Afraid Of “Improv"? Simple Is The Best Way To "Silly”

Improv gets me through the winter with kids!  

All those long hours of hangin’ indoors, while fending off the inevitable requests for screen-time, can make a parent go bonkers.  You guys who just had a snow day know what I’m talking about.

improv game based on dramatic play

But sometimes it’s best to take a break from structured games and let your kids’ imaginations roam where they may.  Use the foundations of improv to help you hold on for the ride.  

Beyond being just a fun way to play, the tenets of improv can teach our kids larger communication skills.  Specifically, the benefits of saying “yes” and “risk-taking” feels to me particularly applicable to the life-lessons I hope to impart to my son and the kids that I teach at Child’s Play. In a small way, simply by modeling this through play, you can help to inspire those “yeses” even outside of the constructs of a game (like when you need to get out of the house!).

That’s me playing “Sofa Lady” with my 3-year-old friend, Elsie.  This isn’t a game you’ll find in any improv book.  It came about as a result of something she initiated (hiding in the sofa), and we built upon it together.  Now I can’t go over to her house without playing “Sofa Lady”.  Here’s the proposal:

I’m in the market for a sofa.

I like the one I see.

I sit down on it, only to discover…


I cover her up and pretend that she isn’t there.  

My own short-term memory causes me to forget that there’s a kid in the sofa and I look to buy it all over again.

I’m not really sharing it with you because I think it is such an amazing improv or because you should replicate this at home.  Rather, I encourage you to find your own inner “Sofa Lady” based on whatever emerges naturally from your kids.

Here’s some of the key principles of improv and how to use them for play-inspiration.

Say Yes to Your Kids’ Improv Ideas

“There are people who prefer to say ‘yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘no’. Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.” – Keith Johnstone, Theater Director

When you say “yes” to your kids’ ideas – no matter how silly or bizarre – you are validating them and letting them know their ideas matter.  

Don’t change their proposal, just because there might be a more logical, simpler or (what you think) funnier way to play.  Go with their idea. A candy store on the moon?…yes!  A school for bugs?….yes!  A restaurant where the food talks back?…yes!

Say Yes, AND…

Don’t initiate! Follow the initiator! Follow the follower – Viola Spolin, Theater Games Teacher

Once the idea is in play – you must add on.  Elevate their playing by building on the proposal and getting specific.  Scaffolding their playing boosts kids social, emotional and cognitive development.


Take Risks

Fall, then figure out what to do on the way down. – Del Close, Improvisational Theater Pioneer

Be a bold character in the world your child builds.  Have a strong personality, need or problem.  This will help make it dramatic.  In that improv with Elsie, if I didn’t really NEED a sofa, there would be no game.  Furthermore, if I wasn’t really scared by her presence, she wouldn’t be so tickled.  My reaction is what makes it fun for her – I’m certainly not winning any acting awards with my less-than-subtle performance, but Elsie asking to play it over and over again is reward enough.  

Make sure there are “high stakes” and you’ll be surprised how exciting the game can get. In theater class, we’d call this a “want”.  If you don’t have a really strong “want” then there is no real impetus for the scene.  In this way you are teaching your kids about convictions too – and how they make life and playing more interesting!

What are ways that you like to improvise with your kids.  

Thanks for watching and reading!


Learn More Games to Inspire Purposeful Play