About Prelude

Prelude is a group learning game that fosters 21st Century Skills including creativity, communication, collaboration, and appreciation for diversity. These skills are key to success throughout life. Prelude is an ideal way to start a school term or training program. It also helps reduce conditions for bullying, disengagement, absenteeism, and dropping out. Playing Prelude can be revelatory and transformative. It’s great fun too!

Unique Design: Prelude combines several development tools including – character assessment, EQ training, creativity training, team building, and diversity training –in one economical, easy-to-use process.

At School: Prelude is used from Grade 6 to 12 by mainstream, learning challenged, and at risk students. Curriculum areas include: English Language Arts and Career Education. It also complements programs like Character Education and Aggression Replacement Training. Prelude is also used in College orientation programs.

At Work: Prelude is used in Project Management, Vocational Retraining, Diversity Programs, and Human Resource Management.

Intercultural: Prelude is used in different cultural settings. It also helps bring individuals from diverse cultures closer together.

Benefits: Prelude helps participants to –

  • Better understand their assets, strengths, and capacities
  • Better understand their aspirations and options
  • Better understand their group’s diversity and interdependence
  • Improve negotiation, compromise, and collaborative skills
  • Increase respect and trust
  • Create powerful artifacts for post-game reference and life-career portfolios
  • Understand they all create the “bigger picture” together

Process: Prelude has four activity modules [one online, the others manual]. Each provides an experience the next builds upon. Participants are guided from individual exploration and expression, to teamwork, and then whole group work. This has been compared to a spiral learning process. Participants also create striking artifacts for their life-career portfolios.

Natural Symbols: Prelude uses the classic elements – fire, air, water, earth, and quintessence – as metaphors. This helps players to positively picture themselves, each other, and their relation to community and the greater world.

Professional Training: Training is simple, fast, intuitive, and engaging. An online training module is available for self-directed use. All support materials are available online for easy download. Online support is available as well.

Time Requirements: Prelude may be played in 3-6 hours [depending on group size] or over several time blocks.

Age Level: Prelude may be played from ages 12 up and throughout adulthood.

Group Size: Prelude may be played by groups of all sizes, from under 6 to over 100.


Prelude has changed my classroom and my practice. It helps students develop self-esteem, a “can-do” attitude, and real working-world skills – negotiation, compromise, and collaboration. — Gail Klinck, Middle School Teacher — Massey Vanier High School

Prelude, is going to be a crucial new addition to education and training on a global basis. Our perspective is informed by over a decade of progressive work in national education.  — Heather MacTaggart, Executive Director — Classroom Connections

In all my years facilitating workshops of one month, one week, and even one day, I’ve never seen students learn about themselves or come together as a group as quickly and enjoyably as they do with Prelude. This is an important new tool for college student orientation programs and for staff development too.  — J.D. Szezepaniak, Life Skills Coach and Readiness Coordinator – Northern Lakes College

Prelude is unique and serves a great purpose in the educational and employment field. The “I, We, and All” transition was spectacular! This is a wonderful activity.  — Zeina Dghaim, Facilitator/Coach — Centre for Education & Training

Prelude’ was instrumental in bringing participants together and creating a positive avenue of self-expression throughout. As individuals moved into teams, they also became more aware of their level of responsibility during their chosen Community Service Projects. Prelude deserves to be implemented into the existing school system curriculum and/or introduced to the community at large. Its benefits are far-reaching.  — Marion Prochnau, Lead Counselor – Sunshine Coast Employment Centre

I cannot imagine a school or community agency now using our resources that would not want Prelude as a prelude to them. Within very little time, Prelude transforms a group of perfect strangers into a high-efficiency team comprised of individuals who understand and appreciate their own personal strengths in new ways, and respect the unique assets of all other team members. — Phillip S. Jarvis, Vice President, Global Partnerships — National Life Work Centre

Not enough can be said about Prelude’s usefulness in helping youth with antisocial behaviours to develop crucial life skills like empathy and collaboration. — Robert Calame, A.R.T. Coordinator – Batshaw Youth & Family Services


Our staff found Prelude fun, engaging and stimulating. More than that, it revealed assets in some of our team that had previously remained hidden. Prelude is a trust accelerator,

Brings colleagues into collaboration in new ways

A unified harmonious image of the group at its best

New picture of your colleagues and staff

Lets people discover the shift from compete/polarized to collaboration

Identities strengthened, common identities emerge, social capital increases

Useful non-threatening process to shift group from competitive/elbowing to cooperative collaborative

A people tool… a project tool

Powerful tool to explore perception vs. reality – how you see yourself, the way you may actually be in the world, how others see you, how you actually are

I learned about trusting my teammates, but also about trusting myself

It was a great learning experience, fun, and well organized

The progression from Keynote to allTag is great

Aptitudes like coaching and influencing – these characteristics are in me but not quite “alive.”

My colleagues’ put up a guard to hide how much they care – I got to know them better.

I learned why some of us get along better than others, and how some of us don’t “bond” naturally. I really liked how it developed teamwork


Chapter I

Prelude’s design is informed by H. B. Esbin’s doctoral and postdoctoral research into participatory learning, the creative process, and positive psychology. It’s also informed practically by two decades in senior management spanning the private sector, international development, and philanthropy.  The following outlines the game’s genesis.

Esbin’s first career was in the jewellery industry. Over 15 years, he held executive positions in manufacturing, importing, and retail. For example, Esbin oversaw the merchandising of Mappins, a national upscale retail jewellery chain of 120 stores. Given his great success in producing highly saleable collections, Esbin was increasingly called on to train others in more effective merchandising. It soon became evident to him that most people devalued or denied their own imagination and creativity. As a trained artist and gemologist, from a long line of designers, he’d taken his natural ability for granted. Now he wanted to help others rediscover their own innate capacity.

After much reflection, in 1985, Esbin returned to university at 32. More specifically he enrolled in the visual arts education program at McGill University. This included a year teaching practicum. The student teacher was expected to prepare and teach lesson plans for classes from Grade’s 1 – 11. For his own Grade 11 class, Esbin wanted to do something special with the students. During a random search in the McGill Education Library, a book caught his eye. Don Pavey an educator in the UK wrote “Arts-Based Games” in 1979. It hardly had been out of the library in several years.

Greatly intrigued, Esbin decided to try Pavey’s ideas with his Grade 11 class. The students were resistant at first. This experience was unlike anything they, or Esbin, ever experienced previously. However by the time it was over four weeks later, they’d all were highly engaged and energized.  The photo below of that class captures their spirit. Esbin then condensed the process for his practicum professor and fellow teachers-in- training at McGill. They played a version over 2 hours. Here too the experience was positive. Esbin went on to graduate and postgraduate studies. He didn’t think about the Art Arena Model again for 18 years. In retrospect, unbeknownst to Esbin, it actually lay dormant, as is explained below.

It’s worth sharing a little of Pavey’s genius. In the late 1960s, he’d been searching for game using visual art making that would promote winning as a group outcome involving all teams. Although Pavey discovered many interesting models and tools, he didn’t find what he sought. In the tradition of all great visionaries and inventors, he went about creating his own game. He ultimately called it the Art Arena Model. AAM helped players strike a dynamic balance between freedom and control as well as individual and group expression. Throughout the 1970s, thousands of individuals across Great Britain – in primary schools, high schools, universities, and business – played some version of AAM. Arts-Based Games was Pavey’s magnum opus incorporating his remarkable research and experiences.

[In 1970, in a strange synchronistic foreshadow, just as Pavey was getting into full swing in London with the Art Arena Model, Esbin was a first year painting student at Pratt Institute in New York. For the foundation design course, he had to create some kind of group activity. He designed a game called Shh! This involved a group deciding in silence what pattern to create with a set of 64 silk- screened 10″ x 10″ cards. Esbin was trying to combine elements from John Cage and the I Ching. His design class played Shh! in November 1970. This was the only time it was played. Interestingly Shh!, like the Art Arena Model, also used a grid and involved the group creation of a mural.]

Chapter II

In 1992, at 40 Esbin’s doctoral fieldwork took him to Kenya where he lived with a community of stone carvers in a remote part of that country. His research focused on how one generation transferred its visual knowledge and skills to the next. During his time in Kenya, he also provided consulting services to the International Labour Organization, the Mennonite Central Committee, and Royal Netherlands Government.

After returning to Canada in 1994, Esbin spent the next decade as a senior executive in the non-profit sector. More specifically, he oversaw two complex, innovative organizations, Bridgehead and Hope Beachfest. Both involved diverse cross-sectoral and cross-cultural networks of stakeholders. In 1998, Esbin finished his 300-page doctoral dissertation called “Carving Lives In Stone“. It’s been called an important addition to the field of educational ethnography. Esbin’s research showed that this remote carvers community had developed a powerful cross-generational, participatory learning process that had great relevance for Western Education.

Chapter III

In 2000, Esbin began writing a book on the role of imagination in medicine, sports, etc. By 2003, he had severe “writers block”. Then, one day that October, out of the blue, he remembered the Art Arena Model. In a flash, he also realized it was a perfect example of what he was trying to write about. That same month, also out of the blue, he was asked to facilitate a training workshop for the Association of Canadian Colleges. Esbin suggested he try to recreate the Art Arena Model. The organizers agreed. Working with the original photos, his notes were long gone; Esbin was able to reconstruct the basic process. This also included condensing it to a 3-hour morning activity.

In November 2003 the Art Arena Model was played for the second time in Canada after 18 years! Although not without its challenges, the group experience again proved to be engaging and energizing. Esbin knew he could adapt the model to align with his research on participatory learning and applied imagination. However he also had a great responsibility to find the creator of the model and author of the book. This proved difficult because Esbin could not remember the name of either.  Thankfully, the head librarian at the McGill Education Faculty Library found a reference after much sleuthing that took the better part of a year. The book had been out of print for a long time.

Chapter IV

In April 2004, Esbin then wrote to Don Pavey in London explaining his ideas and asking to meet.  At Pavey’s invitation, in June, Esbin flew to London to meet for the first time. He outlined his ideas and  offered some form of compensation for working with the Art Arena Model. Pavey, then in his 80s, gave his blessing for Esbin to adapt AAM freely and without condition. In Pavey’s words, he wanted Esbin ‘to bring it into the 21st Century. The photo below is of the beloved, inspired, and compassionate Mr. Pavey and was taken by Esbin in 2006. It  shows Pavey  in front of his ingenious Nailing The Impossible exercise. You have to see it to believe it.  There is good reason why Esbin calls him Magister Ludi.

Esbin founded Heliotrope in 2004 to develop a game system using elements of Pavey’s model. Between 2004 and 2008, Prelude was piloted successfully in schools, community agencies, and in workplace training across Canada. During this four year period, the game also evolved greatly.  In 2009, ‘early- adopter’ institutions began licensing Prelude.