Photo: Mama and Tata

After countless winter hours spent indoors, fending off the inevitable requests for screen-time, even the most patient of parents can start to go quietly crazy. 

If you run out of structured activities and games, it can be worthwhile just to let your kids’ imaginations roam freely — and you can use the foundations of improv to come along for the ride. 

Besides being a fun way to play, the basic tenets of improv can help teach our kids valuable communication skills. In my Child’s Play classes and as a parent, I am constantly working to impart to kids the benefits of creative risk-taking and of saying “yes.” By engaging in improv-based play with these goals in mind, you can even help to inspire those “yeses” in other contexts – like trying new foods or getting out the door in the morning!

Here’s an example of a game called “Sofa Lady” that I created with my 3-year-old friend, Elsie. It began with her hiding in the sofa one day, and we built on that together. Now I can’t go over to her house without playing it. Here’s the proposal:

My character is in the market for a sofa. I like the one I see. I sit down on it, only to discover…THERE’S A KID IN MY SOFA!! I cover her up and pretend she isn’t there. My short-term memory causes me to forget that there’s a kid in the sofa, and it starts all over again. 

Here’s a video of: Sofa Lady Improv 

I share this with you not because I think it is such an amazing improv, but rather to encourage you to find your own “Sofa Lady” depending on what emerges naturally from your kids. With that in mind, here are some of the key principles of improv to help inspire your play!

1.  Say Yes to Your Kids’ Improv Ideas

When you say “yes” to your kids’ ideas, however silly or bizarre they may be, you are validating them and letting them know that their ideas matter. Go with their proposals and see where they  take you, rather than correcting them with a simpler or more logical scenario of your own. A school for purple giraffes? Yes! A restaurant where the food talks back? Why not?!

2. Say Yes, AND…

Once your child has made a proposal, add on! Elevate their playing by building on their idea and getting more specific. Scaffolding their playing boosts kids’ emotional, cognitive, and social development.

3. Take Risks

Your reactions are what makes the game fun for the kids. Be a bold character in the world your child builds. Have a strong personality, problem, or need. This will create the drama of the scene and produce the game. In my improv with Elsie, for example, if I didn’t really need a sofa, the game wouldn’t be there. Make sure there are “high stakes” in your proposal, and you’ll be surprised by how exciting the game can get!