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Teaching improv to preschoolers

Teaching improv is a gift I take for granted. Not only am I good at teaching and getting better, but I also really enjoy it.

But often I compare myself to my friends who I started out with who are now famous and completely dismiss my gift, which just leaves me feeling shitty about myself.

Last week, however, I had the opportunity to embrace my gift when I asked the teacher of my daughter’s preschool class if I could teach the kids improv. She not only yes, but she was excited about it. I was, too, even though I had never taught improv to 2- and 3-year-olds before and had no idea what I was doing. So, I called someone who did: Kim Greene Hiller at The Laughing Academy in Glenview. Kim is an expert when it comes to teaching improv to little kids, and she gave me some exercises I could do with the kids and the confidence I could pull it off.

So I started trying the exercises at home with Betsy and my wife, Lauren. Lauren would hound me saying that I need to keep simplifying for kids. I did. We kept practicing and fine tuning them at home until the big day came.

When I say big day, it was 15 minutes of six 2- and 3-year-olds standing in a circle on piece of dirty carpet in the classroom. The teacher introduced me as Mr. Carrane and I did three or four exercises that Kim had given me.

But the best part was I had to keep modifying the games in the moment and dropping my expectations. That’s my favorite part of teaching improv — improvising with my students. There is nothing more exhilarating for me that having to figure out what will work as I go.

With these kids, I had a game where we all make up a story together. At home, I’d practiced with Betsy and she got to make up her own words in the story, but at school, I could tell the kids were shy, so I made it easier on them by giving them a word to say ahead of time. Even then, when I got to some of them and asked for their word, they just said they would pass. But I didn’t try to force them or force the game, I just went with it and kept adapting.

The whole thing went really well. I was excited. The teacher was excited. It was hard to tell if the kids loved it, but I know I loved it, every minute of it. Partially because I had no expectations like when I teach an adult improv classes or workshops, but mostly because I got to show off for my daughter’s preschool.

I got to share my gift with her class.

I went into improv to be famous, to be admired and get respect. From the moment the teacher introduced me as Mr. Carrane I got everything I wanted from improv in under 15 minutes and now I am looking forward to going back.