By Melinda Glenister
(This blog was originally written for the Feldenkrais UK Guild for Feldenkrais Awareness Week)
An act of fate brought me into working with children. More than 10 years ago my baby nephew had a brain injury. I was one year into my Feldenkrais training at the time. That changed the course of my training and my work in the method. Initially I was learning all I could to help him in his recovery and long journey ahead. Over time I started working with other children with all kinds of needs and difficulties, all with extraordinary courage.
Soon after my training, I was lucky enough to meet Jeremy Krauss, who would become my mentor in my work with children. He was personally taught by Moshe Feldenkrais but has developed his own approach to working with children called JKA (Jeremy Krauss Approach). I have been training with him since the beginning of JKA, and was among the first group to take his training program. It is a very specific training in development and working with children, which has enabled me to understand the work and impact children in a way not possible before.
The children that I work with have had some aspect, or usually many overlapping aspects of their development delayed or interrupted whether through brain damage, cerebral palsy or genetic disorders. Many children I see are undiagnosed and there may not be an explanation for the delays they are experiencing.
There are so many aspects to a healthy baby’s development that are, hopefully, normally just taken for granted. When working with these very special children, I realise again and again how complex the miracle of development is, and also just how many things can go wrong with different children, aspects which for whatever reason don’t occur naturally, and that the children may need some extra help with.
Just yesterday I saw a new child for a lesson, she was 6 yrs old, talking and understood everything. Her cerebral palsy means that she missed many major stages of her movement development, although she was beginning to stand and walk with support. While I was watching her move around a little bit in the beginning and just finding out what she could do, I said to her a couple of times- “Do you want to do it yourself or do you need me to help you?” She said“I can do it myself.” Most of the children, even the very young ones are determined to find their independence, and that stubbornness stands them in very good stead. It is extremely important to let the children do as much as they can for themselves, and not least to allow them to have their own discoveries and have their own learning. I was reminded of a much younger child I worked with in Russia, who was sitting playing with another child after a session with me. She was rocking a bit keeping herself balanced with her hands – a new skill she had just learned in our session- and talking to herself as she did it. The mother laughed and translated for me. She was repeating to herself, “I can do it Melinda, I can do it.” She was so proud of herself, and it was very touching.
One of the most important aspects of the work is to find a way to give the child that sense of mastery and independence.
Adults often find incredible benefit from revisiting developmental movements in their Feldenkrais classes. Their movement repertoire becomes richer, more skilled, and more pleasurable. It is the same for the children.
The aspects of developmental movements the child needs varies of course depending on their age and ability, but the principle is the same.
The idea is to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle that might help allow them to spontaneously make the next steps in their learning for themselves. Crucial aspects of balance and support need to be present before a child will want to get up, for example. If you rush a child who is afraid to get up off the ground, they are more likely to be anxious and lose confidence. Let them learn how to fall and catch themselves from safe earlier stages and their confidence will soar. They will start to explore not with fear, but with curiosity.
My hope is that gradually more parents become aware that there are serious alternatives to invasive treatments and therapies, which traditionally were seen as the only option. It has been a privilege to have worked with so many extraordinary children over the last few years. I feel very grateful for the trust parents put in my hands, and the opportunity to watch these special children grow.