In more than 870 episodes, Mister Rogers, with his caring and trusting ways created a calm, safe place for children to learn about themselves, about others, and about the world around them.
While some adults wondered at the time what made this television program so fascinating, the children knew: Mister Rogers brought them a one-to-one affirmation of their self-worth and offered them a place where they felt accepted and understood.
But how did he do it?
Many people witnessed the "magic" of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, its profound and enduring appeal to young children, and the positive effect it had on them. But often those same people also said they did not understand why the series worked so well.
The reason wasn't magic at all. The main focus of the series was on children's emotional development, and its success was based on a combination of several factors:
- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood encouraged children to feel good about themselves. Many experts believe that the development of healthy self-esteem is one of the most critical tasks of growing up-and that self-esteem plays a major role in determining what kind of person a child will become. Mister Rogers consistently supported a child's sense of self-worth through the crucial early years, with their various frustrations and inevitable failures. He helped young children understand the important ways in which they contribute to the life of their families, and he told them, "You've made this day a special day just by being you. You are the only person like you in this whole world. And people can like you just because you're you.
- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood helped children learn the skills needed for growing up. The series gave gentle yet firm support to children as they learned the timeless skills involved in growing up: cooperation, persistence, patience, sharing, and the ability to pay attention and to manage frustration. Mister Rogers helped children acknowledge feelings and learn to control impulses. At the same time, the series encouraged the development of healthy curiosity and imagination. In effect, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood helped young viewers learn the skills that are the foundation for learning readiness.
- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was made for children. Some adults felt the series is slow and simple. It is slow-paced, but its simplicity is deceptive. Research clearly shows that's how young children learn best. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was carefully designed to speak effectively to preschool-aged children. Mister Rogers talked in ways children understand, at a pace they could absorb, and with a consistency that created a calm, safe place for preschoolers to visit. He left time for children to reflect and respond, and he took time to prepare them for what will come next and to explain what has happened before.
The visually-simple sets and puppets, matching the capabilities of young children, allowed children to use their own imaginations, and encouraged children to create their own playthings and to engage in imaginative play. It all worked: millions of children in three generations have responded with trust and love.
- There are solid reasons behind what's included in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood programs. The series was based on widely-accepted principles of child development and child psychology. Fred Rogers, members of his staff, and consultants to the series had both expertise and experience in the field.
Subjects like children's fear of separation from parents, confusion between reality and fantasy, and fear of "being so mad you could bite" may seem simple (and even silly) to adults, but people who work with young children know those topics are primary issues for preschoolers struggling to understand their world and their place in it. Children loved and trusted Mister Rogers because he addressed those issues and others like them in an open and direct manner.
- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood encouraged appreciation of and respect for others. Mister Rogers strongly endorsed every person's individual worth. ("Each one of us is valuable," he says, "and there is nobody in the whole world exactly like you.") He was genuinely interested in visitors to his "Neighborhood" and showed unfailing respect for and courtesy toward everyone with whom he interacted. In effect, he consistently modeled the appreciation of inherent individual worthiness that is the cornerstone of a successful multicultural society.
- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood promoted values that are universally important to children and families. Fads and fashion -- in television and in society -- change constantly, but the values on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are timeless and universal. The basic developmental tasks of early childhood -- the things preschoolers need to learn and understand to grow into succeeding stages of life -- remain constant regardless of time, place, or societal changes. So do the values that enable families (and whole societies) to nurture their children and help them grow. These values, shared by The Fred Rogers Company, professionals, and families across the country, include:
- Children are precious, and their earliest years are exceedingly important in laying the foundation for who and what they become.
- Children grow best when raised in responsible and caring ways.
- The ability to love and be loved is supremely important in every person's life, and that ability is best nurtured in the early years.
- Discipline and control are essential to healthy living -- and the best discipline and control come from within.
- It is important to recognize the worth and the unique abilities of each individual child. Children can -- and do -- contribute in many ways to the life of a family.
- Parents are the most important people in children's lives; they are the premier models and the final arbiters of a family's values.