A Neighborly Day

With Commentary

Hedda Sharapan

March 20 is Fred Rogers’ birthday. We’ve always celebrated the day by wearing a sweater – and doing something neighborly. Maybe you’d like to join in that tradition, too.

I thought you might like to know why wearing a sweater became such a signature part of the Neighborhood program, because some of those reasons are connected to your work with children. 

Fred started the tradition of putting on a sweater on his first Neighborhood program. The program aired at 5 p.m., and the premise was that Mister Rogers was stopping by his “television house” on his way home from work to have a “visit” with his “television neighbors.” Changing from his work clothes to a sweater and sneakers helped set the tone for their relaxing time together. In your own way, you, too, create a welcoming atmosphere that lets children know you’re glad to see them at the beginning of your day with them.

Fred also understood the importance of starting with a ritual. He changed to his sweater, sang the same welcoming song and sat on the bench to change to his sneakers. This predicatability offered a sense of security. Through your rituals and routines, you’re offering that to children, too. 

As you can hear on this Neighborhood video, there was another, more personal reason why Fred wore those sweaters. When I watched it, I found a new appreciation for what “things” mean to children -- and to all of us. 

The way Fred talked about his mother’s sweaters isn’t so different from the way children use “transition objects.” Those “things” (things that they can touch, smell, see and hold) help children feel connected to their loved ones, even when they’re apart. That’s like the stories I have heard about some children who sleep better when they have some small item from their mother. Those personal things can be very comforting. 

Maybe it’s not so surprising, then, that in this long, cold winter, I find myself reaching for the scarf my mother, who died over ten years ago, knitted for me. I hear that from some of my friends, too. One wears her mother’s coat. Another wears his father’s sweatshirt. We all are holding on to those “things” to feel connected to those important people in our lives and to remind us of who they were and how they lived their lives.

So if putting on some “thing,” like a sweater, is a way of connecting us with Fred and honoring him, maybe it can also remind us of Fred’s kindness – and help us think of doing something kind and “neighborly” as a way of celebrating his life. 

 

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