"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
"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
"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."