Thinking Ish-ly

Last night, I emerged from my daughter's bedroom...feeling the weight of her head on my arm, hearing her slowing breath, thinking about what really matters.  Thank you, Peter H. Reynolds, for your beautiful picture book which helped me refocus my energy and attention on what really matters.  Through seeing a "flower" as "flower-ish", through allowing mistakes to become offers, we not only learn to take care of ourselves, but we find ourselves capable of embracing innovation and vision.

Here is an excerpt from Reynolds' wonderful book:
Ramon felt light and energized.
Thinking ish-ly allowed 
his ideas to flow freely.

He began to draw what he felt--
loose lines.
Quickly springing out.
Without worry

As I read those lines aloud to Luna at bedtime, I made a noticeable p a u s e.

We adults need to remember to live...ish-ly.  Sometimes, our flowers don't look like the flowers in the vases in front of us.  Our flowers are not wrong.  Our mistakes are our gifts.  If we can open our eyes to the possibilities facing us, to those opportunities we hadn't yet considered, we can become the visionaries our students deserve.

We must also remember that Ramon was not able to see the gifts in front of him without support.  He needed a guide (in the book, it is his younger sister...his fan) to help him see his work in a new light.  My hope is that this is who I can be for my students.  I know that, on our best of days, this is what they are to me.

Stretching Into Character

While working with any group, taking the time for a physical warm-up is awfully helpful.  When working with a group of six-year-olds, I'd argue that it's absolutely essential.  As we dance our way through a unit on wizards and all things magic and fantasy, I thought it a perfect time to delve into the wonderful world of fantasy characters and storytelling. However, first...we MOVE.

The Wizard Stretch
I brought the group into a circle for some stretching and visualization.  The benefits of this warm-up were offered on multiple levels:  First, I was able to focus my group on the activity at hand and me as the instructor.  Second, all of the players (including the coach!) got a lovely, necessary stretch break from our day.  Third, I began supporting the kiddos through seeing themselves as characters...and not just playing themselves.  At least as important as the physical and focus goals, we began to jump into fantasy as a play space.

Our Wizard Stretch involved the following:
  • Reach up, up, up to grab some stars.  Squeeze them between your hands and let the star dust rain down on the land below.
  • Reach up to the top of your head to feel your pointy wizard hat.  Notice that you are currently an apprentice wizard and that your hat is very tiny.
  • Reach down near your toes to pick up two rocks on the ground.  Bring your closed fists behind your back and sqeeeeezzzzeee until you've crushed them to magically make some jewels.  
  • Open your treasure chest and place the jewels inside.  
  • Feel your wizard hat.  It's gotten a bit taller.
  • Reach forward to stir the potion you've been brewing on the hearth.
  • ...and so on.
Become a Fantasy Character
I then asked the players to close their eyes and be ready to become a new character...someone who is not them and who is not anyone they know.  With their eyes still closed, I asked them to imagine themselves as trolls.
  • Imagine what your face looks like.
  • Imagine (...but don't say aloud!) what you like to eat. 
  • What do you like to do at night, Troll?
  • ...and so on.
When they opened their eyes, I asked them to all look at me with their most troll-like facial expression.  I asked them to (without opening their mouths), walk around the classroom like a troll.  Finally, I asked to hear their troll sounds.  Eep--they were terrifying.  After they returned to their spots, I asked these first-grade trolls a variety of questions, including their favorite snacks, hobbies, and vacation spots.

Then came the fairies.
Of course, now that they were character experts, we had to apply the same process to a new type of character.

As we began the next step, I was reminded of one type of character distinction: heavy vs. light.  When I develop improvised characters, I often ask myself, Where is the center for this character?  How heavy or light is she?  Does she flow or stomp?  (There is a wonderful resource for looking at character physicality based on four different dimensions.  Check out BioMotionsLab to see the interactive tool!)

Character Switch
As a last, semi-performance activity, I set up a line.  One end of the line was the Troll spot, and one was the Fairy End.  I paired up students who wanted to perform, and I told them who would be the troll and who would begin as the fairy.  While the rest of us watched, Emily began to stomp down the line as a scary, heavy, mean troll.  At the same time, Delilah pranced toward her as a light, winged fairy.  When they encountered each other in the middle of the line, they walked around each other as if engaging in a duel.  Delilah took on Emily's troll-like characteristics, and Emily pranced to her new fairy home.

In 25 minutes, a group of six-year-olds and I got to play in the world of fantasy.  I can't wait to begin to tell developed stories next!

(Thanks to Rich Cox of ImprovImpact for the link to BioMotionLabs.  He presented this resource at the Applied Improv Network meeting in San Francisco last December.)