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.

4 replies
  1. Aniela McGuinness
    Aniela McGuinness says:

    I love this story, Jimmy, and I love your honesty about “why” you went into improv (as that was my initial motivation as well).

    Volunteering at Gilda’s club teaching improv to people effected by cancer has had the same impact on me as your preschoolers. It is a feeling of being exactly who I was meant to be.

  2. Craig Price
    Craig Price says:

    You nailed it Jimmy! I got into improv because I wanted to be on SNL. What I ended up doing is teaching improv to kids and adults with autism. We are applying improv to help people. Keep up the good work making the world a better place Jimmy!


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