The Vault

Present Day Trends in the Upbringing of Children

By Grethe Laub

 

This article is an overview of the educational perspective covered by the talks presented at the Brighton Congress in 1988. The first part, in which I have outlined the necessary factors I find important as a basis for growth and development, I have called "Human Rights." Children have basic needs for their growth and development. If these needs are provided for, they can grow up in a healthy and balanced way. The second part I call "Why Did it Happen?". Industrialisation has had far reaching effects on people's way of living and in the West we experience chaos as a result of these abnormal living conditions. In the third part I look at the Alexander teacher's future challenges, especially regarding the upbringing of children.

Part 1. Human Rights

Building Up a Good Atmosphere

As Alexander teachers we have a personal gift which we learn to use and develop in our own special way. In order to teach successfully, however, we must be able to establish rapport with our pupils. When working with children, it is very important to create a framework of good atmosphere. This is formed by the way we approach and talk to our pupils and allows give and take.

Good initial contact is made by the teacher giving 100% attention to the child, and by openness, honesty, tolerance, patience and loving understanding. The teacher needs to listen to the child and to observe with her eyes. All the clues can then be received about how to teach the Technique in an appropriate and satisfying way. The atmosphere will enhance the child's confidence, allowing it to voice inner thoughts, express feelings, and to tell of its interests and friends. This confidence leads to self-confidence and inner strength, giving the child courage to expand and conquer the world, the ability to share experiences and make friends.

Developing Understanding

Children copy those who look after them, mainly their parents. They are their examples. We see, as in a mirror, the adult's errors reflected in the child. We know it from the classic picture of the child walking like the father. In order to help the child we must be able to put together all the clues we get from the contact I mentioned earlier. This can help us understand the child's situation at home and at school, and so it puts the Alexander teacher in a position to make useful suggestions to the parents. With the co-operation of parents, the child's home life and environment can be enhanced.

Adults who have Alexander lessons have a greater capacity to understand what is going on in the child. Their attention can be drawn to how important is their example, the atmosphere and the environment they create. In my experience advice and guidance need to go through the grown-ups. The child does not yet have the knowledge to take responsibility for changing a situation if something is not working—eat something different if it is not well and so on. The adults have to help the child to become responsible for itself, and give it the knowledge to be able to take care for itself in the best way. In order to do this, they need to understand what the child is going through, and also what they must do to help it. For this reason, I insist that parents of pupils under 10 have lessons themselves. Parents need to set a good example, as they are the link between the child and the environment. Parent and child can share their understanding and experience of the Technique, lying down together, maybe, and enjoying a mutual rapport.

Creating Environment

The environment itself can contribute to growth and development. The home is of prime importance—it is the foundation of the child's growth and development. It is the relationship with the family that matters more than anything else. A homely atmosphere, where interests are shared, and communication flourishes, where there is time for music, stories and eating together, provides the opportunity for balanced growth and development. Meals should be regular, unhurried, and the food should be of good quality, prepared with care. Sleep should also be adequate, after a peaceful ending to the day.

Other needs include a small space of its own for play and possessions, a chance for physical well-being from outdoor activities and games playing—and the opportunity to expand, experiment, and make friends. This is done through play, which involves the development of imagination, and provides the experience of finding out about how things work.

Children also need to be responsible for their own toys and possessions, learning to take their part in the household duties. If parents choose their child's school with care, take part in meetings and school concerns, help children regulate homework and avoid over-competitiveness in sports and other achievements, the child acquires confidence and stability.

The examples I have given above show some of the fundamental needs children have regarding their environment. How these needs are met and fulfilled varies of course from society to society and from one historic period to another. All of what I say here is based on my life experience within the structure of Danish society. I speak also as one who has experienced the times before and after the Second World War and has seen what an impact this had on living conditions.

Part 2. Why Did it Happen?

In the Second World War great changes were brought about which have altered the structure of family life. During the war women were needed in the manufacturing industries. The pattern never changed back, and the need for child-care facilities continued to increase. Machines and material goods played a more prominent role in life. The development of democracy and women's rights has enhanced freedom and promoted equality, but has placed additional strains on the family. In many ways this development has made people better off and more aware of their rights in the community. Democracy should level the class distinctions in order to give everybody the same possibilities. Individuals can then develop their special abilities through training and education, irrespective of their parents' income.

But the new life circumstances gave rise to much insecurity for both adults and children. The school system was drastically altered to satisfy the new demands brought about by this democratic outlook, increasing the need for teachers, not all of whom were dedicated and gifted in their work.

Most of the daytime hours were spent away from home, parents might be working different hours or on shifts, and, in those homes where everybody had to leave at an early hour, the situation could be exasperating and ruin the chance of a peaceful start to the day. Thus home was no longer the natural safe and secure place for every member of the family. It is a fundamental need in life to feel secure. For the child, a feeling of security is of vital importance. As the child is dependent on the adults, it is of great importance that these adults are aware of their responsibility. Feelings of security are shaken by negativity, by confusion and by loss of freedom of choice. It all begins in childhood. If we are taught to think constructively and be responsible for ourselves and our lives, we have a much better starting point in life and for solving the problems we might get into. But this necessitates a society that is aware of the responsibility and knows what to do about it.

Part 3. The Alexander Teacher's Part

I will now continue with the Alexander teacher's role in the education of children as I see it in the future. The best teaching enables pupils to see for themselves how to take true responsibility. We cannot think or act for other people. The great strength of our psychophysical contact with pupils is that the guiding orders enable them to become aware of the blocks they have in body and mind. They must take responsibility for themselves and know what to think and what to avoid. The demands of our ever-changing society and the resulting uncertainty create nervous tension. In dealing with this, the Alexander teacher enables people to tackle their problems, and makes them conscious of their potentialities. Pupils learn the 'means whereby' that will enable them to tackle their problems. This knowledge can increase their understanding of other people, opening up a far deeper communication that will enrich relationships and increase a sense of responsibility. The Alexander teacher must make it clear to the pupils that the reason for all these problems lies in attitude. This is the root of the matter. By replacing bad unconscious habits with creative thinking and acting, they are able to cope in a better way.

Likewise, parents taking Alexander lessons go through changes and acquire more awareness of what is happening. This is bound to influence their capacity for understanding the child. This indeed demands open eyes and open senses as the child is constantly changing. We learn a lot by listening—not only to their words but to what occupies their minds—through watching them play and move. This gives us psychological insight because in their play and movements they copy their surroundings.

So our contribution to childrens' education in their early development up to the ages of 8 to 10 is to draw the adults' attention towards:

1. How they can influence the upbringing of their children through their example;

2. The way they associate with the child and the psychological atmosphere surrounding it;

3. The external environment they create for the daily activities of the child to take place.

Access to teacher training colleges might lead to the Alexander Technique influencing the whole school system. If teachers, all through the years of their training, are offered lessons in the Technique, they can get to know the fundamental principles and can grow with the work. Attitudes and the background on which plans and decisions are made for the future will then be imbued with a full understanding of the 'means-whereby.'

Access to the children directly, as a subject on the childrens' schedule, and with an Alexander teacher teaching the subject, is another part of my vision for the future.

The true value of the Technique is to teach the child to make the best use in life of the exquisite equipment it is born with. The demands of the time have to be taken account of and understood—particularly the fact that upbringing is largely unchanged in spite of the vast changes in the pace and quality of life, and in the advent of technology. People are as a result, dissatisfied, frustrated and insecure.

Technology and its use depend on our attitudes which were formed in childhood. Looking to the future, balance plays an important role. Development is OK so long as we are in control and this is where constructive conscious control plays its part. It's all in the thinking.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Grethe Laub is Danish. She spent twenty-two years teaching in nursery schools in Denmark, being headmistress of several. She trained as an Alexander teacher with Walter Carrington and has been teaching privately in Denmark since qualifying in 1966. She has spent six years training teachers with Heriklia Gounari. She regularly has children for Alexander lessons, from as young as five or six years old up to teenagers. She has given several talks, both in England and in Copenhagen, on the relevance of the Alexander Technique to the upbringing and education of children.

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