Mo Willems

Parents everywhere have had their hands full these past couple of weeks, looking for things to keep their young ones occupied while providing enriching opportunities for them as well.

Mo Willems, education artist-in-residence at the Kennedy Center, is here to help.

Last week, the Emmy Awardwinning writer and New York Times best-selling author and illustrator started an online video series, inviting youngsters to virtually join him in his studio for a daily Lunch Doodle.

Each day at 1 p.m., Willems will appear on his official page at the Kennedy Center website and encourage and teach those watching the art of the doodle.

Willems said he knew that he wanted to do something, and since he was stuck at home, he thought he would offer an inside look at his studio and pitched the idea of drawing together with whoever wanted to watch, from home.

“When I became the Kennedy Center education artist in residence, I didn’t realize the most impactful word in that title would be ‘residence,’” said Willems. “With millions of learners attempting to grow and educate themselves in new circumstances, I have decided to invite everyone into my studio once a day for the next few weeks. Grab some paper and pencils, pens, or crayons. We are going to doodle together and explore ways of writing and making.”

For the next few weeks, every weekday a video will drop and it will feature Willems showing viewers something from his collection, then learning how to draw one of his characters or doing some abstract art together. He also will be answering questions on some.

The first Lunch Doodle, which took place on March 15, had more than 3 million views and the numbers have been rising every day.

“The reaction was enormous,” said David Kilpatrick, the Kennedy Center’s director of education programs and productions, who has been working closely with Willems on the Lunch Doodle series. “I think Mo knew when he was doing it, that this was coming at a time when parents and kids who were suddenly at home, would really appreciate it. We certainly didn’t think the response would be this overwhelming.”

As the Kennedy Center’s first-ever education artist-in-residence, Willems has certainly been earning high marks. His first year has included the world premiere orchestral rendition of “Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs” with music composed by Ben Folds for the National Symphony Orchestra; the five–time Helen Hayes Award nominated “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical!)”; and this past summer’s Mo Willems & the Storytime All-Stars Present: Don’t Let the Pigeon Do Storytime!, a comedic celebration of reading.

The online video series is just the latest effort that has shown the value of adding Willems in the position.

“It’s been a bright spot in a really dark time,” Kilpatrick said. “It seems to have hit at a critical time when more than half of kids are out of school. The timing was right for this to be embraced so enthusiastically. These have enabled us to reach out and help the millions of students who are stuck at home be creative for a while.”

Kilpatrick and Willems both understand this is a critical time in our country, and there’s so much unknown about what the immediate future of education is, and this is a way to get kids thinking creatively for a bit each day.

“To have an author-illustrator like Mo focus on work for young people, spending time with them in a really reassuring way, doing participatory drawing and doodling, which can exist across the digital divide, is just amazing,” Kilpatrick said. “Any time you can use this time of social distancing to have some type of collective art-making experience, you’re giving something back.”

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