Bringing Fred Rogers’ Curriculum to Today’s Parents

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I learned an important lesson early in life, in front of the television. I was a devoted fan of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and his comforting voice and his ability to help me understand confusing feelings and make me feel special were a wonderful foundation—and the spark of a future career. I was so taken by Mister Rogers that when I finally met him, at a dinner in his honor, I was utterly tongue-tied. Even then, he made me feel good when, after a long Mister Rogers pause, he asked, in no particular hurry, “What is your name?”

The meeting would be the first of many. I eventually emulated his steps with a degree in developmental psychology and created Blue’s Clues, Super Why, and now Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

I was a devoted fan of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and his comforting voice and his ability to help me understand confusing feelings and make me feel special were a wonderful foundation—and the spark of a future career.

In creating Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, I set out to honor Fred Rogers’ legacy by bringing it forward via a new generation of viewers.  My vision was to focus on prosocial development using Fred’s 40- year-old curriculum as the foundation for the series.  More specifically, in working with the Fred Rogers Company, we wanted to tell stories that had characters express their feelings in a way that hadn’t been done on television for preschoolers.

I’ll always remember when I heard Fred say,

 “We all need to know that feelings are natural. Everyone feels angry, sad, happy, or frightened sometimes. When children are small, they often have trouble understanding what they feel. They may not have learned the meaning of words such as ‘angry,’ ‘glad,’ or ‘sad.’ They learn to understand what these words mean by watching the way people around them express their feelings and by hearing a trusted grownup name those feelings.”

In each episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, we are on an emotional journey with our 4 -year-old main character, Daniel Tiger.  When Daniel feels mad, we show it on his face with scrunched up eyes, clenched fists, some stomping feet.  We also label the feeling as mad and how he just wants to ROAR!!

Mom helps him out by giving him a strategy to use when he is feeling mad.  “When you feel so mad you want to ROAR, take a deep breath and count to four. 1, 2, 3, 4.”  Mom makes sure to tell Daniel that it is okay to feel mad and it’s okay to get the mad out by roaring.  But then he needs to calm down by taking a deep breath and counting to four. Daniel may still feel angry, but by being calm, he can ask for help to solve his problem.

We are proud of this pair of episodes because we heed Fred’s advice when he said,

Talking about feelings has a way of making those feelings more acceptable, and children need to know that having a wide range of feelings is part of being human. But adults also need to tell children what they do with those feelings – particularly with strong ones like sadness and anger. When we talk about letting those feelings out in acceptable ways, we can help children learn that all feelings are not only mentionable but manageable, too.”

In creating these episodes, we paid special attention to show many different characters in situations that made them feel angry, including the adults, and then show them use the strategy to calm down. We also honor Fred’s iconic song, “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” that was, of course, the inspiration for the episode!

Throughout the 40-episode series, we tackle serious feelings such as disappointment, sadness, fear, jealousy, and frustration. We have carefully crafted and researched strategies for life’s little lessons as we hope to give preschoolers and parents tools to talk about such feelings. The physical and emotional benefits of such are immeasurable. Talk about such a good feeling to know you’re alive!

You can watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on your local PBS station and online. The accompanying website also features interactive content for preschoolers, like games that help kids build skills covered in the series, along with online resources for parents, caregivers, and teachers.

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