Improv is Resilient

We all want the best for our kids. To be happy; To be smart; To be healthy; To be educated. The latest buzzword in parenting is “resilient”: we all want our kids to survive. Because in life, when you get knocked down, you need to get up again – swinging.

But how do we instill resilience? What’s the magic potion that raises your survival stats +10? The answer may lie in improvisation.

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Image by EG Mum

About a week ago, Professor Johannes Haushofer published online his “CV of Failures”. Essentially, it was a list of all the programs he didn’t get into, the Papers not published, research funding he did not receive. The CV was accepted by most with a sense of relief that hey! Here’s a professor that isn’t perfect and he’s doing okay!

Why was this a big deal? Because he was showing how he had been knocked down – and then got back up again. This is resilience. The ability to see any rejection or failure as a life-lesson, and improve upon it.

And this is where improvisation exercises can really help out.

Improvisation usually comes in two different streams – drama and music. Sometimes they overlap; sometimes they go their own merry way. They both take different approaches in how they are applied, yet still end up at the same destination: Resilience.

To find out the direct influence of improvisation on our brains, researchers Charles Limb and Allen Braun were shoving jazz pianists into an fMRI scanner, measuring the changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain during improvisation.

They learnt that when improvising, the conscious monitoring part of the brain (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) is ‘sshhhh-ed‘ while the area for self-expression (medial prefrontal cortex) is woken up. In short, that little voice in your head that criticises you, and tells you to quit, and tells you how everyone is waiting for you to make a mistake: Improvisation tells that voice to shut up.

It happens in athletes too. Research there has shown how constantly working on “muscle memory” often results in choking under pressure.

So I ran this past a friend who is a performing artist AND a music teacher with kids, Helen Perris. Helen had her own anecdotal evidence about improv students showing greater resilience in other aspects of their lives. And while she wasn’t exactly sure whether this was cause or correlation, it was common enough for her to start all the younger students with improv and encourage the creativity with the skill.

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One more example of how good improvisation is: The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University offers a graduate course on improv to help fresh scientists express their ideas without sounding like a textbook, or essentially a big nerd. I kid you not. The aim is to teach scientists how to open up with their communication and have more confidence in their visions and questions. They are teaching science bros to be even more awesome science bros! Soon the world will be taken over by nerds like Brian Cox… and I am okay with that.

So have I convinced you to jump on my improv train? Well, the first rule of improv is to say yes. And teach your kids to say yes.

Now don’t go crazy on this one. I know we still need to teach them self-awareness and protecting their own interests. I’m talking about saying yes to their own imagination. Saying yes to the creative impulse of their peers.

Kids naturally have this, and yet sometimes it feels like only the people who keep it into adulthood are actors and musicians; The Performers.

So I asked an improv actor about it. I had the opportunity to ask improv extraordinaire Jon Favreau on how he includes improv exercises with his own kids:

Improv is great for kids! It is so natural! In fact, I’m doing exercises with them all the time; the best way is when they don’t realise it’s an ‘exercise’ at all. It’s just a game or a bit of fun you’re having anywhere. Like playing games in the pool.

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Of course, the first games that come to mind are the basic RPG – Jon is a huge D&D fan, and known for bringing a bit of RPG to his productions. Other alternatives are games like Munchkin Quest or Tavern Fame (both are huge favourites in our house).  But if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other options.

Lisa (a fellow GeekMom) recently wrote about the importance of “worldplay” for kids; allowing kids the freedom to create their own world and roles, with no limit to their imagination. This is great, but you can make it even better. Get down with them and say “YES” to them. Let them make the rules and keep saying “YES” (so long as they aren’t showing complete psychopathic tendencies).

And it’s not just games. If your kid is feeling a little anxious about something coming up, have them pretend-play to work out their best/worst case scenarios. Help them ‘hear’ their own reactions and plan out subsequent reactions. I know adults who are prepping conversations like this all the time.

Each of these ideas is bringing out the kids’ creativity. It is telling that inner critic to shut up and give them a chance to grow outside the usual social boundaries. This is a good thing. This teaches them there is a world beyond this one event. That the world does not crash and burn if they make a mistake. That if something knocks them down, they will be okay. They will recover. They will get up swinging, and start creating a new world.

They will be resilient. And they will be marvellous.
This was originally posted over at GeekDad/GeekMom 

 

International Tabletop Day 2016

I like it when ‘big dates’ fall on the weekends – means less time explaining to disinterested teachers and more time focused on another level of education for the Spawnlings.

Seriously, who can’t see the benefits of Tabletop?

30 April is now THE day for some gameplay. So bring out your tablecloth, set up some tunes, and get ready for some sneaky cheeky fun! Here’s our Top 7 planned for the day:

1. Munchkin Quest

This ALWAYS top of the list for spawnlings. It has storytelling; it has weaponry; it has the opportunity to gang up on parents and make their life really difficult. What more could you want?


2. Zeus on the Loose

We bought this almost two years ago but never came around to play it yet. However, recent school holidays gave us the opportunity and we love it! I’ll be putting up a review after the weekend, but short version: you take it in turn adding numbers to the pile to reach 100. There are Greek Gods who will help you along the way because who ever hits 100 scores the point. Mathematics and strategy in a card game = more fun than you’d think!

3. Settlers of Catan

I grew up thinking Monopoly was the game to teach you how to negotiate. I was wrong. So very very wrong.

Catan is probably the most famous geeky tabletop game, known in almost any geeky circle. It is about bartering your resources well enough so you don’t have to rely on the fate of the dice.

Needless to say, I suck at it. But I love it!


4. Pandemic
Not the ideal game for germ-a-phobes. I like this game because it is a team game; everyone works together to defeat the icky diseases breaking out across the world. There is some serious strategy building required, and a great opportunity to work on communication. 

What really makes the game work is the collection of individual roles for each player. Everyone has their own skill/profession to be in the game and EVERYONE has a skill that gives you a good chance of winning.


5. Tavern Fame

Minus the drinking in the bar, this is easily the favourite warm up game in the Lair. It is brilliant as an introduction to RPG and storytelling, giving spawnlings a chance to build some serious Tall Tale talents. Hardest part is allowing each kid to tell their story without the inevitable challengers interrupting.


6. Qwirkle 

Even the 2yo can play this one (with a little help). Great strategy and pattern recognition. It starts friendly, with the shared intent of keeping the game ‘neat’ – but there is always some mongrel who has to mess the neat pattern, and then it descends into a table full of jibes and defensive moves.


7. Too Many Monkeys

Another one 2yo Zaltu loves to play. Simple card strategy, collecting all the numbered monkeys from 1 to 6, avoiding raccoons, elephants, and giraffes. All three Spawnlings were happily playing this for 20mins at the hospital while the doc took my cast off. I keep this one on the side between Zaltu and I, while also playing one of the ‘older’ games with the others. It’s not a ‘baby game’ – I’d peg it around 3-8 years old. 

Plenty of games to fill your day! Remember: the primary objective is to have fun! Put the World Domination on hold for one day, and spend the time getting to know how your fellow gamers think. Show the spawnlings life is not just shoot’em up and count the credits. 

Well, unless your bartering those credits for a cup of tea…

Evil Genius Parent Tool #9 – Special Event Freebies

Every now and then, I receive an invite to some special promotional event. Some new book launch, a celebration at the local comic book store, card game tournaments at the game shop. Whatever the event, if it is geeky enough and of benefit to our ‘world domination plans’, then I’ll drag the whole EG Inc down there. I get a kick out of showing off this “EG Perk” to the spawnlings.

However, sometimes I receive a bonus laugh.

Like the last event we went to. Toys R Us had a Free LEGO Build ‘n’ Take Event for Ninjago.

Whoa, Nellie. I know – FREE LEGO. But don’t rush at me!! I’m talking about an event that has already passed!

Anyway, we turned up at this event with the three spawnlings. It was a pre-registered event (more on that in a minute) and we had registered to the max – all three spawnlings and EG Dad. I sat this one out – this time.

When we turned up to check names off, the sales assistant handed over three sets of LEGO and directed us to the table.

“Uh, excuse me. But there are four of us for the event.”

Stunned look.

“But sir, this is for kids.”

Stunned look back from EG Dad – “Where does it say Kids Only?”

More stunned look – “Well, it’s LEGO.”

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“And?”

“My name is on the list. I like LEGO. There is nothing about this being a Kids Only Event. Gimme my LEGO.”

I almost felt sorry for the woman – clearly she had no idea of her demographic. If she did, she would have known never to stand between ANY LEGO fan and free LEGO. Almost felt sorry…

But that was also when I realised how much fun it was messing with the minds of innocent minion-sales assistants who have no idea of fan-doms and geek merchandise. And thus, I want to share this with ALL THE MINIONS – so that you EG Parents can enjoy in the “messing of minds”. While sharing geeky goodness with the spawnlings, of course.

So how do YOU get an invite to one of these special events?

Normally there are two ways – either you have some sort of connection to the publishing/merchandise gods. OR you are willing to join/follow a few different retail groups. Toys R Us is a great example – sign up to their VIP Club and they will send you out invites to these events around every 3 months. Normally the events are pre-registered on set dates at your local store – they will send you an email with instructions for registration. Sometimes it is LEGO. Sometimes it is some other toy. Be selective – don’t ruin it for genuine geeks by turning up to everything and taking everything just because you think you can. These are opportunities to share new stuff with the spawnlings, and if they like it, follow its lead around the store.

The thing is – if you want to be in the know, you need to be willing to make the connections. Follow bloggers or newsgroups in your interests. GeekMom and GeekDad are two good places to start.

Also, head down to your local gaming store. My favourite is GoodGames – they have regular tournaments in-store and plenty of friendly staff to guide you.

And don’t forget your local comic store – places like Kings Comics make it their business to know all the merch news, especially for big events like Free Comic Book Day.

In the meantime, Australian minions should head over to Toys R Us and check out the upcoming LEGO event:

LEGO Bricktober Make & Take. LEGO City Kayak!

Now remember: Don’t go abusing the power, kiddies. With great power comes great LEGO collections responsibility to share with your spawnlings.

And anyway – I’ve already registered for mine.

Evil Genius Parent Tool #8 – Reading

Do you read bedtime stories with your kids?

You are an Evil Genius Parent, setting your spawnlings up with an unfair advantage and must be stopped!!

Apparently. *shrug* meh

Look, we’ve had many people harping about the benefits of reading

Obvious Man by Wiley

But recently some one let ALL the crazies out of the Hotel.

It started a couple of weeks ago when I read a Canadian article about a bus company banning books on school buses. I shit you not. I was all ready to write an article about the danger of books and so glad that the world was realising this finally!

Books as weapons

I mean, seriously? We can’t possibly put seat belts on buses, but BOOKS!! BOOKS!! READING IS THE WEAPON OF THE EVIL GENIUS TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!! (So you finally caught on).

And then I wake up to this news: A British Academic thinks that reading bedtime stories to your children gives them an unfair advantage over other children, and must be considered in your moral values as a parent.

Hell yeah, it’s an advantage!! That’s the whole fracking point of Evil Genius Parenting! To give your kids as many advantages as possible! If they are unfair like this, then BONUS POINTS!

But what about the parents who read for quality time with their kids? Or for the opportunity to share some cultural heritage with the next generation? Or… now sit down for this… what about the parents and kids who actually like to read?

SUCKERS!! Don’t you realise that parenting is all about the race to have the best cardboard cut-out at graduation?!?

Of course, Mr Swift back-peddled heavily after this comment – he doesn’t want to throw away reading with kids (though I would LOVE to see Mem Fox go all Possum Magic on his professor cap for that one).

Instead, he wants you to seriously consider the impact your reading is having on your child’s future and the impact on all kids who aren’t as lucky as yours. Because, y’know, your parenting should be dictated by every other child AND NOT the one in your actual care.

*sigh*

Seriously folks, go read a book to your kids. If we truly want our spawnlings to take over the world (and probably save it too) then we need to lift up the quality of their lives – not drag them down to mundane commonality. Inspire them to want more. Ride the dragons through their imaginations and instead chain the boring Knights of Conservatism to their Cliffs of Same. It is not merely intellect that carries the next generation forward – it is their imagination and their compassion.

And they are going to find more of that in bedtime stories than anywhere else.

Evil Genius Parent Tool #7 – The Sofa

Sofa. Couch. Lounge. Apparently there are subtle differences to distinguish between the three, but I don’t care. I’m calling it a sofa today.

Wait. Nope. I’m wrong again. 20mth old Zaltu, Goddess of Mischief and general toddler-behaviour, has just corrected me again. It’s the Bat Cave.

  

And yes, these are all the toys I found stuffed deep within the Cave. Took her all of 10mins.  So proud.

Of course, I could take credit for this but I’m not into that level of bullshit. I find it far more entertaining sharing all the information and watching the subsequent anarchy as the egos crash and burn around us, like Ancient Rome. Yeah, I have no problem being compared to Nero.

So, instructions. Care of How To Be A Dad (who probably stole it from someone else, but that’s not my burden):

  
I am yet to try the advanced level – going to need another sofa first. But if you’re a show-off or need to suck up to your kids, you can find extra tips at Dad Labs. Seriously. Show ponies. 

And now I’m back to playing Catwoman to Zaltu’s Batgirl. Could be worse (yeah , I’m looking at you Poison Ivy).

And the winner is… (Matthew Reilly’s Hover Car Racer)

You had us at “TARDIS technology”.

This ended up being one of the easiest decisions ever made.

Seriously though, big kudos to the participants. We had colour. We had speed. We even had a tribute to Daft Punk.

So we nabbed a few bonus EG trinkets to send out to each of the participants. Pictures will be shared on Facebook later this week.

But there is one winner – and these guys knew their audience.

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Feast your eyes on … THE THUNDER TARD!!

It has TARDIS technology!

It is zippy!!

It harks back to Thunderbirds!!

And it has coffee!! A machine made for my own sleep-deprived soul…

Congratulations to the winners over in the Devereaux Bunch!! The spawnlings were totally won over as soon as you mentioned the TARDIS.

And a big congratulations and thank you to all the participants. I have plenty of new designs for my future hover car racers.