HOW ARE WE LIVING OUR LIVES?by Grethe Laub
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EBOOK REVIEW by Judith Kleinman is shown below by courtesy of the author. First published in Statnews, May 2016
A LIFE-SHAPING FORCE
Judith Kleinman finds inspiration in a thought-provoking and touching memoir of working with the AT and children
This book is a little gem. Novis publications have digitalized the original 2006 paper version, with the intention of introducing Grethe Laub’s ideas to a new generation of Alexander teachers. It explains her approach to life and, in particular, teaching children. The book contains some timeless wisdom and is essential reading for those of us with an interest in child development, parenting, Alexander work with children and taking our work into schools. The book is also a rewarding social history of the twentieth century, the changes in society after the war, the development of educational ideas and the changing role of woman.
The book is divided into several parts with interviews, talks, and letters. It has beautifully clear introductions from both Sue Holladay and the publisher Chariclia Gounaris which tell us just how remarkable this quiet woman and her work were. Over the years we have all heard much of the fundamentals of Alexander’s work described by many interesting men. How wonderful then to have another strong yet gentle female voice, describing the magic of Alexander’s work in relation to her own life story and to her ideas on child development. The most compelling thought for me is that it would be common sense for our work to be made part of every school-teacher´s training.
We hear from Grethe how Alexander’s ideas gently woven into lessons, can help children learn self-esteem and independence of thought, through quietly learning to take care of themselves in relation to the world around them. How children given responsibilities appropriate for their age can naturally develop the understanding of the “means whereby” as a principle to live by. How children and adults can become more comfortable with themselves.
Give and take
Grethe’s watch words for teaching are about firstly creating and valuing the relationship of mutual trust and respect with children, listening to them, teaching through conversations and stories, connecting with them before eventually working with hands on. “It is a matter of give-and-take between teacher and pupil that makes teaching successful.” She emphasizes how important it is that the “grownups” around children exemplify the work, and she often says that it is as important that the parents and teachers have lessons, alongside introducing the work to the children, if nothing else for the grownups to learn how to be patient.
There is underneath all her gentleness of approach, a rigor and understanding of Alexander’s ideas that is very thought provoking.
Where and how do habit and choice effect our society’s development? How can we bring our lives, indeed our world, back to balance? How can we create kind but clear boundaries so that children can make useful choices about how to live their lives? Grethe is very clear that it is our thoughts and attitudes that are at the base of our actions and that without deep care and understanding children can very easily run into problems. There are many touching examples of her work with children and a bit like the famous book Dibs In Search of Self, we hear the story of Grethe’s teaching of Anders and can only be deeply moved. How this work of ours can be so indirect yet make such a difference, how good teachers can make children feel clever and heal their wounds.
The book has some other hidden jewels, pictures of Grethe, whose face expresses all her warmth and compassion, wonderful letters of recommendation from her past employers, which leave us in no doubt of what a special person she was, what a contribution she made and how loved. There are memories of Walter Carrington and a letter he sent to her before she trained - that might usefully be read by all trainees before embarking on an Alexander Training Course?
Inspiration for educators
The republication of this book in digital format does make it more accessible in our increasingly digital age. This is the first eBook I have read and I would highly recommend it; at 10 Euros it seems very good value. Overall I don’t think I have read a book about the work that has been so touching and thought provoking for a while.
There are some ideas that might seem a little dated to us now, and a certain amount of repetition of the material. However I was left, after reading it, with the thoughts from Grethe’s letter to the Froebel Institute that, never has there been a more important time than now, for Alexander’s work on adaptability and freedom to change, to be taught to children, parents and teachers. What a contribution Grethe’s work and ideas are on how we might go about that.
I hope Grethe would be pleased that her inspirational approach to working with children lives on at Educare Small School in London and that some of us are keeping the torch of the work alight in other educational settings.
Judith Kleinman teaches at the Royal College of Music and at the Junior Royal Academy of Music. She co-wrote “The Alexander Technique for Musicians” with Peter Buckoke, published by Bloomsbury.
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Book review in STAT News, February 2007
by Joshua Enkin
How Are We Living Our Lives? is a series of talks by - and an interview with - Grethe Laub that took place from 1982-1988. Grethe had a long teaching career: twenty seven years as a nursery school teacher, followed by thirty years as a teacher of the Alexander Technique. She had special knowledge of how to use the Technique in teaching children to be creative, well balanced and fully alive.
In her interview with Joe Armstrong in 1984, Grethe described how important it was for a child to know it is liked - in order for the child to ‘open up’. She sressed that one must observe and listen to what the child says. With this contact established, one will be able to work successfully with the child ‘Alexander-wise’.
She emphasized that it was most impoprtant to have something to do with the child outside of the Technique before one starts teaching it to them, in order to know about their interests and daily life. Grethe also wanted school teachers to study the Alexander Technique so that, with better co-ordination, they would be able to give out more successfully what they had inside of themselves and in such a way that the children would listen.
Grethe learned from children that you must get down to the root of their problems if you want to help them. She saw children as open and honest - and to be trusted. She was a very feeling and intuitive person and this helped her to bring out the confidence that children needed to tap into in order to ‘be oneself’. She believed the grown-up must find the appropriate ‘means-whereby’ to guide the child.
On pages 84-89, she tells the ‘Story of Anders’ - the story of a five-year-old boy with whom she had outstanding learning experiences. Here, she explains in depth her ability to bring the Alexander Technique to life to give this child the chance to grow confidently.
The book also describes her personal journey, from teaching nursery school children in Denmark to her first meeting with Alexander himself in 1949: “After my first lesson, he said to me ‘You can be helped.’ This became a milestone in my life.” She trained in the Technique 1962-1965 with Walter Carrington - and made almost yearly trips after that to stay involved with the course.
Grethe believed that we have to think in a new way and make much more effort in bringing up our children. If we are to reverse the tendency towards limitation and suffering, it is essential that we bring up our children to be conscious individuals with the possibility to act on the basis of conscious choices - and not merely on the basis of habitual patterns. How very topical all of this is in 2007.
Chariclia Gounaris has edited these talks and letters in a most sensitive and thoughtful manner. This book is a great tribute to Grethe’s life-work, both with children and with the Alexander Technique. I feel so blessed to have known Grethe from 1984 until her passing in 1966. She was an incredibly giving, thoughtful, eccentric and loving human being - and the beauty for us, now, is that all of this is so sensitively captured in this book.
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Book review in AmSAT News
issue No 77 – summer 2008
Review by Eric Miller
This book is a compilation of talks given by the Danish Alexander Technique teacher Grethe Laub (1911-1996) on the subject of the Alexander Technique and early childhood education, plus a long interview conducted by Joe Armstrong and several letters from schools in Denmark praising her work.
A highly regarded and much appreciated pre-school teacher in Denmark from 1935-62, Grethe Laub trained as an Alexander Technique teacher from 1962—65 and taught the Technique for the rest of her life. As an Alexander Technique teacher, she continued to specialize in working with children.
This short volume pulls together her lectures and stories from her personal history to give us a picture of her approach to working with children. One gets a strong sense of her love for children and her natural ability to relate to them. She was able to understand and address their needs in a way that made it fun for them to learn and develop. She emphasizes the importance of dealing with children with honesty, openness, patience, and loving understanding to make a good connection with them. She discussses the importance of establishing a good atmosphere and environment for learning and gives examples of the ways she works. “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,” she writes. “By replacing bad unconscious habits with creative thinking and acting ... [children] are able to cope in a better way.”
She discusses the role adults–both parents and teachers–play in encouraging child development. For example, she says that children learn through imitation, so that it is important for a teacher of young children to set a good example with her own use. She adds that it is difficult to give a traditional Alexander lesson to children under 12 years of age, because they will have no patience with that format and they will have trouble understanding what they are being taught. She recommends teaching the principles in the context of a story, game, or through an experience; and she gives examples of how she does this. In my own experience teaching guitar and piano to children, I find this to be true. Children often don't care about sitting or standing, but if I can help them play their instrument more easily by using less tension, they are grateful.
Grethe Laub's book gives the reader a glimpse into the mind of the child and an opportunity to learn from her experiences and insights as a teacher. I highly recommend How Are We Living Our Lives? to anyone who currently works with children or who would like to work with them.
Eric Miller is a 2006 graduate of the Alexander Technique Center New England. He maintains a private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut, teaching the Alexander Technique, guitar, and piano. Eric is also an award-winning composer who writes and records music for film and television.