5 Things I Learned From Teaching Improvisation to 3rd Graders

This won’t just be a re-boot of “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” updated for the sophisticated third grader (although that is a great book and re-boots seem to be in style). And I should put the caveat in that while I coach a lot of youth sports, I don’t always love the idea of working with kids for a one-off workshop. I’m not sure why that is – I get nightmarish visions of being treated badly like a one-day substitute teacher, and yet I enjoy it every time. So when I was asked to do a free workshop for my childrens’s elementary school – all the third grade classes – I was a little wary. Since I teach and espouse the idea of improvisation, though, I said “Yes” and decided to do it anyway. And I am glad I did. Particularly with the tension that seems to be prevalent throughout our society today, what a blast of refreshment it was to have the privilege to work with those children.

As a little further background, the elementary school I did this for has a diverse student population, with over 40 countries represented in its student body – different socio-economic statuses, different cultures and different religions. And at the risk of sounding a little too warm and fuzzy and a little hyperbolic, I felt like I saw a glimpse of hope for the future with how people might be able to get along. Here are 5 quick things that I observed and learned (and granted, to some extent taught, as the principles of improvisation are all around listening fully, respecting and accepting other’s viewpoints or “offers”, and building off each other to create better ideas and solutions):

– It didn’t matter what the idea was or who it came from, they supported each other. What a great idea to create that culture where people listen to each other and realize that a great idea can come from anywhere.

– As an exercise progressed, a “mistake” wasn’t chastised, it was explored for value. Can you imagine a work environment where you were free to put forth an idea that might be considered a “mistake”, but instead of being shot down, it inspires another idea that actually does work and the overall team wins?

– Diversity and inclusion was embraced – even when someone didn’t understand another’s reference, they went with it. And sought to understand it afterward. Instead of shooting it down, ignoring it, or making fun of it. It truly seemed like they didn’t see race, color, gender or anything else that seems to sometimes divide people.

– It was okay to laugh. At themselves and with each other – bonding laughter rather than cruel laughter.

– If someone got stuck, others supported rather than abandoning that person or making fun of them them.

Those are just some quick thoughts and observations for now. I may post about it again later since I really do think the principles of improv helped foster those experience so as well.  Yes, kids can be cruel (or at least they are in my nightmare). But they can also be inspiring.