ROXANNE ROWLEY: Fred Rogers, the ultimate father figure

Guest Columnist

When “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” began its run on TV in 1968, I was just a year away from being an elementary education major in college.

I remember hearing about his show in a couple of my college classes. My professors were impressed with the program and wondered about its impact on young children. However I never watched the program until years later when our daughter was about 3, and I viewed it with her.

I must confess that I found Mr. Rogers to be kind of a dorky nerd at first. But as I continued to watch it with our daughter, and later on with our son, I began to appreciate his calm, reassuring delivery.

He addressed serious topics like sibling rivalry, divorce, death and even racial discrimination in a way a child could understand and not be frightened. He opened the way to help answer a child’s questions so parents and kids could have a meaningful dialogue.

I also noticed that both of my children relaxed their little bodies against me whenever “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” began. When Mr. Rogers appeared they just calmed down. They both looked forward to his entrance on the set, when he changed his shoes, put on his cardigan and fed his fish. Those little rituals at the beginning of his program were reassuring. They appreciated his unhurried demeanor and his deliberate delivery.

When Mr. Rogers spoke to his young audience in his genuine manner, my children answered him. They sang the songs with him. And when the program was over they waved goodbye and said, “See you tomorrow, Mr. Rogers.”

Eventually my children outgrew Mr. Rogers, but every once in a while I noticed they turned his program on. I think they wanted to see if anything had changed in his neighborhood.

I also found myself watching Mr. Rogers when I was working on an advanced degree in early childhood education. He was a wonderful person to try and emulate in my work with little kids. And by then there were studies that believed his program was one of the best for young children.

Fred Rogers recognized the importance imagination and creative play were in the development of young children. He also paid careful attention to a child’s social and emotional development. When I watched his program I felt like he was an early childhood mentor.

Fred Rogers was kind. He was gentle. He was good. He was decent. And in today’s world we need all of the kindness, gentleness, goodness and decency that we can muster.

Mr. Rogers impacted generations of young children. He was a wonderful role model for children and parents. I am sure that little children who grew up watching Mr. Rogers possess some of those positive traits, too, and have passed them down to their children. I wonder if Fred Rogers had any idea what a positive and encouraging legacy he left behind. He was the ultimate father figure.

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” Thank you, Mr. Rogers.

Roxanne Rowley is a retired early childhood educator and consultant. She enjoys writing and has had numerous articles published related to early childhood issues.


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