Research Summary

Improvisational theater games for children in park interpretation

Improvisational Theater Games a Success at Banff National Park

Journal of Interpretation Research

Interpreters at Banff National Park have begun using improvisational theater games in an effort to boost the number and quality of interpretive programs for youth in the park. The games are designed to encourage groups of children to work together to solve problems creatively, interactively, and spontaneously. The researchers evaluated kids’ enjoyment and perceived learning after participating in interpretive programs that featured the improvisational theater activities.

About 130 children, ranging in age from 4 to 14, completed a short open-ended evaluation form after participating in an interpretive program. The form included questions about which activities they enjoyed most and least, questions about which activities helped them learn the most and least, and several other questions. The two-hour interpretive program was offered at one of Banff National Park’s campgrounds during the summer. Most of the program consisted of improvisational theater games, but it also included group activities, a nature walk, and an interpretive talk. The content of the interpretive program varied daily depending on the weather and the number of participants. As a result, all of the survey respondents did not experience the same mix of activities.

The results indicate that kids were most likely to name improvisational theater games as their favorite part of the program. The researchers explain that kids listed “having fun, running around, being silly, being creative, undertaking challenges, entertaining each other, and taking part in something new” as their most frequent reasons for enjoying the improvisational games. However, the kids rated the traditional nature walk and interpretive talk higher for perceived learning. (The researchers did not measure learning, but only asked about the participants’ perceptions of how much they learned.)

The children were able to name specific concepts they had learned about Banff National Park. Natural history was the most commonly mentioned topic, which is consistent with the goals of the interpretive program. Based on these results, the authors conclude that “incorporating improvisation games into interpretive programs can contribute to enjoyment and perceived learning of children. Sensory awareness, physical involvement, collaboration, creativity, and guided interaction helped increase enjoyment and perceived learning.”

The authors note that further study could help address some of this study’s limitations, including the small sample size, the reliance on parents to transcribe young children’s ideas, and program variability. Further research could also help clarify effects on children of different ages, compare effects of different types of dramatic activities, and explore the long-term effects of the program.

The Bottom Line

Although many interpretive programs are better suited to adults, improvisational theater games offer an interpretive approach that is developmentally appropriate for kids. This study suggests that kids find these types of games engaging, and the games appear to contribute to learning. More research is necessary to confirm these results and better understand the specifics of how improvisational theater games can be used effectively to build knowledge.