Yes, And! The Principle in Action with Little Ones

Here I am--delighting in and figuring my way through the wild world of Kindergarten and First Grade.  I found it amusing...if not startling and somewhat unsettling...that my colleagues had been using the games I'd recently taught at our staff retreat while I still hadn't really delved into using improv in my K/1 classroom.  I suppose I needed to find my bearings, invent myself as a teacher with this age group, and develop some routines.  However, that realization was just the kick in the pants I needed to jump into some improv games with the little ones.  I'm happy to report on one "failure" and one tremendous success--both perfect examples of applying the Yes, And!  principle of improv to teaching.

I had been teaching K/1 for less than a week when Bradley showed up as an uneasy 7th-grade TA.  He was assigned to be my Teacher's Assistant as an elective, and he didn't seem all that sure about the placement.  On this day, I, of course, was still running around trying to figure out how to be this type of teacher, so I occasionally told him some things I needed done...and then he left.  Fast-forward three days: Bradley and I had begun figuring out how this little working relationship might function, the kids found out it was his birthday, and I asked him to join us in a game.  I decided to warm-up some basic skills for the game while some of the class was finishing up some work...and I encouraged them to join us when they had put their number journals in their cubbies.

Here's a quick summary of the game I had INTENDED to play with the class:
Two Circles
The group splits into two circles.  One player decides to begin and points to someone else in their circle, saying that person's name as they point to them.  And so on.  If someone hesitates, says the wrong name, or messes up in some other way, they run over to the other circle and say, "Hi, I'm (insert their name here).  It's a little public way to acknowledge that one has "failed", the failure is truly embraced, we all move forward and include each other in each circle.  Silliness abounds, and the game is more fun when mistakes are made and there is a lot of movement.
I've taught this game to educators at two Professional Development trainings in the last month, and those teachers have been playing it with their classes with great success.  One of my K/1 colleagues told me about how she and a classroom volunteer scaffolded her class in playing this game, and I was inspired to just go for it.

Here's what really happened in MY class:
For some reason, the kiddos thought saying the name "Bradley" was Hi. Lar. Ious.  Every time someone said his name, the entire group erupted in laughter.  Bradley, often stoic and expressionless with little kids, began to crack a smile, too...and then we all just kept laughing.  I have no idea why it was funny; it just was.  So...if a little bit of something is good, a lot is that much better, right?  Well, if you're six years old, that is darn true.  My class ended up turning my one-circle warm-up to Two Circles into The Bradley Game.  In this game, you point to Bradley, say his name, everyone laughs hysterically, Bradley points to someone and says their name, and they then point to Bradley.  And on and on.

There was a part of me that wanted to stop and redirect the game.  I had a PLAN, darn it.  Didn't they know that?  And then the improviser part of my teacher brain kicked in.  Hold it, control freak!  (That was the voice of the Improviser to my Type-A self.)  Are your goals being met? (Practice names, build community, take some risks, speak out, enjoy the school environment.) Yes.  Yes, and.  The kids just invented a game.  Cool.  Given, I'm not going to be teaching The Bradley Game at my next dinner party, but to a group of six-year-olds at that very moment, it was just perfect.

A few days later, I taught the class the perennial favorite, "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt".  We sang our little hearts out during morning circle, and I showed them the international sign for increasing and decreasing volume: the raising and lowering of one's hand.  It was an official and sanctimonious moment--I even thought about drinking a cup of tea to mark the occasion.  But I digress.

That afternoon, we played the game, "Laaaaaaa."  This is a game which builds the ensemble environment through a group mind / group voice task.  The class finds one note and sings a continuous Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.  Individuals take breaths when needed and then just join back in.  After a moment, teach a visual hand cue for "stop / silent", and then practice ending at the exact same moment.  When the group has mastered starting, sustaining and stopping, add in a volume adjustment hand signal.  Luckily, we had already introduced this signal earlier the same day with our singing during circle time.  (You can later introduce signals for adjusting pitch or rhythm or...)

Sometimes, it just feels like magic.  When the game works as planned, when everyone is contributing to a cohesive whole, when all voices are heard, when we are all trying and delighting in our success...when a perfect little improv game takes a total of five minutes of teaching time and can act as closure for the entire day.  Magic.

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