-bringing ideas to life







Thinking Where I Am

Thinking About A Smile

Thinking About Space

A set of self-published books for children by Janette Costin, AUSTAT. AU$9.95 each from www.alexandertechniqueknowledge.com (First published in STATNews, September 2010)

Review by Jeannie MacLean with thanks to Charlie Haden


Janette Costin, a teaching member of AUSTAT, has written and published this series of three books to be used "towards the education of children" as she explains in the introduction. The books are in a format familiar to younger children: thin paperbacks with colourful illustrations and not too many words; a blue, a green and a red book. I love the titles of the first two books, Thinking Where I Am and Thinking About A Smile -they give an immediate opportunity for discussion. I am less certain about the third title, Thinking About Space.

I have worked with many children, both in schools and in private practice, and have recognised the relief a great many of them feel when they realise they are learning in a different way and not looking at books. This made me question how these books might be used and how children might respond to them.


I read them first with my adult Alexander teacher eyes and brain, then I offered them to Charlie, a 10 year-old boy who has had a number of Alexander lessons.


Let's look at them one by one.


Thinking Where I Am looks at mind-wandering as a habit and how to bring the attention back to the present moment. This is useful for young people to consider, but I found the text in the book over directional and pedagogic in tone, and my overall impression was that the book suggests that when in school a child `ought' to be paying attention to the teacher and `ought not' to be daydreaming.


In my own teaching I work to raise awareness of how `should' and `ought' can stimulate shortening and tightening in a young body, and I find the concepts unhelpful in facilitating an acceptance of `where I am'. Having said that, this book could be useful for discussing with a child their experience of the impact of `should' and `ought' and how they contribute to mind-wandering.


What did Charlie think? "This book says you have to listen to the teacher and to sit properly. It is interesting, it's real, it's what actual people do."


The second book, Thinking About A Smile sets out to look at the impact of anxiety when a child is asked to read out loud, and how a happy thought and smiling can allow change in the experience of performing the task. The introduction makes clear that there should be discussion with the child about the content and how they experience a task like reading aloud. This is where the potential value of these books lies, as a teaching aid rather than as lessons in themselves. If the discussion arises from the child's experience and can be extended by looking at the book I think this is a valuable way to proceed.


Charlie's response to this book: "You shouldn't be scared about reading in front of the class because that will make it worse. Everything is about thinking, so if you have a smile on your face it will seem as if you don't care."


About the third book Thinking About Space Charlie said, "I don't really understand it" and I rather agree with him. Introducing the idea of end-gaining I think has to arise naturally from the child's experience, rather than creating a device in a book to have them consider it.


Janette has produced three books which give us all an opportunity to talk with children about some of the principles of the Alexander Technique, to use them as a discussion stimulus with class teachers and with parents, and perhaps most importantly to stimulate discussion about children's learning among Alexander teachers.


I don't think the books can stand alone for either children or class teachers unless they have direct experience of the Technique.


If anyone would like to discuss this review or any of the issues the books raise about working with children with me I would be delighted to chat.


Janette Costin 2010




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