As a teacher and coach, Keren Gudeman spent lots of time observing how children and parents interact, but becoming a mother herself ignited a curiosity about parenting that would lead her down an unexpected path.
“I wanted to know how people think about being a parent and shaping family culture,” says Gudeman, who has a master’s degree in psychology and nearly 15 years of experience as an educator and athletic instructor. She did plenty of research, but it wasn’t until her friend Jen Scott, an actor and improv instructor, persuaded her to take an improv class at the Brave New Workshop that Gudeman was able to translate her insights in to action.
“I had never explored theater and I didn’t know about this amazing secret,” she says. “The training in improv bled into my everyday life.”
Gudeman and Scott teamed up to launch Improv Parenting in 2016, a parenting-education group that offers workshops and classes for kids and adults, grounded in improv fundamentals like being in the moment, actively listening and saying “yes, and” to foster open communication and trust. The goal, says Gudeman, is to encourage participants to embrace playfulness and creativity while setting up clear boundaries and expectations for their relationships.
At a recent 90-minute free workshop at the Walker Public Library, adults and kids ages 5 to 10 learned novel ways to turn common sticking points like getting dressed in the morning into opportunities for laughter and learning. Rather than nagging or issuing ultimatums, parents practiced giving voice to an inanimate object and embodying a character, like a robot or superhero, as a way to de-escalate a situation.
“It breaks the tension to bring in something off the chart,” says Kavitha Bernet, a mother of three who has attended classes individually and with her sons Nick, 9, and Chris, 6. “It’s really fun,” says Nick. “Class is filled with lots of humor and fun games; I have fun and I’m pretty sure my mom has fun, too.”
For parents who have a hard time loosening up, Gudeman says that the classes are a judgement-free zone. “Kids are so tuned in to imagination; it’s truly the language they speak,” she says. “There’s an incredibly deep and rich connection you can build with kids through play.”
In addition to parent-child sessions, Improv Parenting offers child-only classes and creativity-based summer camps for preschoolers through elementary-age children, as well as adult play workshops.
“It’s hard being a parent, but workshops like these remind us to come back to the present,” says Bernet. “Don’t be afraid of the word ‘improv.’ It’s really about being mindful and learning new tools to be a better version of yourself in all of your relationships.”
Gudeman stresses that good parenting isn’t about being perfect 100 percent of the time, and while there is no one-size-fits-all approach, most of us could stand to break out of our routines.
“There are tons of books and blogs out there, and we’re giving people ideas and a space to practice them,” she says. “It’s a community of people sharing values around raising kids who are resilient, emotionally aware and strongly connected with their families and parents.”