Family Shows, Visiting Artist

From 1990 to 1992, Ken was an assistant professor at the Nome campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he taught over telephone, and traveled regularly to Native villages to meet students. Each week in Nome, as part of his university service, Ken visited a fifth grade class at the local elementary school, and a language arts class at the local high school. Similarly, when he traveled to meet with his village students, he visited the village schools, where he shared writing exercises and fiddle music with kindergarteners as well as high-schoolers.

More than thirty years later, now having visited over 250 schools in 35 states, Ken has found what worked with children in rural Alaska works virtually everywhere. Ken continues to share his talents with a wide range of ages, and is effective in urban, suburban, and rural settings. Depending on the community, he'll work with at-risk, general, or gifted-and-talented students.

He can bring an accompanist, or full band, and offers main stage children's or family shows, as well as education programs. He works in theaters of up to 2,000 seats, and, even in the larger halls, his program is interactive; there's good reason Angela Seals, Program Manager of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, has compared Ken to Mr. Fred Rogers. Because of Ken's teaching background, he also excels in residency settings, where he'll visit schools, whether to meet with individual classes, or with groups in a library or theater space. While his specialty is writing—and this work is all about literacy and involves fundamental curriculum markers—his programs also include lessons in geography, math, critical thinking, and music. Indeed, Ken is sometimes invited to schools to work with a strings program, and in those settings the writing is the secondary discipline.

When Ken is asked to lead professional development sessions or in-service programs for teachers, attendees invariably tell him how pleased they are to have learned practical lessons to take back to the classroom. Any teacher paying attention during one of Ken's outreach sessions can follow up with several in-class writing assignments. He offers separate study guides for primary students, elementary students, middle-schoolers, as well as for high-schoolers. It's one more detail that reflects that he fully understands the need to shape his visit to a particular group.

To read quotes about Ken Waldman's work in schools or about his kids' shows, go right here.

To see videos of Ken's work in elementary school settings and to read the kinds of poems he might write for a school residency (and to find links to view those four study guides), go here and scroll down. Better is to read a few more lines, then click on Ken's infamous big bag trick, which is below on the left and is an informal studio version (so lacks the shrieks of delight from students). But at least it gives a rough idea of what Ken does with younger audiences and helps a viewer understand how Ken manages to engage hundreds of elementary students in the setting documented beside it on the right--that's a short snippet from a school-wide assembly at North Elementary in Mountain Home, Idaho, part of a three-day residency in April 2017 sponsored by the Arts Council there. The residency included visits to two elementary schools, a senior center, and several public events. The assembly here preceded visits to individual classes, and, taken out of context, this looks absurd: how did he get all those kids to pay attention in a gymnasium where it seems they can barely hear the fiddle? Yes, Ken has his tricks, starting with that big bag of his--and there's more to the bag trick than he shows in the video. Ken has found that after an assembly like this students are especially ready for Ken's classroom lessons on writing, music, and critical thinking.