Pär Play – learning intuitively and playfully from life

November 2020

Teachers who practice Intuitive Pedagogy know the extent to which it trains the ability to form educational relationships and inner flexibility. The Nuremberg Teacher Training Seminar includes in its training provision a one-week course on Intuitive Pedagogy in the Easter holidays which is also open to colleagues from other Waldorf schools. Course leader Dieter Schwartz, a pupil of Pär Ahlbom and Iris Johansson, explains his approach.

Pär Ahlbom in the middle throwing sticks

Christoph Wegener | In the Waldorf teacher training in Nuremberg we consider the approach of Intuitive Pedagogy to be a method of encounter between pupil and teacher in the same way that, for example, we know about the inclusion of the night between two main lessons, which according to Rudolf Steiner particularly activates the sphere of the will. What do you understand by Intuitive Pedagogy?

Dieter Schwartz | Intuitive Pedagogy for me is an educational approach in adult education which Pär Ahlbom developed in Sweden. It is not a method to be applied to children but a path of schooling for self-education for adults working in education which helps to discover and develop our own capacity for intuition. The focus in this context is on PÄR PLAY, exercises and play as developed by Pär Ahlbom. The communication-as-art of the autistic communication researcher Iris Johansson and the exercise-based painting of Merete Lövlie supplement this as further content.

CW | How do you make this accessible in your courses?

DS | Primarily through physical exercises which take us individually or socially directly to boundaries. If in the process we go through an initial phase of inability or sensation and get into real practising, we can end up in a kind of empty space. When we act out of such an empty space, what we intend to do and what we do coincides completely. I could also describe this state as sleeping in wakefulness. Many Pär Play exercises let us experience what appears impossible at first.

CW | Can you describe a concrete example?

DS | Imagine an exercise with two people. One person stands and holds a rod and the other stands in front of them with their back turned and then walks slowly forward. After a random time the person standing still throws the rod towards the back of the walking person. It is the task of the latter to notice when the rod is being thrown behind them, turn round and catch the rod. During this exercise we discover that it is possible to differentiate precisely whether the walking person perceives when the person standing behind them actually throws the rod or when the impulse arises to throw the rod. Through the interaction between thrower and catcher, the catcher can discover and adjust ever more precisely their own perceptual and reactive activity and the thrower the degree of agreement between their impulse and their action.

CW | Can we think of that as a kind of intensive self-awareness?

DS | Yes. If I can, I teach everything as self-awareness. In addition I convey in the teacher training the consistent approach to conflict resolution of Iris Johansson who starts from the premise that conflicts always arise in the individual person if they hold on to an inner picture of reality which doesn’t or no longer corresponds with reality. In this regard I have always experienced so far that every person has the full capacity to solve their own conflicts. This responsible way of dealing with conflict has already opened the door for many aspiring and current teachers to their own capacity to develop and act and has helped them to resolve personal patterns of and blockages in behaviour even if they have been deadlocked over many years.

CW | How has Intuitive Pedagogy helped you in your own teaching practice?

DS | I only encountered Intuitive Pedagogy after I had already been a music teacher at a Waldorf school for over ten years. I subsequently had an outstanding opportunity to test whether what I had assimilated as Intuitive Pedagogy could also stand up in practice. And it did! I was the fourth teacher to have been asked to take over a class 4 in a situation in which my predecessor had ended up in a psychiatric hospital, the parents were at war with one another and the children were caught up in pronounced bullying patterns. That I was able to turn this situation around within about two-and-a-half years and after class 8 was able to pass on a class with exceptional social interaction and a great willingness to learn is due almost exclusively to what I learnt from Intuitive Pedagogy.

CW | About Iris Johansson: what impulses in her communication approach are critical?

DS | The conflict resolution I mentioned earlier, the thought that it is pointless to make a judgement about a person which says that they should be further in their development than they are at that moment; but that we can take it for granted that everyone can, from the point where they are in their development at that time, still develop everything that lies as potential in their constitution and is encouraged to do so by life itself. This thought has accompanied me in a helpful and liberating way as I look at the children, my colleagues and also myself. Furthermore, and this might surprise anthroposophists, Iris Johansson had a clear understanding of the way we can obtain control over our feelings as described in Rudolf Steiner’s third subsidiary exercise: in that we use our basic feelings – joy, sadness, fear and anger – as tools for our human development.

CW | Iris Johansson was herself autistic?

DS | Yes, like many autistic people she chose a lifelong field of research, in her case human communication. In doing so she used, like most autistic people, compensatory abilities which relate more to intangible things. Thus, for example, she can see each person’s special talents, even if they don’t use them at all or haven’t developed them. I was able to test this when she told a pupil, whom I knew very well, about his special talents the first time she met him.

CW | Are autistic people disposed towards intuitive cognition?

DS | We might assume that but also have to know that autistic people always “surf” on the will impulses of other people. Iris Johansson perceives these currents of will directly and adopts them in order to obtain her own impulses for action from that. Without these impulses from outside she would be inwardly empty because she has almost no inner impulses of her own. That is why often only their stereotypical tics are active in autistic people who do not receive any constructive impulses from outside.

CW | Do we activate our forces of childhood, about which Rudolf Steiner speaks repeatedly in his lectures for teachers, with the exercises of Intuitive Pedagogy?

DS | It is an original disposition of us human beings that we are curious, operative and willing to learn. This is reactivated in the exercises and play of Pär Play, however much it may otherwise have been buried in life. Another childlike disposition is that our thinking and perception are still very open, not bogged down in right and wrong, good and evil, and so on.

When we reactivate our own childhood forces we are in a much better position to help children to develop out of their natural disposition. Our adult waking consciousness and the associated educational responsibility remain unaffected by this.

CW | Rudolf Steiner demanded in his first course for teachers in 1919: “The teacher should be a person who inwardly never compromises with untruth.” Is there a reference point with this in Intuitive Pedagogy?

DS | In my experience it is above all children after the Rubicon and during puberty who are very grateful when adults don’t hide behind any kind of mask or role.

When we adults deal with tensions which exist among us openly and constructively, it helps adolescents a great deal to gain or retain trust in us since they are mostly so sensitive that they perceive these tensions directly, however much we may try to hide them.

CW | What did you learn through experiencing play with Pär Ahlbom?

DS | That the human being can develop very profoundly through play. On the one hand, I was very excited from the beginning about the fields of sensory development and the expansion of perception, synchronisation and social skills these exercises lead into. They lead to the development a kind of inner organ with which I learnt to perceive the coherence in living processes. The second thing I learnt was the very different ways in which people form concepts, whereupon I set out to learn to perceive as much as possible of the way that a specific person forms new concepts, which means nothing other than learning. Third, I accompanied Pär Ahlbom almost ever second weekend for three years as his apprentice and in doing so absorbed to the best of my ability his art of playing with adults and therein letting new fields of development arise for everyone involved.

CW | What is important when there is play with adults?

DS | Humans develop to the greatest extent when we just play and don’t play “in order to”. Because in play we “recognise” as a simple experience how life naturally happens – and also what so easily disables this natural flow: our imagined feelings and thoughts.

CW | Do Waldorf teachers cope easily with Intuitive Pedagogy?

DS | When Waldorf teachers are used to undertaking research within their own field of activity that certainly helps. Here it is often more a case of “how” rather than “what”. Thus I found Pär Ahlbom’s view that we should be able to meditate even when our best friend is just walking past the window and we greet them to be very motivating. We also practised such a way of meditation constantly in Pär Play.

CW | Does Intuitive Pedagogy contrast with or supplement educational methodology?

DS | Supplement! Intuitive Pedagogy takes very seriously what Rudolf Steiner once said in a course for teachers, that we do no less than poison children if we get them to do something that they don’t do with pleasure. I actually proceed from the basis that we adults, too, poison ourselves when we do something with which we have not or only partially connected ourselves in our will. To this extent I see Intuitive Pedagogy as a very suitable aid for creating coherence within ourselves.

CW | You said recently in a Nuremberg course that one cannot actually teach any person anything. Is that the quintessence of the approach of Intuitive Pedagogy?

DS | Everything I learned from lecturers of so-called Intuitive Pedagogy occurred directly out of creative action and authentic being, through unmediated living involvement and experience. This led me to a concept of learning which is different from the usual way of being taught. This experience has become my model for the way I am as a teacher.

Christoph Wegener, lecturer at and director of the Pedagogical Seminar at the Nuremberg Rudolf Steiner School, asked the questions.

intuitive-paedagogik.de | humanplayacademy.com | dieterschwartz.com

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