I have always loved teaching young children. Before I qualified as an Alexander Teacher I worked as an education volunteer for the National Trust and as a Teaching Assistant in primary school. I love their energy, it’s so much fun, very creative and I get to be a bit silly!
Children, in general, are a very honest bunch and you can tell very quickly if they find something engaging or not! It’s fun making the Alexander work simple and easy to understand and in a way that will hold a child’s interest. I am now used to being very adaptive and explaining things in many different ways, thinking on my feet (or Alexander puts it, staying with the ‘means whereby’). I am sure my adult Alexander teaching has benefited much from my experience of teaching children. I’m always learning so much from the many students I teach. Over the past 5 years or so I have worked with children with all sorts of particular learning needs and personalities at Educare Small School (3-11 year olds).
At Educare we (Sue Merry* and I) teach through movement, storytelling, drawing, games, role play, pictures and videos. We teach body mapping and anatomy and quiet time (a version of constructive rest). I work with children 1-2-1, in pairs and in small groups. We even work on children and teachers in their classes, as they are working. AT is completely integrated into the learning.
The children and teachers have a ‘Ready List’, so named by one of the children. This has been made into a poster for their classroom walls. They use it to remind themselves to stop and come back to their bodies and the space around them. They also use ‘Magic Words’ (child friendly, no jargon ‘directions’, thoughts) that allow them to be the ‘Boss of their bodies’.
So why do we bother to teach children this young? They don’t tend to be suffering with back pain or injuries yet! Well, there are many other reasons to learn Alexander self-care skills, especially at this age, the most important being that they are still using their bodies quite well until about 6-7 years old. Alexander work can then be just part of their education (rather than the re-education it is seen as in adults, allowing people to undo unhelpful habits). We are able to reinforce their good body use and bring embodied awareness to it. We give them the practical experience and vocabulary to describe how they are being in their bodies while they are doing what they are doing. Very importantly we teach them the tools to stop or pause and choose how to respond to situations rather than being reactive. This Alexander principal is such an important quality to establish as children grow and mature. We also nurture and encourage their natural curiosity about learning and experimenting. Alexander work helps teach them it’s ok to get things wrong and hopefully become more comfortable with it, as I wrote in a previous blog, a growth mindset. They learn to focus on the process, rather than only having their eye on the goal, and not caring how they got there. The children learn to look after themselves, deal with stress and anxieties or just find ways to calm their bodies and minds with ‘quiet time’. They can also find more physical comfort as they sit at their desks to study.
(The teaching of young children has always been an important part of Alexander work. Starting right back with FM Alexander himself. He established ‘The Little School’, during the 1920’s with a fellow Alexander teacher Irene Tasker, who had also trained with Maria Montessori. The little School stayed open, with a changing format and in different places, due to WWII, it finally close in the late 40’s.)
I also teach primary school aged children in my private practice**. I tend to get the parent involved in the lessons too, whether they have had AT lessons themselves or not. In my experience this has helped put the child at ease when starting lessons and takes away some of the awkwardness of working 1-2-1 with a child while the parent is sitting watching. When a parent takes part, they have a shared experience and vocabulary that can be taken home, talked about and practiced, helping embed learning. The whole family then gets to benefit. When a child is brought for lessons, for whatever reasons, they are the main focus, but when a parent takes part in the games and activities we all get to share what we notice and talk about what we are doing. It creates an open and relaxed atmosphere, which makes learning easier. Often children are better than their parents at certain movements, for example, balancing, children find this fun, it turns things on their heads and we all learn together.
As with my adult lessons, I have created and give visual aid handouts, that are child friendly, these are taken home and add to the ‘out of teaching room’ learning. The lessons have a practical approach that is relevant to the child’s interests and everyday activities.
Children may come for a variety of reasons: anxiety, stammering, hyper mobility, poor posture to name a few, but benefit from their new Alexander self-care skills in many different ways. If you would like to find out more about how your child can benefit please contact me, or have a look at my website where I have podcasts and films about some of mine and other Alexander teachers work with children of all ages.
* – Sue Merry is one of the two co-founders of Educare and a pioneer in the evolution of teaching Alexander Technique work to young children.
** – I teach teens and young adults too, but I generally do this 1-2-1, as with adults.