Archive for February, 2009

There is something magic to me about the phrase “once upon a time…” I have a recollection of reading that all known languages have some equivalent phrase which is a cue for a story. (Though it doesn’t cover all known languages wikipedia has a fun to read entry with a list of common story beginnings and endings in a bunch of them. I’m particularly intrigued by the many versions that start with “There was, and there wasn’t….)

One of the sweetest sounds to me these days is LP prompting me to participate by saying “Once upon a time…”

Recently, she has begun telling me some very short stories. Tonight I discovered that if I repeated the phrase(s) she had just said, she would add the next detail. It went something like this:

LP: Once upon a time…
Me: Once upon a time..
LP: There was…
Me: Once upon a time there was…
LP: A frog!
Me: Once upon a time there was a frog…
LP: A frog…in a blue shirt looked for flowers.
Me: Once upon a time there was a frog in a blue shirt who looked for flowers.
LP: Pink flowers!
Me: Once upon a time, there was a frog in a blue shirt who looked for pink flowers…
LP: To smell and smell.
Me: Once upon a time there was a frog in a blue shirt who looked for pink flowers to smell and smell.
(Then LP was done with both the story and her dinner.)

Really something to watch her creative mind in action, pulling together different ideas. I was surprised by how quickly she jumped on adding elements and seemed engaged by my repeating the whole of it.

Read Full Post »

Today was my drop-in improv story group at Habitot (habitot.org)….This has been my first month and it is a great lab for ideas and learning experience for me.

The age range of the kids in the drop-in group as been a few months old to around 4 years old…my practice lab at home with LP is exclusive to her specific 2 year old development so I have to bring a focused improv mindset to work with the range of abilities and interests int he room.

Today I experimented with using a mix of the familiar to get started and then following/creating a new story based on the participation.

I prepared for my internally titled “Chicken Story Day!” by reviewing the stories of Chicken Little and the Little Red Hen and remembering to bring my props (a stash of homemade seed “pods” I’ve been making – all stuffed with green fabric to pull out to make plants grow and lovely generic blue, green and yellow large pieces of fabric to serve as whatever was needed).

I also used familiar songs and let them get a “twist”…starting with “Hello, everybody, it’s so nice to see you..” which the kids know from a bazillion storytimes, music groups, etc and using that song to “wake up” the different animals on the farm.

The Chicken Little story had a chicken puppet using one of the seedpods so then I passed them out to all the people – big & little- to work together in planting a full crop that we planted, watered, helped grow, harvested and finally feasted on.

Although neither story wandered too far off the familiar path, I think this has a lot of potential as a “story prompt” when my making it up well is dry. The LPs of the world can always help trigger our imaginations to tell the story of the three golf carts when we were headed off to tell the Three Little Pigs again.

On a funny note, LP spent most of the session amusing herself with different puppets and other farm props in the area except for coming up to me on a fairly regular basis to say “sing a song.” So then…there were songs (one improvised from scratch, one take-off on a known song and one version of “Twinkle Twinkle” as sung by ducks).

Read Full Post »

A long rainy day here today. My cold kept LP & I indoors since I wasn’t up for puddle jumping so it was art, art, art all morning long. By lunch I was out of coffee, tired of setting up and cleaning up projects and feeling pretty blah.

During lunch, LP requested (or demanded) “sing a song, sing a song, sing a song.” After brief riffs on some of her favorite songs which were all met with a head shake of “no” with a grin and repeat of “sing a song,” I finally caught on and started making up songs.

Most were very short story-songs…LP told me who the song was about (“a frog”) and I filled in a bit (mostly rhyming to amuse us…as you might guess that frog lived in a log in a bog) and then repeated it a few times and ended it.

And immediately LP said “sing a song!”

Since my throat was pretty scratchy, these turned into more of talking-songs or talking in rhythm songs. All very short and all repeated. (If you want to warm up into making up songs, use a familiar song and change one element…instead of the itsy bitsy spider, have the teeney tiny caterpillar and see what happens).

The final lunchtime speaking-song was a about a…balloon (LP says) which was the color blue (LP’s contribution) which I took out of my pocket and blew (I held up my hands and blew expanding my hands each time with a loud pffffffffff exhale) and blew and blew. I repeated the blowing 3 times and then mimed tying the balloon and letting it float up to the ceiling and ended with “…and now I have a big, blue, balloooooooooooon!” We did the blue balloon 3 or 4 times and then a couple times with the red. LP clearly enjoyed the exaggerated blowing up the balloon acting out so each time it was a little bigger.

So while we told a few different kinds of stories and songs during lunch, when we found one that engaged LP, it had staying power.

Read Full Post »

I am continually trying to celebrate a failure. To throw my arms up in the air and shout with joy “Again! Again!” or “I love to fail!”

“Mistakes are gifts” and “celebrate failure” are two core improv principles. Over many years of improvising, I’ve experienced these to be truths, in fact to be multifaceted truths. Like all the life and business self-help books proclaim – failure is where we learn. The throwing your arms in the air exercise mentioned above are both used by many improvisors to help “get over” the stuck in failure moment. I find that it helps me get out of the spinning-monkey-mind going on and back into my body, at least for a moment. Sometimes that moment is enough to regain perspective and/or courage to continue.

There’s an interesting article in Nov 2007 New York Times about the mixed message in our culture about mistakes with some research focused on children in school. The heart of it is:

We grow up with a mixed message: making mistakes is a necessary learning tool, but we should avoid them. 

Another aspect is having perspective on what is a mistake? In the collaborative world of improvisation, what seems like a “mistake” to me, might spark another person’s imagination (LP finds all kinds of things amusing or interesting that I wouldn’t have noticed from my adult perspective). Also everyone experiences those uncomfortable or embarrassing or lost moments. That is a rich foundation of the creative group process – creating together that hasroom to incorporate even chunky, gunky, silly, or stupid moments.

If I can approach my challenges with open arms and cry out gleefully “Again! Again!” when I’m stymied or struggling or just plain frustrated, my hope is that LP can embrace her mistakes and challenges more easily. Not necessarily achieve or learn more easily, but at least I can try to help her learn to get out of her own way. I’m not sure how literally I’m going to use it — I am going to experiment with the impact of that added to trying to hold that mindset.

Parenthood is so loaded with opportunities to feel bad about or question our choices and decisions. So is anytime we put ourselves out in the public eye to do something. This past week, I had what felt like FAILURES on both fronts that gnawed at me and kept me up at night. In both cases, I came up with new ideas/ways of thinking.

On the home front, LP has returned to putting everything in her mouth (it has been extreme recently probably because she’s getting her 2nd molars). In frustration, I ended up grabbing things away from her and not giving her the chance to give it up…by the end of the day, doing that even before she made a move to her mouth. One idea is to always, always, always remember to have some really chewy thing to snack on (strip of dried papaya, granola bar, etc) to offer as a replacement. That seems like such an obvious thing to do now that I’ve thought of it (another improv principle – “be obvious!”)

In the public eye was my drop-in Improv Stories group at Habitot last week that I just couldn’t get off the ground. I was overtired (tough night and previous day with LP) and realized big time that as an overtired mom, I need to support myself in the moment with better preparation. Preparation for improv? Yes! Yes! Yes! There are so many challenges in group storytelling, that getting a solid foundation structure so I can relax and trust the improv is crucial.

Since I don’t know the age of the kids in advance (drop-in group for kids up to age 6 – it is such a wide range not to mention not knowing how many) I need to plan a theme to unify the group and give a focus point that the improv stories can spring from. I also need to focus in on what do I want to see emerge in the group – is it physical engagement from the kids? verbal? what about the engagement of the caregivers & parents? My goal of creating stories together is do-able but I need to embrace some additional structure to make that happen. So I’ve been making props over the weekend (I’ve had a fabric seedpod factory going on our dining table)…I’ll see how they work as a unified jumping off place, how the kids engage with them and where the story goes from there.

Read Full Post »

Silly Stories

My friend Trina and I were talking about linear vs. nonlinear storytelling and how the story-spine guides a particular kind of linear story. She’s in educational publishing and is also bilingual (Spanish) so had some insights into how an emphasis on linear stories is very American.

For variety, treat your kiddo(es) and yourself to a nonlinear wordplay or story treat!

There are many, many examples in children’s literature and these often are based in funny rhyming and made up words and just plain old delicious word play.

A few ideas:

Rhyming words back and forth. LP loves to do this and the “rules” such as they are include any word rhymes that she says, we can repeat words and make up words (“ishkaboo” and “blue” and “new” all rhyme with “new”)

Tell a story about a favorite animal and see how far you can get with rhymes (see if you can let go of making “sense”). For example: There once was a duck, a lucky duck, lucky dippy ducky duck who drove a truck with lots of pluck into muckity muck. (That satisfies for a whole story sometimes). When we build on that, I ask LP a question like “what did the duck do next?” or “who did the duck meet?”…sometimes it simply loops back into the rhymes we did (if I remember them, otherwise it is all new territory) and other times moves forward as the duck and crocodile nap for awhile, while they smile in a pile that went for a mile.

A purely gibberish story. Gibberish is a made up language that anyone can speak…it can be as simple as “blah blah blahblahblah blaaaaah blah” (think the adults in the Charlie Brown specials) or in an animal language (The cow told a story “Once upon a moo, moo moooo moo moo”). Use inflection, intonation speed, emphasis etc to give meaning to it. You don’t need to know what the meaning its, this is all about playing with language.

Sound effects story…all about adding those fun noises. “Walking through the mud I squish, squash, sploosh. The rain pitter-patters, patter-pitters then comes down with a whoosh! “

Those are my first thoughts about it…please do share your ideas too!

Read Full Post »


LP loves to do art.

I love that LP loves to do art.

In particular, she’s very engaged in painting (especially painting herself – especially painting her arms and hair). Sometimes the clean-up is tedious (for me) and tearful (for her) but so easy to say “yes” to – at least most of the time – the intensity of her concentration wows me.

LP’s Grandpa made her a fantastic easel so she has anytime access to crayons. She digs the crayons and will dabble a little in drawing with them but mostly, she wants to art direct. Which I have come to realize that I’m resistant to because I really, really, really want her to draw on her own. (I have no “high art” aspirations for my toddler – just your regular amazing scribbling/doodling kind of thing).

I had no idea that I harbored this fantasy world and it has surprised me how hard it is for me to let go and just enjoy the authority of her art direction. As someone who is a bit self-conscious about drawing, it is actually pretty fabulous to draw pages of eyes, toes and belly buttons (sometimes connected with other body parts, sometimes not).

I’m so curious where this will go…just need to remind myself that this is the path we’re headed down and that it is the one of LP’s choosing.

Read Full Post »

The Toddler Walk

Or dawdle. Or not-a-walk, as the case may be.

I am big time in favor of giving LP time to explore and we are fortunate to live someplace where there is plenty of interesting nature lining the sidewalk (thank you neighborhood gardeners!).

Add that to cracks in the sidewalk, sewer covers, miscellaneous trash and cigarette butts to the toddler-developmentally-appropriate-doing-it-in-my-time way of going, it is hard to get anywhere.

I recently realized that I was going the most nutty about the slow pace of things when I had hopes of making it somewhere. Not a need or specific destination but more of “if we get to the end of the block we can see if our neighbor’s are home” or “maybe E and M are out in their yard” or “if we can make it to the cafe, I’m getting coffee!” Or truly, sometimes I’m just itchy to be moving and while I could change the game and carry her, I also like to have her walk to her heart’s content (which also seems to bring on better sleep at night).

About 2 weeks ago, I jumped on an inspiration and said to LP “oh! I feel a stomp coming on…” and began to slowly move down the sidewalk stomping my feet while saying “Stomp, stomp, stomp.” I paused and held out my hand and she scurried over to take it and we did that with variations (tippy-toe, tippy-toe, stomp, gallop, gallop, little step, little step). I use a different voice for each kind of way of moving.

LP doesn’t have the gross motor skills yet to do each movement but she likes to say the words along and do her own variations. She also added pausing to “squat” which she finds hysterical (and is a stretch for me!).

There are moments of self-consciousness when folks walk by or are in their yards, but those are fleeting moments and this game brings a big grin to LP’s face. That is always a beautiful sight – she lights up from within.

After 2 weeks, it still has some staying power. When I say “I feel a stomp coming on,” she does still scurry over. It just doesn’t last as long – now we tend to get about 10 feet or so before she’s moved on to the next thing that interests her…at least for now it is getting us around the block 10 feet at a time. I’ll have to be open to inspiration of building on the “stomp walk” (saying “yes” to it) and see what happens.

Read Full Post »

Here’s a simple one that I’m getting a lot of mileage out of these days.

Color – which in improv is all about description, to verbally color in the scene, character, story, moment, etc.

LP is very into (and loyal to) her stuffed buddies. Yesterday the way out of a tantrum/meltdown of the “I’m not napping” origin (a very long one at that), was when I started to describe Mona Cow who she was holding onto. Something like this:

Once upon a time there was a cow named Mona Cow. She was a brown cow, a light brown cow with dark brown spots. She had two eyes. She had two soft brown ears and two small soft pink horns. She had dark brown hooves. She liked to stand on her back two legs….she wore her favorite sweater. The sweater is orange with pink trim.

And so on, and so on…really stating the obvious. LP would cue me about what was most interesting to her that she wanted to hear again (“she had horns”) or more about (as she kept playing with Mona’s sweater to see if it would come off).

I “colored” for at least 10 minutes, maybe more. This could easily turn into a story. In this instance, LP was inspired to have Mona Cow want to read a book so we read the books of Mona’s choice (Goodnight Gorilla and Mrs Wow Never Wanted a Cow).

Variations: Describe what your little person points to or is looking at, ask your little person questions to help with the description or just tell a descriptive story (no action necessary, all scene setting and then it can be foundation to come back to and expand into an action story…if this evolves with Mona Cow, I’ll share it)

I find this really good for me when I’m feeling uncreative, overtired and a little cranky…suppose I could’ve used a nap too.

Read Full Post »

Why Improv?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I started actually writing this blog.

I’d believe in the power of using improv techniques just based on my life experience of learning to use them as an adult, just based on the huge life-changing experience of becoming more playful, expressive and adventurous (all qualities I’d like LP to have in spades) and just based on developing the ability to take (and enjoy taking) actions and still feel shy as all get out AND be comfortable with both.

And there is more.

After LP was born, we had a really rough patch. We had all the usual “how do we keep this being alive?” moments and intense sleep deprivation (LP has not been into sleeping – ever, it just isn’t her thing). We also had all kinds of trouble nursing (I saw at least 10 different lactation consultants in under a month – lots of bus trips and waiting rooms with a newborn who at first lost weight and then just didn’t gain it). And after putting off work and work travel so as to be around when LP was born, my honey had to go away more than I was ready for or really, able to deal with well. So the perhaps normal post-birth isolation was compounded.

And , I had postpartum depression. Which took me way to long to acknowledge and get the help I needed.

During all this (about the first 10 months of LPs life), I was able to take care of her and engage with her. I took terrible care of myself so I used my ability to interact with LP as my guide to how things were.

It was my improv skills that I used to stay engaged with her, even when I didn’t feel like it.

It was my improv experiences that helped me realize what was missing in our lives together and believe that I could change that.

And it is my improv skills I’m using to this day as I work on getting through, past, around some negative habits of mind I developed during that time.

Read Full Post »