Anyone who knows me knows that, despite having been off the air since 2001, Mr. Fred Rogers, (of the esteemed Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to those of us who remember), still holds a place of honor in my family. He is a native of Latrobe, PA, which is a mere 40 miles from the greatest place on earth (Pittsburgh, PA for my fellow Pirates and Steelers fans). My daughter has watched every episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, despite having been born five years after the last show aired. I’m continually fascinated by how relevant his topics continue to be. I still vividly remember Mr. Rogers’ trip to the crayon factory. I remember what he had to say about divorce, getting a new sibling, moving to a new town.
We recently took a trip to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to see Mr. Rogers’ sweater, sneakers and puppet friends from the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe”. I took pictures of every one of those puppets, and will never forget my family’s excitement at seeing them or the feeling I had of genuine happiness as I looked into the eyes of Lady Elaine Fairchilde. As we approach what would have been Rogers’ 88th birthday (3/20/28), I am reminded of the legacy he left behind and am in awe of its continued influence on the work of early childhood education.
“The essential is invisible to the eye”.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
For many years, this quote from The Little Prince sat on the desk of Fred Rogers. It currently sits on mine as well: as a reminder that what I teach as “best practice” to preschool providers every day is in fact, easier felt than seen. For those like me, who tend to be “thinkers” rather than “feelers” first and foremost, this can be a tough pill to swallow. In this common-core, data-driven world, the scientist in me has a very strong need to prove that what kids truly need is “invisible to the eye.”
As New York State enters into a partnership with the Center on Social Emotional Foundations in Early Learning (CSEFEL) to implement the Pyramid Model in New York State preschools, I find myself acknowledging the parallels between a childhood favorite and the foundation upon which we strive to build social emotional supports for preschool students. I am reminded of how, at the core of all we do to encourage student growth in preschool, a foundation is built upon “nurturing and responsive relationships” csefel.vanderbilt.edu. I wonder if, as far back as 1951, Mr. Rogers was onto something.
We now know that Mr. Rogers’ hunch is based in tangible, observable, science. In 2004, Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child stated in its first working paper, “relationships are the ‘active ingredients’ of the environment’s influence on healthy human development.” In this 2015 working paper on children’s resilience, the center again references its initial message: “Decades of research in the behavioral and social sciences have produced a rich knowledge base (about resilience). … The single most common finding is that children who end up doing well have had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.”
What does that mean for those of us in public education? We have so many daunting tasks upon us. Is it possible that the most imperative is to foster that which is essential to our students; authentic, genuine, meaningful, and supportive relationships? For anyone like me, who needs to lead with her head rather than her heart when it comes to making decisions that impact kids, it helps to be reminded of the science behind why this is essential. We even have longitudinal data that tells us that what makes children successful adults is being surrounded by nurturing, responsive adults as a child. I think Mr. Rogers said it best:
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
He did it through the medium of television. We have the luxury of 10 months with the students in front of us every day. As we celebrate what would have been Mr. Rogers’ “Happy 88th”, I encourage all you to do what you can to make every meeting count.
- Li, Junlei (2015). The Simple Interactions That Make Learning Possible. Blog Post. Retrieved from http://remakelearning.org/blog/2016/01/06/the-simple-human-interactions-that-make-learning-possible/
- Huckabee, Tyler (2015). 10 Mister Rogers Quotes You Need To Read. Blog Post. Retrieved from http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/10-mr-rogers-quotes-you-need-read#Svb5AUs501YDdM78.99