Archive for January, 2009

Story Spine

One of my favorite improv exercises is also a great tool for telling stories with babies/toddlers. Called the story spine, I learned it from Kat Koppett (a most fabulous improvisor/teacher/trainer and mom…check her out at koppett.com) who I think learned it from the originator, Kenn Adams.

Here’s the structure (just finish the sentence and voila! you have a story)

Once upon a time…
Every day…
Until one day…
Because of that…
Because of that…
(repeat “Because of that…” as often as you like)
Until finally…
Ever since that day…

Optional ending line: The moral of the story is…

Seem familiar? Most fairy tales and a lot of kids’ stories as well as novels, movies, etc fit in this story structure. Simple & brilliant!

When LP was a very small one, I would use this to make up very short stories for her. It evolved into part of our nighttime routine. Bath, diaper &pjs , milk, swaddle and a made-up story. For awhile I got into a groove of an ongoing made-up story (starring Baby LP, of course with her friends Baby Bird and Baby Turtle). The stories were oftensurprisingly moralistic to me. Maybe as a new parent, I needed a world that was very black and white in terms of right and wrong. It was a comforting stance although I seem to be back to a more seeing the gray, humanistic, and well, blurrier view of things.

Over time, realizing that LP wasn’t judging the stories AT ALL, I started to relax and let myself be more playful, explore new avenues, nonsense avenues…and let my daily experiences, the real where I was at, filter in. Well, perhaps more than filter in…in one particular episode Baby LP saved the day as she protected her friends by scaring off the terrifying squirrel with projectile spit-up.

Now that LP is older, this structure supports our telling stories collaboratively. It is an activity that we can do almost anytime and almost anywhere (particularly good for public transit). Sometimes LP participates by finishing the sentences and other times by my asking her questions (who did the frog see?). (Many of our stories feature frogs or crocodiles. Those are the hot topics in our house these days.)

Sometimes it even evolves into telling a story one word at a time. These are particularly short stories but she seems to enjoy them a lot. I wonder if it feels like being equals? (More on word-at-a-time story in another post).

I do still get caught up in judging our stories sometimes. They are often simple. I have to remind myself that if LP is engaged, it is happening just as it should. AND I am able to stay engaged by keeping alert to opportunities to see what else we can do with the story spine.

Also, stories for kids often are simple.

And repetitive. Repetitive. Repetitive. Again? Really? We just read that book 5 times…how about this one? Nope. Read and repeat. Storytell and repeat…AND I find it easier to introduce something new…some bit of color or filling out a moment or acting out an animal noise. Anything helps sometimes.

One new thing that has emerged very recently…LP likes to start off our collaborative stories the same way and then changes one element that then effects the outcome. For example, a story a few days ago was about a pterodactyl and pterodon who need a dog to help them out (the pterodactyl gets stuck in a tree after it was flying along very fast) was changed significantly when LP, after a lot of thought, made it a crocodile who comes along to help out. Very different kinds of solutions become possible with a crocodile!o

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A lovely nap.

Before the nap came the screaming. Before the screaming came lunch. A patchwork lunch because I learned that it is possible to burn chicken nuggets in the microwave. The patchwork was made up of leftover carrot-ginger soup, a banana, an orange, a bagel with almond butter, and leftover roasted sweet potato & butternut squash cubes. Some of which got eaten. Although the highlight of lunch may have been when LP discovered that she could create designs on her soup by pouring water into the bowl.

So there is a nap and that is my cue to take up my laptop and write something.

Ah yes.

And yes is the topic of the hour.

I’m paying a lot of attention to yes these days. Improv taught me to have a heightened awareness of saying “yes” to offers and to growing a more complicated understanding of saying “yes”. I’ll go into yes more deeply another time but to even take it on its most surface level – the quite literal yes is relevant today.

Because there was a lot of no today.

And no and no and then some more no.

I think it is fine and of course at times important to say “no” to a toddler. And I try to be honest with myself about why I’m saying “no” – is it because of safety? is that safety concern a real one or my own neurosis? is it for my convenience? is it because this is a teachable moments of sorts?

When I notice life has become “no” heavy, I try to pause and evaluate. What is going on here?

This morning I didn’t take that time to pause, to evaluate and I didn’t take the time to make room for “yes” experience. Not even a few minutes of yes which really, sometimes is all it takes to regain some equilibrium around here.

And if I had to guess, that contributed big time to the pre-nap screamfest.

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This bog is where improv and parenting meet.

Most folks I meet can resonate immediately to the idea that life with kids involves improvisation, lots and lots of improvisation.

As a new parent, I discovered that my improv training was core to helping me be in the moment with my child and handle the inevitable frustrations. My little person (LP) was probaby 3 months or so old, when things weren’t really getting easier (you know, like people “said” it would). And then I had my “AHA!” moment – how can I use improv in this situation (and by “this situation” I really mean EVERY situation). Not just the broad, general “yeah we’re making this parenting thing up” but in specific. What principle, theory, game, activity, etc, etc can help me through this moment, refocus me, be a new tool and yes, even make life more fun, engaged, creative and playful.

Since I started exploring the active use of improv in parenting, I’ve been meaning to start writing about it…and let’s see, she’s 23 months now…so after approximately 20 months of procrastination (along with all the usual parenting distractions) – here I am!

Why has it taken so long when technology makes it so easy….one is I was thinking it had to be perfect, edited, grammatical, sensible, etc…pretty much nonimprovised when a blog about improv really needs to embrace improv and the reality of the writer. Which is that I don’t have much quiet focused time (and as Amber pointed out, my audience, other parents who are most likely in the same boat, will relate to that aspect of the blog too).

Sometimes I’ll look at specific situations with my little person (LP) and how I use improv to engage with her/the situation – to change things, to reframe things (sometimes for her, sometimes for me). Other times I’ll go into how I’ve found a specific skill set or improv game useful and sometimes…well, I’ll just see what comes happens when I start to type.

(And got to say a BIG thanks to the whole Un-Scripted ensemble…for many things, especially the encouragment to get this going already…Mandy even wrote the very first post for me!)

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