The Anatomy of a Decision

Looking back on my education, and listening to the kids in class talking about what they’re learning in school, and how schools are constantly changing the way they do things…I could only wonder one thing:

How did we ever learn how to use our minds?

The key word there is OUR. After all, we are all individuals who all have our own opinions of what’s happening around us. We have the power to decide for ourselves what is best for us and our futures. We take in so much information every day. Most of which we don’t even notice or think twice about. But this information still affects us. It contributes to our world views and affects the way we relate to not only our environment and the people in it but the world around us.

So, in all the years of education we get from the time we’re five until we graduate, what exactly does all our schooling teach us about how to make a sound decision? The closest thing I could come up with was the concept of having consequences to our actions. That’s pretty much it. I can’t recall for myself or from what I hear from students, anyone ever attempting to explain how to go about making a decision that is best for whatever situation we are in.

I think that’s a pretty important oversight.

We are given information that is supposed to prepare us for the great big world out there, but at no time are we really taught any tools to aid us in making a sound decision based on good judgement. Good judgement? How do we even know what good judgement is?

This affects me. I can’t just allow my students to move on with their lives without at least having a discussion on how to make a decision and how to determine the best course of action. So I decided to come up with something.

I decided to use the old pebble in a pond analogy.

I tell them that the pond is the problem and the pebble is the decision they make. Wherever they decide to drop the pebble will directly affect the pond or the situation they’re in. However, I also like to point out that often times, people are just interested in dealing with the problem at hand without a single thought as to how that decision will affect other things down the line, and into their future. So I take extra care in explaining the “ripple effect.” I make sure to let them know that everything is affected every time a pebble is dropped. It doesn’t matter where. There’s always going to be a ripple effect and that is what they need to pay attention to more than just the quick fix.

To really bring this message home, in my class we play improv games with the theme of “Decisions.” That’s when they get to explore the subject, and learn cause and effect through experiencing it in a scene or game. By the time they leave the class, they have a new appreciation and understanding of how a simple decision could potentially have long-lasting effects, positive or negative. And hopefully they learn how to read the effects of the ripples and use that information whenever they have a decision to make. I want them to see how it will come back to “bite them in the butt” if they’re not careful and also how it can have a long-term positive effect if they think it through.

An important note about the perspective of children

This is not going to be like one of my usual blogs. I just think it’s important that I tell this story because although I found it disturbing at the time, it’s still sticking with me after a couple weeks. I just can’t seem to shake it. In fact, I’m finding it very upsetting. However I do want to preface it by saying this is not in any way meant to be a political commentary. I really don’t care what side of the aisle you associate yourself with. That is not the point. What I am addressing here is not about whatever is going on in the news today, but rather how kids are being affected today…

I decided to play a new game with my class. In this game, the players get their who, what and where like a normal improv exercise. However, they were not to speak for the first thirty seconds. I instructed them that they were not speaking for a reason and that I wanted to feel the tension. Once I able to feel the tension between them, I would ask a member of the audience why they weren’t speaking. On top of this, I used a list I have of over 120 “character flaws.” The kids choose at random.

First I called back the girl and her character flaw was “overzealous.” Then I called the boy back, an 11-year-old, and I asked him to pick a number. He did so and his word was “bigot.” He looked at me and asked, “What’s a bigot?”

What I was about to say to him, perhaps unwisely, was “Trump is currently being considered a bigot because…” However, as soon as I started to speak I only was able to say the word “Trump” when the boy said, “Oh, okay I got it!” I said that I didn’t even get to say anything yet. But by this time he was already walking away. He turned back look at me and said, “That’s okay, I got it.” He was so anxious to start to scene.

At first I was going to say something about this but then I thought I wanted to see what he thinks he had. Because if he didn’t have a clear understanding, I was going to say something to him about not letting people finish what they were going to say. So I took my chair and I turned to the group and said, “Okay, who are the they, where are they, and what are they doing?”

The response was that they were a couple of high school seniors in the high school auditorium decorating for the prom that night. The scene started with them both decorating the room but not speaking. She was looking at him frequently like she wanted to say something but didn’t know what to say. She also seemed very upset. He, on the other hand, just stood there blowing up balloons, nothing seeming to bother him at all. After a few minutes of this, the tension certainly did build so at that time I turn to the audience and I asked, “Why are they not talking?” The girl in the back of the room said, “They’ve been dating for a long time but he just asked somebody else to the prom.”

Oh my, this is a good one! I couldn’t wait to see what was gonna happen.

I told them they could start talking whenever they wanted to and just sat back and watched. As the scene progressed, you could see that the tension was building within the girl until she finally spun around and said, “Okay, why, huh? Here we have been dating for months now and you asked somebody else to the prom? Why, why did you not ask me!”

The boy, without batting an eyelash or looking up from his balloon, just shrugged with no hesitancy and said “You’re Muslim.”

She was stunned. When she caught her voice again, she said, “But you knew that all along and you were still dating me for how many months, so what difference does it make now?” His answer was, “Well yeah, I can date you but I certainly couldn’t take you to prom.”

The kid nailed what a true bigot was, and all I said was the word “Trump.” I find this deeply disturbing. What are these kids thinking right now about us and our politics? I have heard conversations amongst them and I can tell you, they absolutely do not like Trump. At least the kids out here don’t. And believe it or not, it isn’t just because they’re overhearing their parents or are watching the news. These children are currently going to school with other kids who are probably friends they grew up with and who are afraid their parents and older siblings may be taken away when they get home. One kid actually told me of one kid who was told if somebody knocked on the door unexpectedly that he had to answer it because he was born here and his parents had to go run and hide. I have not heard of this happening since what occurred in Nazi Germany.

Now, I think it’s important that we all just stop for a minute, take a breath and just consider what these children are  picking up from the current social and political climate around them.  Because believe me, they are picking up more than you may realize. Perhaps we need to take a minute and ask them. When was the last time anybody took the time to ask them what they think? Or about how they feel about the world is affecting them and the friends around them. I think that right now is time for us to think about this sort of thing. Don’t forget, most people don’t include their children in conversations about how they feel about what’s happening,  and so the kids are overhearing what their parents think, and what others are talking about. Then, they go back to their friends, and try to make sense of what they’re hearing with their peers. They wind up discussing it amongst themselves, trying to make heads or tails out of what’s happening right now. Isn’t it kind of scary to think, that what they may actually be coming to?

Fear is a powerful teacher and opinion setter. In fact, during my conversation about this with the kids, one of them mentioned that a lot of their friends stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, but they don’t speak. They refuse. Once again, I looked around the room and every kid confirmed this. They all live in different areas and go to different schools. This is happening all over. Perhaps we need to stop and consider what they are actually experiencing for themselves right now. Every day.

Consider this. Our kids are in school right now, having to take a civics class, so they can learn about American history, how our government works, and what America is supposed to stand for. We teach them about the Constitution and what it stands for and what their rights are. We begin to instill in them the reasons why what America stands for is worth fighting for and dying for. They go to history class and learn about past wars and why we were in them and why it was important to us as Americans. However, we don’t really teach them in class that a lot of the soldiers were also children of immigrants who came here illegally but enlisted to die for our country if need be. But they may have members of their own family in the military, and they’re still scared. They’re living in fear of their parents being deported no matter how hard they work, or how hard they fought for us. They feel just as American as the rest of us do. Here we have kids all around us refusing to take the pledge because they don’t believe in the words they’re being told to say, and no one but the other kids are noticing.

What are these kids going to be taking with them as they get older and become voters themselves. How is this going to taint our youth’s opinions of America and the very meaning of what we stand for?  Not just the kids who are actually living in this fear, but the other kids who are standing by and watching, afraid for the friends they care about.

Again, I don’t want to focus on the political aspect of this. I’m not picking a side. Some of these kids are living every day in fear from all the rhetoric they are overhearing from both sides of the aisle. So we can’t blame just one side. There is so much going on that is confusing them. But when it comes to the topic of immigration, they get it because they or someone they know is living it right now.

I decided to ask my students if they knew anybody who was afraid that they’re family members might be taken away? Every last student in my class raise their hand. Every last one. They’re painfully aware, that good, hard-working, upstanding people who they may have known all their lives and who themselves having done nothing wrong, are being snatched from their families and sent to countries that they are unfamiliar with, when they were raised here just like them. Soccer coaches, scout leaders etc. who they all may have interacted with personally. They know that they are now living with a threat a being taken away from their families without ever breaking any laws or doing anything wrong. Every child is painfully aware of the threat and every one of them is scared.

Kids are being shaped by this experience and by what they are seeing and hearing. It has become a very scary debate for a lot of people these days. Everyone in the house, however young or old, can hear the discussion either in person, through conversation, or on TV. What is the butterfly effect of this going to be when it comes to how this perspective and experience influences their attitudes about our nation, and their future here? Not to mention, how it will affect their mentality and outlook of what kind of world they’re living in.

The political climate that is currently being displayed in our government, with our politicians seeming to act in stark contrast to the ideals these kids are being taught in their school every day, is frustrating and terrifying to me. There is absolutely nothing I can do to help them except…encourage you to listen to them. Give them information, knowledge, experience. Hold a conversation with your kids. I mean a real conversation. No need to dumb anything down. Talk with them not at them. Give them an even playing field. Also, and above all else, please, please listen, not only to what they have to say on the surface, but really probe and dig deep to find out what they really are thinking. Ask them pointed questions and learn about how they actually see the world around them right now and how they feel about it. Just talk to them and have a conversation. You might be surprised what they might say. I always am. I am often in awe of the wisdom and the fairness of their comments. I have found that children can have quite a strong moral compass and a solid sense of right and wrong in fairness.

Thank you for reading this. I hope it helps make you a little more aware of what’s going on in their lives. Talk to them and help them. Let’s all work together to bring back the world, this country to the ideals we all learned about in civics class.

In the meantime, take a look at this clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live where he asks kids about Trump. They’re paying attention…

 

How improv helps with decision making now and later

Do you remember when we were little, and we were told when to get up, get dressed, go to school, open your books to a particular page, go to lunch, recess, go home, do your homework, go get ready for bed, and go to bed?

Day after day after day after day after day…

We were rarely asked about anything that really mattered, about anything that did not pertain to ourselves. All the questions we were ever asked it seemed were things like, “What do you feel like eating?” or “Do you like this or that or the other thing?” But whenever it was anything of some importance, we as children were skipped over even though we heard every word and understood everything that was being said. Our opinions just were not important.

Well I’ve been teaching children for about 20 years now and I can tell you that they have great minds, great intellect, and great opinions.

I don’t know how many of you remember the TV show host Art Linkletter. But he used to have a show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things” In the show he would go down the line of children and ask them some questions that they normally wouldn’t be asked. The result was hysterical but I must say, also very fascinating. It is so telling how observant these children are when they’re in a room with adults. This should prove that they actually do absorb like sponges everything that’s going on in the household that they are exposed to and moreover that they ponder these things.

I also find that when children inherently all seem to have a very strong moral compass and a very set sense of right and wrong. That is perhaps because they tend to be very empathetic as children. They’re so caring. But I find as they get older and are exposed to more and more of the world, they tend to get very jaded often faster than perhaps we may like.

Oddly enough, this is why I think playing is so important, particularly improv.

It is within the confines of the games that are played in improvisation that children become challenged with life choices, something like they would experience outside of class. After all, improv mirrors real life on many levels. Therefore what comes out of the performer is coming straight from their intellect. This is why it is so beneficial for children.

Improvisation offers them the opportunity to experience certain situations that they will more than likely come upon during their lifetime. Only now it’s in a safe and supportive environment. This way they are free to fall on their face and make mistakes without consequence or judgment. This is a very beautiful thing. And I’ve seen kids organically and naturally rise to the occasion to try to deal with any situation. It is an opportunity for them to learn the consequences of their decisions and how they play out without risk of doing the wrong thing or offending or hurting anybody. And believe me, they love the challenge.

Now as I said earlier, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. And in my class I don’t want any student there who doesn’t want to be there themselves. This is something they have to want to do for themselves. I have had students in my class voluntarily for up to 13 years. Currently I have several kids in my class who have been there for close to eight years with no intentions of stopping. They start in grade school at around eight years old and generally don’t leave until they’re out of high school and are off to college.

I mention this because I get to see them as they grow and utilize what they learned in the class. Job interview, no problem. Dealing with unruly people, no problem. Get people to cooperate with you toward a common goal, no problem. Then when they leave my class and go out to the real world the real circumstances that they tend to come up upon they tend to deal with. NO PROBLEM. Not to mention it builds a certain confidence, and gives them a real sense of empathy towards each other and understanding towards people and circumstances whatever they may be. They also become quick-thinking creative problem solvers who generally know how to handle situations calmly and see them to their conclusion.

And all because they learned improv early and because they were listened to and put in a situation or several, where their opinion mattered.

Finding the answers you seek!

Remember the old story about the guy who was in the search for the meaning of life and his purpose and why he was here and so on. And so he travels to a distant land seeking answers. When he meets people on the way, he’s told that the wisest man was at the top of the very tall mountain living alone in a cave. So the guy walks great distances and climbs tall mountains till he finally reaches the top. There, sitting in the lotus position is an old man with a very long beard. The guy walks up to the man with great reverence and asks his question.

“What is the meaning of life?”

Now at this point, every answer I ever heard from the old man was either conceptual and the guy had to go back and think for himself and figure it out…or it was a punchline. I don’t know why but I kinda liked the story of somebody who would travel to find somebody like the wisest man in the world. I mean who would not like to spend even just a few minutes with the wisest man in the world. Didn’t he deserve some kind of answer?

For some reason, something I was watching on television reminded me of that story. And I just couldn’t shake it. There is something about the story in of itself that was gnawing at me. It stayed with me all the way into the night. Fortunately, right when I go to bed, when I’m trying to fall asleep is when I sometimes do the best thinking. So that night I lied there contemplating the story. I must’ve laid there thinking about this for an hour when suddenly it hit me. I think I get it.

That the old man is us. The real us. The assets at the very core of our being that seems to fade further and further from view as we get older and older. Sadly, it starts about when we start school, when our fun times with games and wonder and imagination is replaced by books and rules and tests.

So lately I’ve been trying to crawl up that mountain, looking for the lady in the cave. I know she’s inside of me. Maybe if I were just allowed to play more with my friends, playing games that we made up, and creating new rules as we went along. When we pretended to be someone else, somewhere else. I would have been able to start looking for the lady from a closer place. It just seems that the more I played the more I got to know about myself and how I really wasn’t like anybody else.

See, I was damaged and I knew it. It wouldn’t be until my first attempt at college that I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Now today it’s accepted as a real and all too common thing. But back then I was “just being stupid!” or I “wasn’t trying.” Little did they know…

Now however, I see my struggle as a gift. My individuality means a lot to me. I just honestly think I would’ve found my wise lady in the cave sooner had I been able to stay in the realm of playing spontaneous games that required mutual responsiveness in real “in the moment” time. What better way to discover the way you feel about things, really. Not to mention, learning about the consequences of my beliefs or opinions. I would’ve loved to of had disagreements and points a view that I had to defend or justify. Just to have the experience of going through a disagreement or argument that would require introspective thought, and the opportunity to discover what I learned about myself from those experiences.

Now, believe me, I know that as adults we are not necessarily able to just go knock on the neighbor’s door and ask if they want to go play. Unfortunately many children can’t do that anymore today either but I digress. But, what we can do is whatever makes us happy, and

brings us joy. We should revel in the things we love to do at least a little bit every day, instead of just on weekends or after retirement. It’s important because I think we get more in touch with ourselves with every new experience we have.

So please do yourself a favor and reward yourself by going out and experiencing something, anything. There you will find the answers you seek.

Is Society Killing Our Creativity?

First, please, for your own sake, watch this wonderful short film:

http://theunboundedspirit.com/society-kills-creativity/

I’m sure the message of this movie is probably something you can identify with. I’m sure you can remember being a child and using your imagination only to be told that “you’re being silly” or to “get serious” and “stop playing around.” Haven’t we all?

Perhaps this is why were in the trouble we are in.

For over a century now, there has been a concerted effort to what is commonly called “the dumbing down of America.” Now I don’t mean to sound militant about it but this is based on years of research. Everything you see in this film is absolutely true. Little by little play time for each child has been shrinking. Children no longer are able to reap the rewards of self-realization that comes along with playing with other children face-to-face. And that’s a pity.

It is the responsiveness of interactive play that teaches us so much about being a human being, exploring who we really are, what we really think and how we really feel about the world around us. We learn empathy, compassion, fairness and the consequences of our actions through the interactions with others.

Of course, spontaneous play like this requires imagination and creativity. But often in our society, the artist is the low man on the totem pole. You’ve heard the term “starving artist.” Why is that? I don’t understand why people who use their creativity should be considered participating in an undervalued and unappreciated way of making a living (for the most part). How many artists do you know who have another side job just so they can make a living to feed themselves and pay their bills? How many musicians do you know who are living bare bones? Or painters or poets, or people who create things with their hands? These talents usually have to be relegated to the realm of hobby. I guess that means self-expression is a hobby. It is undervalued, unappreciated and a source of problems not just for the individual but society as a whole.

Part of this is due to societal changes. It’s been about 40 years since we started to have parents who need to each be working to sustain a household. Kids are now often stuck at home left to their own devices. No longer can children go outside and play like we used to and interact using their imagination and creativity and learning more and more about ourselves, others and the world around us. With advances has come a steady decline in both play and opportunities to play…and the freedom of expression that comes with it. And it starts with the education system.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, once factories were created and workers were needed, education began to focus more and more on skills required for the job. Anything else was considered frivolous and unnecessary. That’s why as years went on, the arts suffered. Play time suffered and we slowly started to become drones for a paycheck. Just show up to work, do your job, get paid, go home and if you want to play, you have to wait till you’re retired or just do it on the weekends. In fact, I believe it was Henry Ford who would fire anybody heard laughing on the job. His sentiment was that you were here to work not have a good time. And so that’s what became of corporations in general.

Fortunately there are a few modern day businesses, particularly in the tech community, who provide pool table and ping-pong tables, gyms and other forms of relaxation while on the job. They found that people become more productive when they’re relaxed and happy. This is a very welcome change but it certainly is not enough. Why? Because we need to be playing from the time we are children. If we don’t, then we begin to lack emotional empathy and understanding of each other all the way to the point where we become sort of detached from our very selves. We slowly turn gray just like the characters in the cartoon.

My advice? Make sure you and your children have plenty of time to play and interact one-on-one face-to-face. Play imaginative games. Not just board games or games that involve a ball or some other sort of sport, but games that require spontaneity, and responsiveness, that are challenging and just plain fun. I think we owe it to our children to provide them with the kind of balance necessary for them to develop their entire brain. I suggest for your benefit as well of those you care about, that you come up with a game night and you start inviting people over and you start playing the kind of games that can be found in improv. They not only enhance your brain function but they also bring joy and balance back into our lives. And they’ll open the doors to a brighter future for you, your kids and society as a whole.

Total Improv Kids Open House!

Hey everyone, we’re opening up class for a FREE OPEN HOUSE!!! Come see what we’re all about!

The nation’s premiere improv school for kids, Total Improv Kids uses the art of theatrical improvisation to offer kids a fun and exciting means of tapping into right brain thinking and expanding their imaginations. A unique teaching approach that both stands alone and supplements common educational practices like Common Core and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), Total Improv Kids also nurtures important life skills within a healthy, supportive group environment. Now Total Improv Kids founder Linda Fulton is opening up the school for a one-day-only FREE OPEN HOUSE to showcase what the school is all about. Parents and kids ages 8 to 17 are welcome to come watch and participate in games, exercises and activities that will show just how impactful (and fun!) improv can be in helping students to explore who they are and to find the greatest potential in themselves and each other.

 DATE AND TIME:

August 19

Saturday, 12-3 p.m.

LOCATION:

The Sherry Theater

11052 W. Magnolia Blvd.

North Hollywood, CA 91601

TICKET PRICE:

FREE!!!

 

The Importance of Improv and Social Emotional Learning

The more I work with kids of all ages, the more I understand the importance of Social and Emotional Learning as a way to not only help children learn, but also to help them bring out their true selves and adapt valuable skills that will help them for the rest of their lives. Writer (and my sometimes assistant) Jim Martyka interviewed me about SEL and how it’s played a part in my life and my teaching.

How did you learn about SEL?

I have actually been teaching improvisation to kids for almost 20 years. I was not teaching them for theatrical purposes at all. Rather, I developed the Fulton Method because I know what improvisation did for me as a kid struggling in school and I wanted to pass on to others what improv gave to me. My way of working with improvisation helps children discover potentials within themselves and teaches them how to build character and bring out their very best in anything they do.

One Thanksgiving, I was over my aunt’s house visiting my cousin who is an adjunct professor. She was telling me that she was working on something called SEL.  I told her I had never heard of it and asked her to explain to me what it was. As she began talking and describing to me what Social Emotional Learning was, I realized that was what I’ve been teaching at Total Improv Kids all along. We couldn’t believe it!

I sent her a copy of my book hoping that it would be helpful to a research paper she was working on. It turns out that there is a lack of activities out there to help schools implement SEL training. The activities that I teach in my class and provide in the book actually help to fill that gap.  I was very happy to hear that when she turned in her paper, the activities that I was using for my work we’re extremely beneficial to her work as well. In fact, the buzz over her paper was about the activities that I had supplied her.

I never realized that there was such a huge demand out there for what I was teaching the kids. So now I’m on a new quest to try to help more kids, preferably by going into schools and teaching the teachers the activities that they need to help any and all children of all learning levels.

Why do you think SEL is so important? Why does it work?

I don’t just think SEL is the important, I think it’s vital, especially now. We learn through playing. That is a fact. It is “playing” that teaches us the bulk of our social skills, and it also helps to teach us how to survive. We need our social skills to survive in our society.

However children are generally playing was less than they used to. The introduction of electronics—television, video games, cell phones, etc.— have caused children to become far more isolated. They often miss getting that experience and learning from active imaginary play.

This is why SEL activities are so important. SEL trains students to take responsibility for their own actions, words and interactions with others. They begin to understand how their behaviors affect other people and they learn about concepts like empathy and compassion. And maybe if we had more empathy and compassion we might have less bullying, more acceptance and deeper connection.

Kids need SEL training more now than ever.  I can’t tell you how happy I am that this is finally come into the national consciousness. I can’t wait to see what happens 20 years from now when SEL becomes a standard in every school. I would love to see kids having more respect for one another, more interaction, not being afraid to share their voice and speak their mind. All of that will help them make a difference in their lives communities.

What are some of the aspects of SEL that you most identify with?

That is an interesting question. Well, I can tell you this. I know what I went through as a kid growing up with a learning disability. I know that through improvisation, which was the closest thing to SEL training at the time, I discovered my voice, my intellect and my confidence.

It’s funny that I identify with kids who struggle to learn but in a different way. I feel as though I went through what they’re going through. Growing up, I felt I had a displaced relationship with the world around me. And I think in a lot of ways these kids feel the same way but they just don’t realize it. Or at least it seems as though they just can’t seem to put their finger on the problem. Of course, they don’t think the problem is internal. They always look at it as an external issue, that they’re victims of circumstance. That’s a real problem. They don’t realize they have a voice and they don’t know how to express themselves in a way that will get people to listen. I guess that’s not all that uncommon. I’m sure a lot of this experience that growing up. But if you look back now, and think ‘if I had only said this or that” or “if only I could’ve expressed what I was feeling” things might have been easier.

This is something I can definitely identify with, and this is why I developed the Fulton Method to begin with…so that children learn that when they’re in my class, anything and everything they say is valid. They need to know that. I know they have an intellect that’s starving to be heard. I expect them to use it and I show them that they have a say about what we do in class and how we approach it. I give them more involvement in the class so that they are participants in their own education. Every student understands what I’m doing and why. We go right to the games and exercises. Then we have a discussion as to what worked and what didn’t and why. We figure it out together…everyone equal.

How does improv help with Social Emotional Learning?

Improvisation is a very important and handy tool for Social Emotional Learning. However, it is not the be all, end all. It is extremely important to understand the child’s developmental level and to apply and practice activities accordingly. If certain exercises are given too soon, it can very much damage a child’s confidence and that would be extremely counter-productive. Also, bear in mind that I do not use just improv exercises. We play a lot of games as well. These games are also extremely important.

But as for the improvisation, what better way for a child to experience situations they’ve never been in then to role play. Within the structure of improvisation, I can place kids in a variety of situations. I also give them a position to take sometimes. And whether they agree with the position or not they have to defend it. They have to adapt. This is extremely useful for getting kids to learn how to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes.

Also in improvisation, the children have to work so closely together that it becomes a very bonding activity. This is where they start to learn empathy and compassion for each other. They’ll become aware of each other’s struggles, and rally around each other to succeed in overcoming an obstacle. I’ve also seen them get very encouraging to those kids who fall short of their goals. They begin to learn more about each other and care more about each other and their situations. It is experience that is the greatest teacher of all.

Another reason why improv helps and probably the most important one is that improv requires the kids to make choices. When they’re in any given situation that improv presents, they are required to make decisions and choices based on that situation. They also see the consequences of their choices and how they affect others in real time.

Then, when we discuss it, they learn how to give constructive criticism and how to take that criticism and understand what they need to get better. Within those discussions very often the kids reflect on situations they found themselves in and how they relate to what occurred on the stage. This gives them perspective on various topics and enables them to find they’re voice. I have witnessed some extraordinary changes in the kids because of this very important component.

What can Social Emotional Learning working with your Fulton Method bring out in kids?

With the Fulton Method, kids are active participants in their own education. They learn how to actively interact with each other to achieve a common goal. They are responsible for the success through their own participation. The Fulton Method utilizes games; improvisation games, theatre games and more. But it’s the kids who learn how to evaluate from their own experiences what’s working and what’s not. They get to learn how to troubleshoot and fix whatever is preventing them from achieving a common goal. It may not sound like much but this is actually very powerful stuff and the results are extraordinary. Especially the results I’ve had with children with autism and other types of learning disabilities.

I find that as time goes one, the shy kids start become bolder. They all become less intimidated by others including adults. I also find that they are not afraid to speak out for what they feel is right and for what they feel is wrong. They don’t just tell me what they think, they tell me why they’re thinking it, and their logic is usually flawless. If it does have a flaw, the others are more than willing to speak up and help figure out how to fix it through discussion. That’s very important—they learn how to sit down and discuss and communicate what they think in a logical and controlled manner. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.

How are you working SEL into your work with kids?

Truthfully I don’t have to work it in. It’s already intrinsically there. Perhaps I’m just approaching it differently. I’m teaching these kids through role-playing and interaction. In the way I designed my class, the work does it all by itself.

What is your ultimate hope when you work with a student?

My hope is the same today as it was when I first started. My hope is that every child discovers their own voice along with their own true potential. I want them to discover what makes them happy. I want them to live their lives to their fullest extent. I want them to be able to explore their potentials, to not be afraid to stand up and be heard, to become leaders in their communities. It is my hope that they discover their true sense of self and live a happy fulfilling life.

Creativity: A Necessity to Survival!

Teaching children to become more creative is intrinsic to the survival of this planet.

Unfortunately creativity, which is generally nurtured through the arts, is being depleted in our school systems today. This puts our children at a very serious disadvantage. We have historically from the beginning of mankind learned through free play. It was free play that helped us to discover the consequences of our actions and it’s our curiosity while playing that helps to nurture our creative side.

 We need to children to participate in games that they create themselves. Or, if they’re not creating the game, they should at least be able to use their own intellect to enhance their experience with in the game. It is these experiences that eventually spill over into their everyday lives, developing them into the human beings they ultimately become.

 Without these experiences, children will become less able to problem solve beyond what they have been told. Children will get stuck in the dogma of what they’ve been taught and what they have learned. They will rarely see beyond the already established path to advancement as opposed to seeing new possibilities and blazing trails of their own.

 Therefore I encourage everyone young and old to never stop imagining or being creative. These adventures will lead you to new and exciting discoveries. You’re never too young or too old to become a trailblazer. So go out imagine and play. Who knows what new innovations our children will create and contribute to the future of our species?!

The Value of Free Play

There is a severe shortage of free play time today. Children learn through free play. They learn the consequences of their actions when they are interacting with other people on an intellectual level through free play. This is because they are experiencing the results and the consequences of their actions and experience begets knowledge.

You don’t teach experience, experience teaches you. From the time we’re infants, we learn from what we experience. When we were hungry, we cried, and somebody came and fed us. If our diaper is full, we’d cry and someone took away our discomfort, etc. As we progress, we learn how to interact with others through playing.

I believe it is free play that helps us to build our character. Is it any wonder in this day and age when kids go home to video games and empty households, that they feel isolated? You hear it from the older generation all the time, but it’s true…kids don’t play outside with each other that much anymore. The result of this isolation and lack of play and character development is an increase in negative behaviors such as bullying. I have polled several classes of mine and asked the kids if they had experienced bullying. Every hand in my class went up. Is it any wonder?

We need to find a way to provide safe places where children can go and interact with each other and make up games like we used to do when we had a lot less “entertainment” provided for us. We may not have had a lot of material to play with but we made up games from what we found around us. We invented games, we worked with each other in cooperation to make up the rules, and we made agreements that we would follow these rules. If we chose not to, than the other kids would just stop playing with us until we did.

Free play has so much to offer in terms of structure, personal growth and life lessons. Are there a whole lot of places out there where children can experience free play again? Where can kids go today and play cooperatively, using their imaginations and learning cause-and-effect.

This is been my goal for the last twenty years in teaching improv to children. Through my own experience, I found that this is the closest thing to free play in a safe environment out there. Improv is not just for kids who want to go into show business or perform. Absolutely not. It’s brain food, soul food and character food.

Improv is free play and all the perks one gets with it!

Improv and Social and Emotional Learning

I’ve been teaching improv for about 25 years now, 18 of which I’ve devoted to teaching kids. Why? Because from the very beginning, when I first learned improv 43 years ago, I noticed immediately how much improv could help me grow. It helped me develop not just my mental capacity but also my self-confidence and self-esteem, which at the time were sorely lacking.

I began also see changes in my classmates too, all of whom were also young teenagers. It was amazing looking back at how fast we began to bond and become a lot closer and more tolerant of each other. We discovered who we thought was the biggest jerk in the class was actually the most sensitive; he was actually a great guy once he got to know and trust us and dropped his tough façade. We started paying attention to each other now and began really seeing each other as an individual person. We started caring more and giving a damn about each other because we were now far more emphatic than when we first started. We actually genuinely cared about each other’s well-being.

This was really apparent whenever someone would be trying to overcome a hurdle and would finally work through it. Oh man, we would all rejoice with them, unafraid of how it might be perceived by others. Labels, cliques, social groups, none of it mattered once we started doing improv with each other. All that went away and we all held special bond as unique individuals working together.

I noticed how we all became stronger in our convictions and better people, unafraid to speak up for ourselves and others whenever we thought something wasn’t right. We also started to lend our voice to whatever we felt strongly about. I guess through the role-playing improv required of us, we began to get a better perspective of the world around us and the people in it, which in turn gave us a better understanding of ourselves and how we fit in it. This was something none of us had ever experienced living in a world where we were always being told what to do and when to do it from sun up to sun down. We never felt we had a voice or opinion that an adult would be willing to listen too.  At the time we all felt that our world view was considered invalid.  After all, we were just “kids,” what did we know?  But once we developed a better sense of self we also began to take responsibility for our own actions, and we also were becoming less tolerant of people who didn’t feel they had to be responsible for theirs. We also became less afraid to questions authority. We felt more confident about voicing our opinions in a respectful, coherent, articulate way. We were becoming adults.

All this and more was as a result of the games, role-playing and intellectual challenges  improv demanded of us, within a fun and trusting environment. And man did we have a blast learning and became better people for it. What a concept! Fun while learning.

Well that was 43 long years ago, and some of us are grandparents now, but whenever we happen to run into each other here and there, we are always able to pick up right were we left off, continuing to be the better people improv demanded we become way back when.  Probably the most important lesson improv taught us that enhanced all our lives in general, was the emotional education we experienced while improvising in various situations with each other. Someone would be the protagonist and others the antagonist in any given situation, allowing us to learn empathy for what the other is going through.  After all, we were probably going to find ourselves in the same position at any given moment. Where else can anyone find this sort of emotional intelligence training? I can’t remember any other class in my scholastic career that ever came close and that learning stayed with us throughout our lifetimes.

Needless to say this experience affected me in a very profound way.  This is why I decided to make teaching improv my life’s work. I have come to realize that kids today are in urgent need of Social and Emotional Learning for a long list of reasons, and improv is the perfect vehicle to accomplish this. My greatest wish is that someday improv and the emotional education it has to offer will become a part of every school’s curriculum.

As for myself, over the years, I have developed my own methods for teaching improv that focuses more on the emotional training it has to offer and less about the “comedy” most other improv classes choose to focus on. We work on achieving more of a balance between right and left hemispheres with our training, all the while boosting their social and emotional learning and helping them become their very best.

Does it work? Please go to totalimprovkids.com and read the testimonials.