Archive for January, 2011

“In a very real sense, young children live in a different world than the one in which we do. It’s part of what makes childhood a magical place. They are still forming their judgments, exploring all the angles, and thinking about those questions that we, in our wisdom, consider settled law.”

Teacher Tom in the post “Baggage”

And more food for playful thoughts from around the web:

“Motivated to do the Dishes” from Christine Carter, Raising Happiness

“KidArt: Nurturing Creativity” from Christie Burnett, Childhood 101


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ImprovDad and I were talking last week about how we want to help LP expand and challenge her physical self.  She is often reluctant to use (or experiment using and therefore build) her strength. ImprovDad expressed a longing to be able to toss a ball back and forth with her and we smiled at each other, knowing our girl is much more interested in setting up a ball family than tossing them around.

We started brainstorming how to invite LP to use her body more fully.  The idea that caught our imaginations was for ImprovDad to create and play Horse Ball with her.  We had fun with the different ways that could look and also acknowledged engaging LP in creating it would make something different and fun for her too.  We’re pretty sure the idea of Horse Ball  will engage LP’s vivid imagination and love of horses AND give ImprovDad the enjoyment of something he wants to share with her.

After our brainstorm, I remembered one of my favorite child development books Building Healthy Minds by Stanley Greenspan (also love First Feelings which focuses on babies).  He focuses on social and emotional milestones for babies and young children and provides a framework to think about them.  One thing he advocates is identifying and actively building on your child’s strengths in order to help them take on challenges.  The idea of “woo-ing” LP to try something new or attempt something she felt scared of has been influential in my parenting and I found his insight into possible strengths/comforts useful.  It had been quite awhile since I had thought about this and here it was in action in our parent brainstorm.

I also think this a good practice for us as parents.  If we develop this way of approaching small challenges, we can be more open to each other’s ideas and imagination when we hit larger parenting bumps in the road.

Horse Ball hasn’t been put into action yet…I have hopes that ImprovDad will have a chance tomake LP the offer to play it this weekend.

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Play Quote of the week:

“Imagination is like anything else

– it gets better with practice.”

Deb from Science@home in the post   “The Importance of Play”


And here’s some more food for playful thoughts from around the web:

“Building Unstructured Play Into the Structure of Each Day” at the Science of Learning blog

“Let’s Invent Something Together!” at Scholastic.com

“The Key to Happiness: A Taboo for Adults?” by Joe Robinson at HuffingtonPost

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Yesterday the Little Person and I were looking at photos and videos on my computer.  She was particularly interested in the videos and we had a great discussion about the difference between pictures which are still and videos that movie.

I asked her if she wanted to make a movie and she said, “Yes!”

When I asked her what she wanted her movie to be about, she had many ideas. One was to make a video of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian (the pandas from the National Zoo in DC) eating honey off of a crate.  We had seen photos of that at the zoo in a part of the exhibit about how the keepers engage the pandas.

Here was a choice point.  The jump-ahead, say yes me was ready to go and cast some of her stuff pandas in the roles of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian and grab the camera to start filming them with a crate in the backyard.  Yet, I had a moment of pause. Was that the story that LP wanted to tell?  And if yes, was it important for the story to be preserved and not to worry about which medium we used to tell it?  We could make a picture book of the pandas playing either with our own drawings or photos…or LP might come up with a different way to tell the story. So first I needed to find out, what was it that was capturing her imagination — the story or the medium? And of course, the pace of the storytelling needs to be LP’s and not mine.

When given the choice of making a movie with “pretend” Mei Xiang and Tian Tian or writing and drawing the story, LP chose writing and drawing without hesitation.  AND she was ready to get down to business telling a different story. She narrated and drew (and art directed me doing part of the drawing) while I wrote.

Here’s a picture of the final story on LP’s easel.

It is about a grandfather clock named Goldie (along with her love of pandas, LP has a thing for clocks. Goldie is what she named a grandfather clock that was at a party we went to in December.)

The text reads:

Once there was a clock. It was my grandfather clock. There were jewel blossoms in his garden. More clocks were scattered around him. He tickled their tummies.  Goldie splattered paint all over the hills. Goldie scrubbed away the paint and a big splatter here.

(The “here” is followed by an arrow which points to where she was scrubbing with a scrub brush while I wrote those final words.)

Sometimes creating a story with a little person is about jumping onto the production of it and other times it is about taking the time to let them get to the story they want to tell.  I’m glad I had the vision of making a movie together (which we’ve never done with much intention) and I’ll tuck it away as an offer of how to tell a story on another day.  This day’s story was a tribute from LP to a clock she loved meeting.

LP and the grandfather clock, Goldie


This post is a part of this weeks “We Play” over at Childhood 101. Click on over for a bevy of play ideas for little people.

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LP’s problem…

This conversation happened last week during dinner. ImprovDad was away so it was just LP & I and it had been a rather long day.

LP:  I need help.

Me: What do you need help with, babe?

LP: I have a problem.

Me: What’s the problem?

LP: I can’t play with anything because I’m too tired.

It was easy to empathize with that because I was too tired too. AND it was definitely one of those parenting moments that it was hard not to laugh.  She just encapsulated the work of childhood so well ~ her work is play at this stage of the game, so being too tired to play is serious.

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Improv-a-mama (the blog, not the person) turns 2 this weekend. (The person has a much bigger birthday coming up later this month.)

The Un-Scripted Theater Company’s annual retreat is MLK, Jr weekend. It was 2 years ago this weekend that the fabulous Mandy helped me set up my blog and post the very first entry.  I had been thinking about blogging about improvisation and parenting for months. Really since the birth of the Little Person 10 months prior…but with all the general overwhelm of being new parents plus my own struggles with ppd, I wasn’t able to follow through on writing about my ideas about improvisation and parenting.

So having a community to help me say “yes” to my idea was crucial in getting started.

Watching my community of readers grow from 4 to more than 4 has been important to keep on going.  Comments delights me…especially as I’ve learned that I’m shy online too (As I’ve noticed that there are so many blogs that I enjoy reading and never comment on, comments that happen here have become more meaningful). And finally linking up to my FB profile has increased my readership so thank you FB friends for clicking over to share this part of my life.

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to blog with greater intention and focus. So to celebrate the start of my third year as Improv-a-Mama, I’ve been  doing some reorganization and planning. This past week has been much about making a real space for me to write (hello new desk!)

I’ll keep on blogging about creative adventures with LP…AND starting this week, my intention is to post more often and with new categories of:

Playful Practice ~ These posts will include both games and activities to engage and play with the little people in your life AND ideas about how to incorporate playful parenting into daily life.

Playful Links ~ A weekly roundup of links about play that inspire or delight me.

And some yet-to-be-named category or categories (suggestions appreciated!) which will include book reviews, play in the news updates,  current research about play and my thoughts improvisational play in daily life.

I hope you will keep coming by to read what comes next!

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Improv-a-Mama is teaching in March!

I’m very excited to be offering two classes — Playtime for Parents and Improv 101 — through the City of Emeryville.

Here are the details:

Playtime for Parents

Activity #1632

Enhance your enjoyment of playing with your kids by discovering what makes you feel playful. Come and have fun improvising with other parents, while learning practical hands-on ideas you can use with your family. No previous improv experience necessary and shy people are welcome!

Sundays in March (3/6, 3/13, 3/20, 3/27)


$100 for the session or $30 per individual class

Improv 101

Activity #1644

Enjoy exploring the world of improvisation in a low pressure, playful environment. Increase your confidence, improve your public speaking skills, and enjoy the experience along the way. We’ll cover the improv basics of spontaneity, saying “yes” and getting comfortable creating scenes and stories together. Shy people welcome.

Sundays in March (3/6, 3/13, 3/20, 3/27)


$120 for the session or $40 for individual classes

Ready to register?  You can do it online here.

Questions? Send me an email at susan (at) un-scripted.com

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A Novel Update

In November, I was racing my writing word count for NaNoWriMo against our decomposing pumpkins.  I didn’t win (write 50,000 words) but I did scratch, claw, hunt and peck my way to 20,136 words which is more than I expected in my 3rd week of having the flu. Those 20,136 words are the beginning of the second novel that takes place in the same world as the first.  I made some important discoveries about that world that will help inform the first as well…if I can get myself buckled down to do some serious writing.

But alas, the pumpkins continue to lead the way.

I’m at an interesting place with my novel…I find myself working on the ending while there is still a big, gaping hole of “what happens HERE?” in the middle.  I realized that I was fighting working on the ending because…well just because that’s what was happening in my brain.  Even though I went into this whole novel writing experience without a plan (or a plot), somehow I ended up making up some rules for myself about how writing is supposed to progress at this point.

The pumpkins decompose the way they do because of nature. Laws of nature and all that.  Writing a novel however has no laws and I don’t help myself by making up rules that don’t help me write.  Really I’ve spent a lot of the last two weeks or so not writing all the ideas, images and scenes floating around in my head because they aren’t from the part of the story I thought I should have ideas, images and scenes about.

Bring on an improv moment!

It is time to throw my hands in the air and shout “I failed!” (a classic improv release for my non-improvising readers) and “again!” (another shout-out that improvisors use to embrace failure as a learning experience).  And then to give myself the time and gift of letting those ideas, images and scenes take shape on the page so I can play with them, flesh them out, edit them down, rearrange them or whatever else my imagination gives me to do with them.

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Today LP & I were working on a paint project with a purpose.  The goal was to create wrapping paper for the three baby gifts that are ready to be mailed.

I even tried to preplan how to handle the clean up blues.  First timing…after quiet time and before dinner when the dinner plan was leftovers.  Second, paint protection in the form of a layer of newspaper on the kitchen floor and then a long piece of white paper taped down the center. (Of course our kitchen is all white but I figured if I kept on top of the glips and glops and overflow, the end clean up would be simple.)

LP started off drawing with a marker while I finished setting up.

I found her creation pretty fantastic, especially as she narrated as she drew. It was so interesting to watch the interplay of the spontaneity of her drawing and of her words. Sometimes she drew something and then talked about it and other times, it was the reverse.

The creature is a Mymerona. It has quite detailed anatomy when it comes to pee and poop AND on its other end had separate mouths for each kind of food it likes…so an apple mouth, a date mouth, a banana mouth and so on. (I love how little people translate their current interests into activities!) This was the first time I’ve seen LP embrace drawing with so much energy and purpose and I thought she might stick with drawing and not ask for paint. I sat on the floor with her while she drew and talked.

And then she did indeed ask for paint…

I had suggested that it might be fun to have handprints and footprints on the wrapping paper so she started off by getting her “tools” nice and full of paint.

And then she settled into enjoying exploring paint and paper. She dumped and poured and swirled and skated (a little bit but was upset when she fell down…paint is pretty slippery).

She did a little bit of Jackson Pollock-type splattering but I had to put the kebosh on that because the paint was flying out of control.  I have to remember that for an outdoor project when the weather warms up. Or when I’m ready to cover every surface in preparation. (Read about a very cool Pollock inspired father-daughter paint project here.)

She painted my arms and hands and we did some handprints together and then she returned to her own explorations.

And then there were handstands…

And then there was cleaning up. Lots and lots of cleaning up.

In the end, about half of the paper is usable wrapping paper which is plenty.  Hopefully it will dry overnight and tomorrow morning we can wrap things up together and go to the post office to mail them.

This post is part of We Play over at Childhood 101. Click on over for lots of great play ideas!

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…with salt dough

– making sure to bring ImprovaMama into the action-

and then with lots and lots of paint…

all to make ImprovDad a Happy New Year snake


We decided to make New Year’s Eve our present-centric holiday including homemade gifts. Somehow even though I knew LP wanted to make ImprovDad a snake for 2 weeks beforehand, I just couldn’t get it together to do the project until the day came.

It was a day of many messes. Actually about one mess too many for me to stay positive at the end.  Good to remember to start to find closure on projects before I am burned out on the cleaning up. This is one of my challenges for the New Year — finding better balance between the projects and the clean up. I love to let LP make messes to her heart’s content but the positive message I want to give her about exploring and creating sometimes gets undermined by my cranky-pantsness about the resulting clean up. I’ve been working on creating better outdoor space for explorations but in this rainy season, I need to problem solve the indoor play too. AND I want to give her more opportunities to help with the clean up and that means not being at the end of my rope when clean up time happens.

There were lots of spontaneous additions (to both the salt dough play and the paint play) after the goal-oriented part of crafting had been met (actually making a snake). During the paint session, LP transformed the paint jar into a snake home complete with many “snake snacks” (balls of painted newspaper).

On New Year’s Eve, the snake was still wet so ImprovDad just got a look.  This morning however, LP presented the present to ImprovDad with sweet seriousness…a pleasure to witness.

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