"No matter what our particular job, especially in our world today, we all are called to tikkun olam, repairers of creation." He went on: "Thank you for whatever you do, wherever you are, to bring joy and light and hope an faith and pardon and love to your neighbor and to yourself."
As Mr. Rogers addressed his young audience, he was also modeling for adults how to be present with children, bringing honesty, patience, and curiosity into their relationship. He was demonstrating the importance of prioritizing children's emotional experience, making time for their questions, acknowledging their fears, and offering a consistent message of comfort and hope.
A year later, the United States was embroiled in war with Iraq and Afghanistan. This time he addressed parents directly: "I know how tough it is, some days, to look with hope and confidence on the months and year ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are. And what's more, I am so grateful to you for helping the children in your life know that you will do everything you can to keep them safe and to help them express their feelings in many different neighborhoods."
Fred Rogers spoke to us as children about the Viet Nam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and he can guide us now, if we study his prescient words. But clearly his communication skills exceeded his chosen words; he was speaking to children with the camera at eye level, in a kind, approachable and reassuring tone. He was focused and clear, doing one thing at a time, as he won their trust and attention.
As we begin to conduct much of our life on screen, we have a leader in Mr. Rogers. Who could have imagined that his beloved television program would find new purpose during a worldwide pandemic twenty years after he had filmed his last episode. We have much to study in how he was able to break through the screen to connect in the deepest way with the open hearts of young children. He was able to create an intimacy, a trusted bond. Whether you are a teacher reaching out virtually or a multi-tasking parent, you can learn from paying close attention to his ability to reach children.
Luckily for us, children today can still experience Mr. Rogers live on their computer or tablet screen. They can watch five new half hour episodes every other Monday at the Mr. Rogers' Foundation website. While you will no doubt find that some aspects of the show are dated - the dial phone, the clothing styles, the slower pace - you will also notice his timeless personal quality of unhurried presence and his remarkable ability to make a child feel seen. Fred Rogers continues to reach children through the screen to create the intimacy of a one-to-one relationship that children crave..and his shows are filled with both realism and imagination, puppetry and original music.
Mr. Rogers' deeply understood the power of music. His choice of song subjects are highly relevant to the lives of young children. Here are a few sample titles: You Are My Friend, I Like You Just The Way You Are, Won't You Be My Neighbor, Sometimes Isn't Always, There Are Many Ways To Say I Love You. A trained pianist and skilled musician, Mr. Rogers wrote and played all of the music for Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. As he sings, his voice soothes as he creates music that is filled with short repeating phrases. Progressions flow easily, allowing him to emphasize chosen words, such as "friend." Children respond immediately. You can still create a playlist of his many songs which are available on Spotify.
I know what it feels like to love Mr. Rogers first hand. He was able to create a relationship with millions of children, including me. As I remember, it was just us, as if during every show, he were speaking directly to me. He created a relaxing experience for me in my living room, as if her were inviting me over, just to talk, saying "You'll have things you'll want to talk about. I will too." Looking back, I can see that I was responding to his voice, the music, and the realistic questions and concerns that he raised. He was talking to children's intelligence about what we were thinking about.
For many years this was a private memory, but in 2018, I attended a conference for the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington DC where I heard a moving talk by Mr. Rogers' Foundation former co-director, Junlei Li. During the question and answer session, teachers in the audience stood to share their own memories into the microphone with over 500 attendees. Some were moved to tears as they recalled the impact of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on their inner worlds, as they struggled to come to terms with divorce and racism in their young lives. In raising topics that no one else did, they shared that Mr. Rogers had created a space for their feelings that allowed healing to begin. And they never forgot.
If anyone can guide us now about how to reach children during this unprecedented time, it is Mr. Rogers.
"At many times, throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy turvy. It's not the ever-present smile that will help them feel secure. It's knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world turns right side up again." - Fred Rogers
WATCH FIVE NEW EPISODES THE FIRST AND THIRD MONDAYS
OF EACH MONTH AT HTTPS://WWW.MISTERROGERS.ORG/WATCH