Won't You Be My Neighbor?
By Hedda Sharapan
March 20th – next Tuesday - is Fred Rogers’ birthday. A few years ago we started an annual tradition to honor him on that day by wearing a sweater, doing something neighborly, and reflecting on what we continue to learn from him. We call it “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Day.” Won’t you join us!
One of my favorite comments over the years came from a young girl who wrote, “Thank you, Mister Rogers. You helped me learn life.” When I wear a sweater on March 20th, it helps me remember how much we all have learned from Fred. And I’m grateful to have the opportunity through this newsletter to be continually reflecting on his wisdom and the incredible library of videos we’ve produced over the years.
Here are some "Everything I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned from Fred Rogers" life lessons that can help us in our work with children:
WONDER ABOUT THINGS.
I love hearing teachers ask open-ended questions, like “I wonder what would happen if….” Remember that you don’t need answers to all the questions. When you nurture children’s curiosity, they’ll be interested in learning – by noticing, predicting, exploring, experimenting. Their discoveries might open your eyes, too, to some fascinating things about our world that you overlooked or took for granted.
ACCEPT PEOPLE AS THEY ARE.
Remember how good it felt to hear Mister Rogers’ opening invitation “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Think about how important your greeting is to each child (and parent or grandparent). It means so much to a child to start the day feeling welcomed, especially if it hasn’t been a beautiful day in his or her neighborhood.
LOOK AND LISTEN CAREFULLY.
I know you’re under a great deal of pressure to “teach” children, but think about what it can mean when you slow down the pace, giving children time to look and listen – to digest and integrate.
WE ALL HAVE FEELINGS.
It’s a real gift to children to talk about times when you felt sad or jealous or angry or proud. You’re letting them know that feelings are part of being human and that it helps to talk about them. You have many ways to let children know that you care about their feelings and that you will help them find ways to deal with those feelings.
HAIRCUTS DON'T HURT.
Children really do need your help to understand some basic things about the world. Their concerns and fears, whether they’re imagined or seemingly trivial, are very real to them. Your sensitivity and empathy can go a long way towards helping them feel safe until, little by little, they come to have a better grasp on reality, cause and effect, and other basic principles of our world.
TEACH BY EXAMPLE.
One of Fred’s favorite quotes was the Quaker saying, “Attitudes are caught, not taught.” Children catch the attitudes, values and beliefs of the people who care about them. That’s why it’s important for children to see that the adults in their lives are responsible, kind and polite, disciplined, persistent in working on a problem, able to say “I’m sorry” and willing to work on our mistakes. Those life lessons are contagious!
FEED THE FISH.
When you show children that you respect living things, you’re helping them grow up to be responsible stewards of our world. Some of that is obvious, like when you care for plants and animals, like Fred did when he fed the fish every day. He also reminded us how important it is to be an “appreciator”of the big and little things in our environment, like the first buds on the trees and an interesting cloud shape in the sky.
One of Fred’s most important life lessons was that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. The best gift is the gift of your honest self. What an important thought for all of us, no matter how young or old we are!
SHARE. PLAY. LOVE.
The things you value become obvious to the children. Think about all the everyday ways you’re encouraging them to share…play…love. When you enjoy what you’re doing for and with the children, you’re building a strong foundation for those basic values…values that they’ll take with them through the rest of their lives.
We hope you’ll find your own way to celebrate “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Day.” Here’s a video to remind you of all the times Fred welcomed us into his Neighborhood.
Thanks for being our neighbor.
If you do something special to celebrate Fred Rogers' birthday, next Tuesday March 20, let us know. We'd love to hear from you.
M.S. Child Development
Director of Early Childhood Initiatives