How to get children to improvise in their lives

Shirelle asks: According to you what should today’s children do to improvise their lifestyle

Hi Shirelle –


Thousands of people have joined my pack, but you’re the first to ever have the same name as me!  That’s soooo cool!


You ask a very interesting question.  I’m not sure if you actually meant to ask what children should do to improve  their lifestyle, but I like what you said better!

Improvisation is something done in all sorts of the arts, where one doesn’t just do a specifically-written piece, but instead works in in-the-moment creativity to create something new.  Jazz is music formed very often in improvisation (though we also hear it a lot in instrumental solos in rock and pop, or even moments in operas where a singer is allowed to make up a little trill).  And we hear a lot about Improv in comedy, where the performers make up a humorous scene as they go along.

In both cases, while the artist is being fully creative, they’re also following certain rules.  In music, the improviser has to stay connected to the song the rest of the musicians are playing, and in comedy, the performers have to stick to whatever logic their scene has going (so for example, if the scene’s taking place in a library, one of them can’t suddenly decide they’re swimming in the ocean).  The core of this is called “Yes-And.”  You have to agree with whatever has come before, and then add what you can to it.


So while your question might have involved you using a different word than you intended, I think you asked something just great!  How can children learn to play by the rules, just enough, but also feel free to add their own voices and meanings to the world they’re in.


Well, to that I have a few thoughts.


First, kids need to learn to understand which rules are absolute, and which aren’t.  It’s vital that they learn not to cross the street without looking, not to bully other kids, and not to kick dogs, for example.  But while we don’t want kids to fight, lie, or yell at people, is it right for a kid to fight back when they really need to, to lie in order to protect someone’s feelings or safety, or to scream like crazy if a bad adult is trying to hurt or take them?  Sure!

Second, children need to learn to trust – their family, their friends, and especially themselves.  You can’t improvise if you’re always worried someone’s going to betray you or tell you you’re wrong.  That kid has to feel free to take chances, to try things that might not work.  Where would a Miles Davis or a Robin Williams have been if they couldn’t trust that a wrong note or a joke no one liked would result in their never getting to work again?  Kids need that same trust.

And biggest of all, I’m an absolute warrior against the greatest enemy of improvisation: Shame.  It’s bad enough for a child to feel they made a mistake; far worse for them to feel deeply awful about themselves.  Anything adults can do to reduce a child’s experiences or Shame will make their lives just better and better.

Now you might wonder, who’s a good role model for a kid in this?  After all, a five-year-old probably isn’t going to be all that into the intricacies of Kind of Blue or ready for some of the words our top comedians use.  Well, kids are pretty natural improvisers anyway (just watch how they play ‘pretend’), but the best models they can have are… US!  Doggies!

We only live in the moment.  We improvise all the time.  And unless a dog’s been horribly abused, that pup is likely to live in constant positivity.  We also are great at telling kids (and adults) all the time that everything they do is wonderful.


So those are my thoughts.  And here’s the funny thing, Shirelle (and yeah, it’s still  weird to me to hear myself say that!).  If you really meant to ask me how to improve children’s lifestyles, my answer about how to improvise them is pretty much the same answer I’d have given you then!


All my best,

Shirelle (the other one!)

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