Fred Rogers was a constant in my early childhood on the PBS stalwart Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
How many times did I watch him pull on his cardigan and lace up his sneakers, then take us on that magical trolley ride to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe? More than I can possibly count.
Mister Rogers taught scores of children through characters like King Friday, Queen Sara, X the Owl, and Prince Tuesday—and the lessons stayed with us by virtue of their simplicity. At the heart of every episode was a gentle theme of kindness and love—showing it, valuing it, sharing it.
The stories he used to illustrate those virtues weren’t flashy or particularly clever. There wasn’t any grown-up humor intended to keep the adults in the room snickering. Special effects were limited to a handful of puppets.
It was brilliant.
These days, I’m raising children of my own in a world rife with division and aching for the love Mister Rogers’ characters and lessons embodied.
My kids have never seen Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. They love the PBS animated spinoff Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (and its genius short songs that teach simple strategies for dealing with feelings), but good ol’ faithful Fred? They don’t know him like I did.
That’s changing this week.
PBS is airing episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood immediately after the Daniel Tiger episodes they inspired. We’ll see Daniel struggling to understand why his blue goldfish died—then hear the gentle, honest explanation from the master of feelings himself.
I’m setting my DVR for all five episodes.
While the world around them argues over politics, public policy, and parenting ad nauseam, I want my kids to bypass bitterness and cruelty that’s so easy to get lost in—and soak up a lifetime supply of kindness and love instead. I hope they grow up feeling comfortable expressing their feelings. I yearn for them to realize their individual value, just the way they are.
My husband and I are doing our best to teach these things to the young lives we’ve been entrusted with. And of course, we know better than to let television—or anyone or anything else—take on that responsibility for us.
But climbing aboard Trolley for a few trips to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe? It might be just the teaching aid we didn’t realize we’ve been missing.