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We See Tools, Not Objects

I am going to give you a new tool in less than five minutes.

Close your eyes and picture this: You and a friend walk into a mostly empty room. The room contains nothing but three bean bag chairs. What do you do next? Let your imagination play out the story for a while and watch what happens.

Now, close your eyes and picture this: You and a friend walk into a mostly empty room. The room contains nothing but three bean bags the size of tennis balls. What do you do next? As before, let your imagination take over and watch what happens.


Despite the fact that the bean bag chairs and the small bean bags are almost exactly the same objects, you probably answered the "What do I do next?" question quite differently in your mind. Though the only difference in the objects is size, we perceive the scenarios quite differently. The first bean bag is perceived as a chair. You do not see fabric covering small beads. You see a chair. More than that, you might get a touch sentimental about the chair from your childhood. Did your friend sit down and have a chat with you in your imagination? Probably. Because not only did you see a chair, you saw a social setting. You saw how the chair should be used and how it has been used in the past.

By the same token, when you see small bean bags, you do not see fabric covering small beads. You see a projectile. Did you throw the bags back and forth with your friend in your imagination? Did you look around for a cornhole board? You did not see a small piece of fabric covering beads. You saw a tool. You saw something to throw, and a social application.

Our brains are amazing!! Our children are born with amazing, tool-perceiving brains!!!

But what does that mean?

This means that our children are prewired to look first at what something can do. A child does not see a toy. A child sees a thing that can be used. Have you ever bought your kiddo a gift and they were overwhelmingly (and a touch insultingly) interested in the box it came in? This is because the box gave away it's use. When you open a box, the purpose of the box is loud and clear! This holds things! Put more things in me! Put yourself in me! I can hold you too.

Have you ever had a toy sit on the shelf collecting dust until a visiting playmate expressed interest in it? It is almost as if you can see the child thinking, "Wait. I can do something with that!? How exciting!"

See if you can spot the tools below.

Implications for big kids

There are some pretty big implications here, once you wrap your brain around it. When you are trying to teach your children, you will be doing everyone a favor if you first think "TOOL". Your child will struggle to learn anything that doesn't seem to have a purpose.

Perhaps you can remember this from your teenage years. Did you ever think, "Yeah. Okay. But so what?" as a teacher was presenting? We are tool based creatures. It will help your cause significantly if you spend some time pinning down what the purpose of an educational goal is before you present it to your kiddo. Tool First.

What does this mean for HOW you present information? I am sure you know from your own experience that the ability to manipulate concepts and ideas helps you to absorb those ideas. Hearing someone run through the names of the turkey's body parts is fine and good, but if you are required to physically manipulate the material, it has a better chance of sticking. Give your child something to do with the incoming information (as with the Montessori 3 part cards), or require something be done in order to get to the information (As with the microscope.) Not just tool first. Tool DURING.

The ultimate extension of this concept is why it is so valuable to mix age groups in a learning environment. First, give the child an understanding as to the purpose of an educational goal. Then, provide a setting where the child must use that information as a tool. Finally, provide the child opportunities to teach other, younger children what they know. Not just tool first. Not just tool during. Tool AFTER. This provides complete synthesis of information into the very identity of the child. "I can teach this. I know this. I am big. I am useful." Is there any better educational goal than this?

Implications for little kids

Your children are tool perceivers, tool makers, and ultimately find a good portion of their self worth in their own tool-ness. Give them space to be useful. Give them the freedom to be the doers of the things. From the earliest age we hear the toddler's stubborn insistence, "Me do it!" They are not undertaking some fun and easy activity. When a toddler struggles to put on their shoes it is not entertainment for them, it is hard work! Ladybug insists that SHE put on her shoes. It takes about 30 minutes, and she cries the entire time. If I am in a hurry and offer to help, her furry at the suggestion that she is an inferior tool than I rivals any hurricane. She has a driving need to be a person of value and that value is intimately connected to the things she can do.

There is this funny phenomenon in little kid land that is best laid out in examples. When you taught your toddler to wash their hands, did they try to repeat the activity ad nauseum for months? (Your poor water bill in the process!) When your Sweet Joy first learned to walk, did they walk circles around the kitchen for a week? Pick up this toy. Walk around. Pick up this toy. Walk around. Pick up this toy. Walk around. (With such pride in their ability to be a mover of toys!) When your big kid learned to cross the monkey bars, did they repeat the activity for weeks on end? (Standing a bit taller each time because their body is a body that can do this trick.) How often do you hear, "Mom. Watch this."? Your child is learning what they can do, and taking immense pride in their tool-ness! They don't wash their hands to have clean hands as adults do. They wash their hands precisely because THEY can wash their hands. I am a hand washing tool!

Your Sweet Joy is a blossoming expert. I would love to hear about your own observations. How has this phenomenon manifested itself in your Sweet Joy's life?

And as always, I hope our journey inspires your own.

Buckets and Berries

*Today's article is in honor of Dr. Jordan Peterson. Much that I would like to call "my own ideas" are merely synthesized versions of his. His lectures educate me. His life and mannerisms inspire me. I truly wish that two dimensional combinations of twenty six symbols could do this little paragraph justice. I am grateful for you. Thank you, Sir, for all you have done. The world and I are incredibly lucky to have you in it.

1 Comment

Oct 20, 2020

Funny that when we call a person a "tool" it is not very complimentary. But I can see how important it is for people to know how useful they are. What are the statistics for men who die after retirement? No doubt, very high! However the highest "tooling" is the expression of the Great "I am".....who "was" and "is" and evermore "shall be". That can be hard to remember when your body isn't cooperating and you feel like a burden to everyone.

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