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Brainy, improv, laughter

The Brainy Benefits of Improvising!

In the world of brainy research, play is getting a pretty good rap right now. Scientists are actively studying the benefits of play on brain development. Let’s not forget about one of the best benefits of Improv – laughing!  Laughter not only exercises our muscles and makes us breathe, it also decreases stress hormones and improves our immune systems!  Here are some of the other amazing benefits of “brainy play!”

Putting the Brakes on Perfectionism

For those of us who suffer from perfectionism and it’s unpleasant manifestations (over-thinking, mental paralysis, undershooting, self-criticism) there is hope!

Charles Limb is a surgeon who studies creativity at John Hopkins University. Using fMRI technology, Limb looked at the brains of musicians while playing a memorized piece of music and compared it to their brain while improvising off the same music. Limb discovered that improvising activated the self-expression portion of the brain while simultaneously deactivating the self-censoring part of the brain.

Limb’s work stresses that as we allow the self-monitoring part of the brain to rest and the self-expressive part of the brain to come to the forefront, we open the door to the creative mind. So not only to we get a rest from the judge in our head, we invite the muse to play.

For Charles Limb’s TedTalk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkRJG510CKo

Brainy Play Creativity and Creative Problem Solving

In addition to Limb’s work, researchers have been studying the benefits of imaginative play, which really is another form of improvisation, on a child’s ability to creatively solve problems. The following studies all focus on children.

Wyver and Spence (1999) examined two types of problems: I’ll call them simple and complex (really convergent and divergent problem solving)  and the effects that play had on the ability to solve these types of problems.  Among other things, this study revealed a significant relationship between pretend play and complex (divergent) problem solving.

Most problems in life require complex thinking so enhancing the ability to use creative problem-solving is as intuitive as it gets.

Family fun with Improv!

Family fun with Improv!

Improves Language Skills

Studies have demonstrated a connection between imaginative or pretend play and language skill acquisition.

One psychologist, Edward Fisher (1992) reviewed 46 studies on the cognitive benefits of brainy play. This mega-analysis (aka meta-analysis) revealed that children who participate in dramatic play improve their performance both from a cognitive-linguistic as well as a social affective perspective.

Sounds pretty technical but I think you get it. While language acquisition is clearly important to children, it’s usefulness is with us our whole lives. Being able to express and communicate effectively with others is at the center of most of our interactions and relationships.

Improves Self Regulation and Reasoning

As we continue to see the importance that emotional intelligence (EQ) has on future career and relationship success, it only makes sense that understanding how to activate and develop this in individuals is super critical.

Scientists studying the effects of imaginative play on self-regulation and the ability to reason discovered that the frequency of pretend play in children was correlated with their ability to self regulate. Self-regulation includes managing emotions, impulses and focusing attention – all important aspects to the development of emotional intelligence. I am convinced we would all be happier if we were better self-regulators.

More about the research at: http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of play.html#sthash.iFJsLPzZ.dpuf or http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n1/bergen.html

More Improv Please!

Hopefully you are convinced that practicing and doing improvisation/imaginative play can have some pretty great side effects. If this article has peaked your interest, I will venture to make some suggestions. Keep in mind, I am not a scientist (ok- maybe at heart).

First off, life is an improvisation, so in some ways you are activating all these part of your brain everyday. But if you are wanting to increase your creativity, problem-solving, self-regulation, etc. while putting the brakes on your inner critic it makes sense to me that finding a way to improvise could be the ticket.

So if you’re a musician, you can spend more time improvising as opposed to playing memorized pieces.

Otherwise, taking an improv comedy class is a great way to access the imaginative side of your brain. You will play brainy games that get you out of your head and access your creative side. The more you do it, the more you will experience that sense of creative self-expression flowing from you. Plus, you will probably laugh more than you have in months – seriously – and we all know the benefits of laughter on the body, but that’s a whole other blog.

About Pam Farone

Pam Farone is a career satisfaction coach and improv instructor focused on creating joyful careers and cheerful work environments.

www.pamfarone.com

Resources

Buchsbaum D, Bridgers S, Skolnick Weisberg D, Gopnik A. 2012. The power of possibility: causal learning, counterfactual reasoning, and pretend play. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 367(1599):2202-12. – See more at: http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html#sthash.iFJsLPzZ.dpuf

Fisher, Edward P. (1992). The impact of play on development: A meta-analysis. Play and Culture, 5(2), 159-181.

Limb CJ, Braun AR. Neural substrates of spontaneous musical performance: an FMRI study of jazz improvisation. PLoS One. 2008; 3(2):e1679. PMID: 18301756; PMCID: PMC2244806.

Walker CM and Gopnik A. 2013. Pretense and possibility–a theoretical proposal about the effects of pretend play on development: comment on Lillard et al. (2013). Psychol Bull. 139(1):40-4.

Wyver, Shirley R., & Spence, Susan H. (1999). Play and divergent problem solving: Evidence supporting a reciprocal relationship. Early Education and Development, 10(4), 419-444. EJ 593 718.

Inside the Maker Classrooms of Friends’ School Boulder

Friends.Maker.1Steve de Beer, Head of School at Friends’ School Boulder, contributes this post describing his school’s innovative, year-long focus on making in the 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms. For a hands-on taste of making in education, stop by the Friends’ School booth at the Boulder Mini Maker Faire, Jan 31-Feb 1! (Early bird tickets end on the 24th!)

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Who remembers Tinker Toys?  Me! Me!  Who spent part of their childhood inventing new machines with Erector Sets?  This guy!  Who used to make tunnels and cities and imaginary worlds (complete with imaginary knights and dragons) out of moving boxes and junk? Right here, me and my siblings!

What did these kinds of toys have in common – what do they still have in common? They were all designed to inspire the young me to be a maker instead of a consumer. They encouraged me to create.

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Why the D-School’s Alice Shi Kembel Lets Her Children Play With Trash (Part 1)

Anyone visiting our home will stumble upon numerous unique creations designed by our three boys: bats with five-foot wingspans made of paper and masking tape, daggers whittled from sticks, bug zoos designed with wine corks and popsicle sticks, night vision goggles consisting of toilet paper tubes and duct tape, snake traps constructed from cardboard and string, and a two-pronged lice comb that my oldest son made for his kindergarten teacher out of wooden skewers and Scotch tape.

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Alice Shi Kembel’s Take on Captivity vs. Freedom for Mice & Mini Makers

Our former pet mouse, Snowflake, started out as snake food.  He and two other mice had been purchased by our son’s friend to use as bait for snake traps in the field next to his house in Park City.  When we returned to his house after a five day excursion to Yellowstone National Park, we found three mice in a colorful plastic cage, complete with a climbing tunnel, loft, and running wheel.  My three boys fell in love immediately, and spent hours playing with the mice, who they named Snowflake, Brownie, and Ribbon.

When our son Jonah’s friend and his mother returned to the house two days later, the mice had become pets in the boys’ minds, so it was a shock to them when Tyler announced, “I’m going to use the mice in my snake traps now.”

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6 Pen and Paper Games That Rock the Shazbot

Picture it: there you are, trapped in the middle of Chicago-O’Hare on a four-hour layover, alone but for your two cranky and travel-weary kids. Somehow your phone is bricked, your laptop charger is fried, the TV’s are all playing infomercials, and the hand-held games are in the checked luggage. (Also imagine the airport’s out of both Benadryl and whisky—shame on you for thinking it! Bad parent.)

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. How will you survive?

Your only hope is to go boy scout versus doomsday survivalist on it.. Remember: you’re resourceful, resilient, always prepared, etc., etc.. You’d turn the Alaskan wilderness into a backyard barbecue with naught but a hatchet and a tarp. So too with Chicago-O’Hare. Your hatchet is a pencil (you know, the pointy thing that leaves a trail of graphite when scratched against a light-colored surface of certain friction), and your tarp is paper.

Here are six options for using said paper and pencil to merrily kill nearly infinite time. (Your first puzzle is trying to determine where one column’s caption stops and the next starts.)

1. In a grid like the one below, one player is trying to connect white dots to move from the right side of the board to the left; the other player is trying to connect black dots to move from the top of the board to the bottom. 2. Take turns drawing short, horizontal or vertical lines. 3. You can’t cross your opponent’s lines. Don’t get blocked!

1. In a grid like the one below, one player is trying to connect white dots to move from the right side of the board to the left; the other player is trying to connect black dots to move from the top of the board to the bottom. 2. Take turns drawing short, horizontal or vertical lines. 3. You can’t cross your opponent’s lines. Don’t get blocked!

 

1. Start with a graph-paper game board of any size. 2. One player is X’s and the other is O’s (write lightly in pencil). 3. Start with the position shown. 4. Take turns placing your symbol. On each turn, you MUST trap an opponent’s symbol between yours (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally), which you then flip to your symbol. (If you cannot trap at least one of your opponent’s symbols, you lose your turn.) 5. Once all squares are used, the player with the most symbols wins.

1. Start with a graph-paper game board of any size. 2. One player is X’s and the other is O’s (write lightly in pencil). 3. Start with the position shown. 4. Take turns placing your symbol. On each turn, you MUST trap an opponent’s symbol between yours (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally), which you then flip to your symbol. (If you cannot trap at least one of your opponent’s symbols, you lose your turn.) 5. Once all squares are used, the player with the most symbols wins.

1. Start with two or three dots on a page. 2. A move consists of two steps—draw a line between two dots (or to itself); and mark a new dot anywhere on this line. 3. Your new line may not cross any existing line. 4. Once a dot has three lines coming out of it, it is closed. 5. Whoever makes the last possible move, wins.

1. Start with two or three dots on a page. 2. A move consists of two steps—draw a line between two dots (or to itself); and mark a new dot anywhere on this line. 3. Your new line may not cross any existing line. 4. Once a dot has three lines coming out of it, it is closed. 5. Whoever makes the last possible move, wins.

1. Imagine the grid below were an open board of the kind used to play Connect Four®. 2. One player is X’s and the other is O’s. Take turns “dropping” your shape into the game board, where it falls down to rest on the lowest open spot. 3. The first person to make four in a row, wins.

1. Imagine the grid below were an open board of the kind used to play Connect Four®. 2. One player is X’s and the other is O’s. Take turns “dropping” your shape into the game board, where it falls down to rest on the lowest open spot. 3. The first person to make four in a row, wins.

1. Start with a matrix of dots, as shown. 2. Take turns drawing a line horizontally or vertically between dots. 3. Your goal is to make closed squares. If you close a square mark it as your own (place an X or an O in that box). 4. If you close a square, move again. 5. Once all squares are closed, the player with the most symbols wins.

1. Start with a matrix of dots, as shown. 2. Take turns drawing a line horizontally or vertically between dots. 3. Your goal is to make closed squares. If you close a square mark it as your own (place an X or an O in that box). 4. If you close a square, move again. 5. Once all squares are closed, the player with the most symbols wins.

1. You need four boards like the one shown, two for each player. 2. Draw your five ships on the board (as shown). 3. Take turns shooting, by naming grid spaces (i.e. “E-3”). The opponent calls a hit or a miss. Mark your shots on your blank grid and your opponent’s shots on your ship grid. 4. Continue until one player sinks the other’s ships.

1. You need four boards like the one shown, two for each player. 2. Draw your five ships on the board (as shown). 3. Take turns shooting, by naming grid spaces (i.e. “E-3”). The opponent calls a hit or a miss. Mark your shots on your blank grid and your opponent’s shots on your ship grid. 4. Continue until one player sinks the other’s ships.


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Study Shows How Kids Learn to Conform

For the most part, 4-year-olds don’t care a whole lot about social norms. But then 9-year-olds do. An article published in the journal Child Development looks at what happens between these two ages: how do kids become aware of the norms that bind us and eventually them? Knowing the answer can help us help our kids avoid it.

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