Using Improv to Build Social Skills

“Play is the answer to the question, ‘how does anything new ever come about’?”

~Jean Piaget

Maja Watkins, author of The Brain’s Playground: Using Improv Games To Teach Social and Emotional Learning/Co-Founder of Zip Zap Zop Enrichment, says that using simple improv games can help parents to become more playful with their kids while building relationship skills and trust. 

To improvise is to accept the information given and expand through communication that allows the interaction to continue. Improv has often been used on stage to allow performers to be in the moment. 

Improv and improv games can be used to help parents explore “the improviser’s mindset” and stay in-the-moment with their children. The improviser’s mindset includes saying “yes-and” when communicating with others, in this case your child.  

No one describes the “yes-and” approach better than comedian Stephen Colbert. 

During a commencement address, Colbert said: “When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, ‘yes-and’. In this case,‘yes-and’ is a verb. To ‘yes-and’. Yes-anding means that you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage so that you can agree and add to it.” 

Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what's going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So, say ‘yes’. And if you're lucky, you'll find people who will say ‘yes’ back.”  

Parents can learn to “yes-and” their children’s play, and during this process, parents can start to embody “the improviser’s mindset.” Maja says that playing with your kids, free of devices, even for just 10 minutes a day, will result in a decrease of attention- seeking behavior and a tremendous increase of laughter, joy, and fun! 

Improv games help parents and children practice using their imaginations as well as humor! 

Here are two improv games that Maja suggests playing with your child with social goals tied to each game.  

 

What do I need?

***NO DEVICES***

A timer (preferably not your cell phone).

10 minutes a day for 2 days.

Your imagination (don’t worry, this will help you!)

That’s it!  

Where can I play these games? 

At home, in the car, on a walk, at a park, or even in a waiting room!

Some games may need adaptations for various locations and needs, but that is what improv is all about….going with the flow and making it work for you and your family! 

Before you begin

What are the social skills your child may need to practice?

What are some activities you currently do with your child?

Does your child often play independently, or do they need guidance? 

 

Improv Game #1: Yes-and: Alien!

Social Goal: Collaboration/Teamwork

Instructions:

  1. The parent pretends an alien from outer space has dropped down on earth!
  2. The parent says something about this imaginary alien, like, “the alien is blue!”
  3. The parent then encourages their child to say “yes…and” to add to the alien’s description like “yes-and the alien has feathers!”
  4. The parent then says “yes-and” again and adds on to the alien description like “yes-and the alien is as big as a house!”
  5. This can keep going for however long the imaginary ideas are flowing.
  6. Check out the video link below of Maja Watkins describing other “Yes-and” variations.

 

Improv Game #2: Gift Exchange 

Social Goal: Flexibility/ “Going with the flow”

Instructions:

  1. The parent gives an imaginary gift to their child.
  2. The child then acts as appreciative as possible and says, “thank you” if they are able.
  3. This gift can be anything (desirable or undesirable). (e.g., a sock, a treasure chest, a toothbrush, etc.)
  4. No matter what item the child receives, they must act as though it is the best gift they have ever received and practice “going with the flow.” 
  5. The child receiving the gift then tells the parent how they will use the gift. Example: “I will use this sock to make a sock puppet.”
  6. The child then gives the parent a gift! Parents: make sure your child explores their imagination and gives a gift idea that pops into their head...no judgement and no over thinking necessary! The goal is to “go with the flow.”   

Check out Maja Watkins explaining a “Yes...and” Improv Game Below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUMR3vy6HmM&t=72s 

Zip Zap Zop Enrichment runs Virtual Social Skills Groups w/ Improv on Saturdays:

https://zipzapzopenrichment.com/sel-saturdays 

For more about Zip Zap Zop Enrichment, click on the link below:

www.zipzapzopenrichment.org

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