed for them to continue progressing in all part of their lives.
Often we are motivated by the children. They know what kind of things help them to learn and they know that we are flexible, so they share with us their own ideas about what they or the others might like to do or need to do. Such participation in planning is so important for keeping the children interested and motivated in their journey through conductive living. As they get older, more capable and more motivated their lives get busier and school life gets longer and harder. We, the conductors, have to keep on the ball, offering the children activities that motivate them to join as for one or two days a week, or for a week or two in their precious holidays.
I have been involved in this evolving work with this group since Jolly Prof and Little Princess left our integrated conductive/Montessori Kindergarten and they have now been at school for nearly five years. We now have eleven children that join us on different days of the week, attending from one to five days, depending on their needs and circumstances. We have two conductors and sometimes a student in the group. We give the children a secure, motivating, learning environment, but we remain as flexible as we can in our small team to accommodate their ever-changing needs.