Mr. Rogers Was A Genius

Mr. Rogers was a genius.

Seriously.  If you haven’t seen an episode for awhile, spend twenty-eight minutes on PBS Kids and remember what a treasure he was.  I mean, you’ll have to ignore the fact that it seems like everyone is stoned, or has taken some weird kind of medicine that makes people move and sing and talk at half speed.  And you’ll have to get used to the fact that everything is so, well, so simple.  But Mr. Rogers might be just what the doctor ordered for the sickness in our culture, where we inundate children with too much stuff, too much information, and schedules that are too full.

I watched an episode with the boys yesterday, and couldn’t believe the effect it had on them.  I was sure they would be bored.  Everything about the show is so S-L-O-W.  But as they watched, their normally restless bodies stilled, and small grins grew across their faces.  They asked to watch another episode today.

I remembered, of course, the gentle way Mr. Rogers entered his house, exchanging his coat for a sweater and his shoes for sneakers.  But as I watched it yesterday, it occurred to me just how much our children long for ritual – both large and small.  Half of the chaos in our house is because we haven’t spent the time to establish the small rituals of how to clean up your space after you eat, where to put a book when you are not reading it, and what to do on Saturday night so that you’re not screaming at each other trying to get out the door on Sunday morning.

I remembered, of course, Mr. Rogers’ invitation: Won’t you be my neighbor? But as I watched yesterday, it sounded kind of radical.  I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.  Think about what it would mean for a child, every child, to know that they are welcome members of our community.  What it would mean to invite them to be neighbors, to be neighborly.

I remembered, of course, taking the trolly to the land of Make Believe.  What I didn’t remember is that nearly half of the show is spent playing make believe with a few puppets and goofy set.  No academic skills were being taught.  No one was getting ahead of anyone else by watching it.  It was a big waste of time. Unless of course you believe that children are not in a race to get ahead, become insatiable consumers, or become adults.

What I didn’t remember was the emphasis of social skills.  Some of you may have read my post on social stories, stories written to help children, especially those on the Austism spectrum, manage feelings and social situations that often overwhelm them.  Well, Mr. Rogers is one big social story.  In each episode, he gently and clearly explains how to handle being angry, or why people do what they do at restaurants, or how to introduce yourself to someone new.  If there is a box set of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, we will be getting it.

Fred Rogers was a man who understood and respected children in ways I rarely see anymore.  Maybe he wasn’t a genius; maybe he was a saint.


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  • I loathed Mr. Rogers when my daughter was small. She loved him. I would grind my teeth and go in the other room. The first time I went to my son’s wrestling match I was totally overwhelmed. I was high up in the bleachers. There were about 10 matches going on at the same time with several people standing around each one of them with clipboards. Kids would scramble around for one minute. Everyone would break up and run to another circle. I had never seen a wrestling match before. My first thought was Mr. Rogers. I want Mr. Rogers to explain this to me. Slow it down to quarter pace and say, This is the door. We walk through the door and sit down. These are bleachers. We are …. I finally understood how kids must see the world. They have not a clue what is happening and it happens very fast with no explanation.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Oh my gosh, Sharon, that’s exactly it. Exactly. Better than I said it, thank you. We forget what it’s like to see the world from three feet off the floor.

  • Nancy Mc

    Great post, Tara!
    Have you seen the terrific PBS Remix video of Mr. Roger’s “Garden of Your Mind”?
    Love it!

    Also, there was an Esquire magazine about him years ago that is so tremendous:

    It’s a bit long, but the story on p. 2 about the little boy with cerebral palsy is unforgettable. I highly recommend it.

    When I was in college, Mr. Rogers lived in a building on one side of our campus, and the TV studio where he worked was on the other side of campus, so sometimes we’d see him walking across. A legend.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Oh my goodness, Nancy. Thank you for these links. What a gift he was. I can’t get over what it means that a man like him could no longer get on TV. Makes me sad for my kids.

  • Annette Bannister

    Thank you so much for reminding me that children are “not in a race to get ahead.” Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by my job as a parent to prepare them for “the real world.” I need to relax and enjoy the present with them.

    • Tara Edelschick

      I feel overwhelmed by that pressure as well. That’s why we need to keep reminding each other what matters.

  • Toryshane

    Thank you for this article. I am a father of a two year old son who is, shall we say All Boy when it comes to his desire to get into mischief. He loves to watch Sesame Street (Though we do limit his Television time greatly, so dont think that we let the Television raise our son). But my one criticism of Sesame Street is that the show seems to focus so much on being fast paced in everything, especially Elmo’s worl. From the start to the end the show is filled with manic music, fast paced action, and rapidly moving animation sequences. Not bad in and of itself but we have been looking for something to give him an entertaining but slower paced alternative. And for some reason, despite the fact that I grew up with Mister Rogers I just never thought about him, Now I have an alternative for times when a slower pace of entertainment is needed.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Your welcome, Tory. Thanks for writing.

  • I’m going to share this link with someone I know who has a speedy kid in her life. Thanks for the tip!

  • Mr. Rogers was a great American. Haven’t read the article but it probably notes that he was an ordained Presbyterian pastor.

  • Judy

    He surely was. We still have many records that our kids loved to listen to. Must get them onto cds soon. Navy Seal, Minister and lover of children, all rolled up into a kind gentle man.