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"The clown — and therefore the children — are making a game out of dipping one container full from the pond, then searching out another container the same volume but not the same shape and pouring that full from the first container. They all laugh — but amusedly at the great joke, not derisively — when someone picks a container that is too large and doesn't fill all the way, or that is too small and sloshes over. Some of the containers are all kinds of fantastic shapes, and these two-year-olds have learned, right before my amazed eyes, to pick out which is the same volume from all these different shapes. Piaget would have had a heart-attack!

M.R. is referring to Swiss cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget, whose theories of child development have dominated the current generation of educators and child psychologists. In Piaget's model, the average child is eight to ten years old before he discovers and understands the principle of conservation, as exemplified in the constancy of fluid volumes.

"Still in this segment — for that's how I've come to think of these mime-led play sessions, each bell signaling one type of play based on one unspoken principle — still in this segment, the clown makes a show of drinking a lot of water, and then a big show of having drunk too much water and feeling bloated. Some of the kids do the same. The mime then pretends his body is like a balloon, poking it in one place and making it bulge out at other places, and the children make a great game out of this too.

"Our trainer (the one leading this fantasy experience, not the children's clown-mime-teacher) has instructed us to become one of the children in the experience we've been observing, putting on the head of a child like a helmet and pulling on that child's body like a rubber suit, so we can experience this setting through and with the eyes, ears, perceptions, body and recognitions of the child.

"I do this, becoming that little Hispanic girl, just in time for all of us to come in from the garden, make a circle and, from that circle, much to my own surprise, begin an ‘om' chant — something I've never indulged in personally.

"To the little girl and the rest of the children, this ‘om' chanting is routine just as the daily mime-led play sessions in the garden are routine. If anything, the little girl is mildly surprised at feeling my stir of surprise while I'm wearing her persona.

"While the ‘om' is going on, first one child and then another begins to talk in sing-song cadence in counter to and with the ‘om,' describing ‘fullness, oh the fullness, nowhere else for the fullness to go ...' While this 'om' has been going on in relation to the 'fullness' experiences in the garden, apparently the silvery chime has been sounding softly against the ‘om'.

"When the middle bronze gong softly colors the ‘om' one child and then another in sing-song against the ‘om' describes blowing, trailing out against the wind, blowing free with the wind....

"The sound of children's very young voices doing the ‘om' and sing-song-describing against and with the ‘om' is electrifying, hair-raising, I can hear it now anytime and can never forget it, one of those magic dream-images that stay with you forever. As our (exercise trainer) guide directs us to come back, I can hear and can still hear many of the children beginning to develop rhythmic descriptive chants against and with the ‘om,' a spontaneous patterning of melody and free verse that I know is spontaneous and childish and yet is some of the most spine-chilling choral music I have ever heard . . . .

"My excitement at all of this I can barely contain. As an educator I cut my teeth on the theories of cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget, and his stages of mental development of each child. Piaget is an epistemologist (the philosophical study of the nature of knowledge and of knowing). It is of supreme importance to him that each child be permitted to develop his or her own recognition of key natural principles out of his or her own experience. From his famous conservation principle, for example, key to the principles of reversible and irreversible operations and to so much else, the child needs to discover for himself that the amount of contents remains the same whatever the shape of the container. If, for example, an adult manages to ‘teach' — i.e., persuade — the child the fact that the amount of water remains the same no matter what kind or size container that water is poured into, the child will probably accept that but his own perception of how things work, thereafter will be enormously attenuated and impaired.

"In Piaget's analysis, children seven and eight years old were usually still too young to arrive at this ‘conservation-of-quantity' principle. The propensity of schools to ‘teach' — i.e., persuade — such principles to young children was a matter which distressed not only Piaget but many of us who perceive his model.

"Yet what I observed in this session — and I'm convinced that what I observed is ‘true' in the sense that if done that way, it would work! — was children two and three years old, immediately and richly creating that principle for themselves in their own experience, and establishing thorough grasp of that principle through many levels of consciousness.

"That ‘om'-chant and sing-song description really blows me away, thinking how much information is stored or carried in interference patterns as in a laser holograph. I can hardly stand to think about that; it's so exciting in its implications.

"That two-year-old Hispanic girl in my experience had a far richer, better and more comprehensive comprehension of the conservation principle, incredibly richer, than the optimally-raised child under Piaget's scheme at age ten or even twelve. And in that school, at least two and sometimes three such principles were experienced or re-experienced everyday! I can't sit still when I think about what that means!

"The more I examine this experience, the more richness I find in it. If it had been another day or if I'd had the time during the exercise to stay, I'd have observed three play segments, one associated with each bell — when the one bell's tone is in the air, so to speak, all the play activities led by the mime exemplify one and the same principle. Another bell, another key principle and another set of play activities. Yet the whole thing is natural, the children follow the mime/clown because it is fun and interesting to do so, not because of direction. And they've formed the habit of noticing what he does next and responding to that or to other children responding to that, even though they are mainly focused on their own play experience. Just this aspect of the experience teaches me at least a half-dozen key insights about teaching and schooling young children, each one of which I feel is enough to start a revolution, each way of which I now have a working feel of how to accomplish, not just an intellectual understanding though that excites me too."

That working feel for the insight is, of course, intrinsically characteristic of understandings garnered by means of such processes. The individual's own higher consciousness, "right brain" or integral mind by whatever name, gives him or her the aha! experience in the form most meaningful and useful to him or her.

We remind that the foregoing is but one educator's experience generated by following the "Toolbuilder" protocol, and is typical(!) in fact of the breakthroughs experienced sooner or later by most who practice it, whether in workshops or on their own following the taped and/or printed instructions offered by Project Renaissance. What has not been typical was detailed written descriptions following these experiences, and we are especially grateful to M.R. for writing up his "revelation" from that protocol and then giving us permission to cite his experience.

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The next page gives a complete step-by-step group-directed procedure for the current strongest form of the Toolbuilder experience, followed by an adaptation for using the procedure when working alone.
Toolbuilder, page 3 of 4
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