Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from Mister Rogers
Here are some of Fred Rogers’ “life lessons” for our everyday work with children:
Accept people as they are
When Fred opened each program with his song, “Won’t you be my neighbor?,” it was an invitation to all of us, no matter who we are, what we look like, what we can or cannot do, whether we’ve had a good or tough day.
Think about how important your greeting is to each child (and parent or grandparent). It means so much to a child to start the day feeling welcomed, especially if it hasn’t been a beautiful day in his or her neighborhood.
Look and listen carefully
Fred created the Neighborhood series with an intentionally slow and deliberate pace so that children had time to look and listen carefully. There were many close-ups, few camera changes…and lots of silence.
I know you’re under a great deal of pressure to “teach” children, but think about what it can mean when you slow down the pace, letting children take the time to look and listen – to digest and integrate.
We all have feelings
Fred was especially known for his focus on emotional development. On the program he often talked, sang and created Make-Believe stories about feelings – like feeling jealous, sad or angry…feeling proud or joyful. He was helping children know that feelings are natural and normal, and what matters most is what we DO with those feelings and that “Whatever is mentionable can be more manageable.”
It’s a real gift to children to talk about times when you felt sad or jealous or angry or proud. You’re letting them know feelings are part of being human and that it helps to talk about them. You have many ways to let children know that you care about their feelings – and that you will help them find ways to deal with those feelings.
Wonder about things
Do you remember the way Fred narrated the factory videos, asking about the machines and the process? And the way he always asked questions of his guests? And the way he would follow up after the Make-Believe puppet story, asking “I wonder what will happen next”? He was modeling being curious. He even sang about how important that was -- “…did you know when you wonder you’re learning?”
I love hearing teachers ask open-ended questions, like “I wonder what would happen if…” Remember that you don’t need answers to all the questions. When you nurture children’s curiosity, they’ll be interested in learning – by noticing, predicting, exploring, experimenting. Their discoveries might open your eyes, too, to some fascinating things about our world!
Haircuts don’t hurt
It’s hard for us to remember things that frightened us when we were children – before we had much experience in the world and before we were capable of logical thinking. Can I go down the drain along with the water? Do the barber’s scissors cut more than hair? Fred let children know their concerns are normal. He understood that the world looks different through the eyes of a child.
Children really do need your help until they’re better able to understand about the world. Their concerns and fears, whether they’re imagined or seemingly trivial, are very real to them. Your sensitivity and empathy can go a long way towards helping them feel safe until they, little by little, come to have a better grasp on reality, cause and effect, and other basic principles of our world.
Teach by example
At the beginning of each program, Fred hung up his jacket in the closet. He was always careful to put away the craft materials he used. He spoke kindly and politely to everyone, saying “thank you” and “please.” He fed the fish every day. He consistently and constantly modeled being responsible and neighborly, being appreciative and respectful of everyone…all living creatures.
One of Fred’s favorite quotes was the Quaker saying, “Attitudes are caught, not taught.” Children catch the attitudes, values and beliefs of the people who care about them. That’s why it’s important for children to see adults in their lives being responsible, kind and polite, disciplined, persistent in working on a problem, able to say “I’m sorry” and willing to work on mistakes. Those life lessons are contagious!
In the 900 programs in the Neighborhood series, there were times when Fred wasn’t at his very best. Some episodes are better than others. Sometimes Fred was a bit awkward or clumsy. But Fred left those moments in. He wanted children to know that life is not about being perfect -- it’s about giving our honest self and doing the best we can at the time.
One of Fred’s most important life lessons was that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. What a gift for all of us, no matter how young or old we are!
Thank you for being our neighbor!
P.S. We each have our own list of “life lessons” that we’ve learned from Fred Rogers. I’d love to hear from you about what’s on your list.