Improv Nurtures Imagination in Grandchildren


Twenty years ago, I took my first Improv class and I was hooked. Not only is Improv fun, it’s an excellent model for life. My Improv teacher, Patricia Ryan Madson wrote a book, Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up in which she says the practice of improvisation teaches us how to be in harmony with one another and how to have fun. Human beings are improvisers by nature and children improvise all day long. Improv is an excellent way to nurture imagination in your grandchildren.

Improv teaches you to cultivate a flexible mindset, to be open to possibilities, and to listen and observe. I’ve learned to loosen up, think on my feet and take on everything life has to offer. You become more spontaneous, completely present, and make use of whatever happens. Two key principles of Improv are:

  • Say “yes.” When the answer to all questions is yes, you enter a new world, a world of action, possibility and adventure.
  • Pay attention. Life is attention, and what we are attending to determines to a great extent how we experience the world. When we learn to pay attention, we become more engaged in life and with the people we encounter.

I’ve taught my two granddaughters some Improv and as Madson says, they come by it naturally. One of our favorite games is speaking in “Gibberish,” which is a nonsense language. When my granddaughters and I go to the grocery store, they love to speak in gibberish using a Russian accent. We walk up and down the aisles pointing to things in our Russian gibberish as if we understand each other. Once we were so convincing, the cashier at the check-out stand asked us what country we were from. When I explained that we were speaking in gibberish, she cracked up!

Another Improv game we enjoy is role-playing on the phone. My granddaughters call me “in character” and I play along. One of my favorites was the time my 11-year old granddaughter called and said: “This is the Pearl S. Buck Adoption Agency. We have your baby ready!”

I responded with pure delight and asked whether it was a boy or girl. She told me it was a girl and we stayed “in character” for 30 minutes discussing what to name the baby, how to care for her, and when I could pick her up.

Some of our other “phone Improv” sessions included calls from “Crown Cakes Inc.” when they tempted me with cake flavors of Orange Clash, Banana Blast, and Devilish Chocolate Crunch, “Trinity Horse Company” with offers of horseback riding lessons and horse grooming services, and recently “Emily’s Babysitting Service.”

Whenever they call me, I’m completely present and play along with them to keep our dialogue going. The more we get into our roles, the more creative we become and the more fun we have. It’s a wonderful way to stay connected when we can’t be together in person.

Improv really is a metaphor for life: loosen up, think on your feet and accept everything life offers you!