Wolf Trap Teaching Artists: Bringing the Arts Into the Classroom

Teaching Artist Laura Schandelmeier shares Wolf Trap techniques 
with Ms. Kumar and her class.
May 09, 2017

Some songs stay with you all your life. They may be simple, but they are unforgettable. Paige Hernandez starts singing one she learned more than 30 years ago, when she was a 4-year-old in a Baltimore Head Start classroom:

“Friends, friends, 1, 2, 3
All my friends are here with me…”

It’s a catchy tune, designed to put children at ease and get them in the frame of mind to work together. Hernandez learned it from the man who wrote it, John “Kinderman” Taylor. A singer, songwriter, musician, dancer, and actor, Taylor was one of the first Wolf Trap Teaching Artists, having been with the program since its inception in 1981. He had come to Paige’s classroom both to engage and to educate young minds.

Black-and-white photo of Kinderman with children, ca. 1980s

You’re my friend!: Kinderman has been integrating the arts into Wolf Trap classrooms since 1981.

The two aims go hand in hand. Research shows that children learn better when they are interacting with the lesson and enjoying themselves. High-quality arts education measurably improves student outcomes, boosting retention and increasing student achievement. And because most brain development occurs before a child starts kindergarten, that’s where Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts focuses its efforts, preparing teachers with first-rate arts-integrated teaching strategies and customized, in-classroom professional development.

Thanks to Kinderman and other teachers who opened Hernandez’s mind to the power of the arts, she set out on a path that ultimately led her back to where she started. Now she’s a performer whose work fuses theater, hip-hop, dance — and education. For a dozen years, she too has been a Wolf Trap Teaching Artist. At Institute gatherings, she reconnects with Kinderman, who at 81 has now been a Teaching Artist for 36 years.

Selfie of Kinderman and Hernandez

Kinderman and Hernandez reconnect at a Wolf Trap networking event.

Over the years, Hernandez and other Teaching Artists have conducted Institute residencies in the classrooms of thousands of early childhood educators, including Kalpana Kumar Sharma, at Brightwood Education Campus, a public school in Washington, D.C. Ms. Kumar credits Wolf Trap Teaching Artists with showing her how to integrate the arts into her curricula. “My whole teaching style has been transformed,” she says. “I loved dancing and music, but I didn’t really know how to use it in an early childhood classroom. Now I do.”

By incorporating Wolf Trap strategies into her teaching throughout her career, Ms. Kumar has directly impacted hundreds of children. And by sharing these strategies with other early childhood educators she mentors, she extends her impact beyond her own classroom.

And Ms. Kumar is just one teacher. Wolf Trap Institute multiplies its influence through affiliate programs across the nation. All told, the Institute reaches more than 75,000 children, teachers, parents, and caregivers a year.

That’s a lot of learning. That’s a lot of friends.