Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, would not like my title. He wanted them to be referred to as “children” not “kids”. The reasons were obvious. “Kid” refers to a baby goat. It’s all about the words. It’s all about respect and propriety.
But Bob Keeshan, though a TV personality, was much more of a teacher than anything else. His show went on air before I was born, and I don’t remember a moment in my childhood that he wasn’t a part of it. He was like Mr. Rogers, but came into our lives even before Fred Rogers appeared on the scene. I watched the show in the mornings before school started, at a time when I walked all the way across our little Iowa farm town to get to school. He taught me important early lessons in life that were just as impactful as the math and language and social skills I was getting later in the day. Of course, I had to leave home for school before the show ended at 8:00 a,m. But just like school, watching and participating in any part of it was capable of teaching you something good.
A lot of what I was able to do successfully as a teacher is a result of how Captain Kangaroo taught me. He taught me to deliver information in small bites that a young learner with a short attention span could fully digest. He taught me how to capture attention. He did it with puppets, a moose, a bunny, and a dancing bear all thanks to Cosmo Allegretti, a versatile and multi-talented performer. He could focus attention by letting Mr. Moose drop ping pong balls on his head. Whatever came next after the moment of mirth was something I paid attention to.
He also helped us learn science. Mr. Greenjeans in his low-key, deadpan way would teach us about eating vegetables, how farmers cultivate plants, and how to handle various small animals like kittens, rabbits, and even ferrets. Mr. Greenjeans got seriously bitten by a lion cub on camera. He simply stuck his bleeding finger in his pocket and went on with the show. Yes, the man was a veteran in more ways than one. (He was a Marine in WWII.)
And Captain Kangaroo taught me how to share a book. I became very good at reading aloud to students because Bob Keeshan and the crew that worked for him showed me how to read with expression, separate dialogue from narration, and build the excitement with pace and voice modulation. They were experts at reading aloud.
So, I say this with no disrespect, only veneration. “I am a Kangaroo kid.” I watched the show and internalized it. I developed deep pockets like the ones in Bob Keeshan’s jacket that gave him the name Captain Kangaroo, and I stored many treasures from the Treasure House there that I would later share with my students.