March 5, 2019
The Legacy of Fred Rogers: Life lessons in kindness, respect and authenticity
Contributed by Jennifer Horner, Director of Education
I’ve come to realize that I didn’t truly notice or adequately appreciate the way Fred Rogers taught people about the power of human connection, until his documentary was released.
Since partaking in a free screening event setup by the WNY chapter of AEYC (Association for the Education of Young Children), my life (which was already dedicated to early childhood education) is significantly more deeply rooted.
The steady simplicity in his words and tone of voice coupled with his consistent set design and shoe and sweater routines delivered an experience children could rely on – providing them with feelings of safety and security. For some children, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood may have been the only time during their day in which they could feel emotionally safe and know what to expect – something children absolutely need and crave in early childhood.
His purposeful pauses respectfully gave children thinking time and his ability to make eye contact through the screen were all a part of his very intentional plan – to make sure the surge in television included something meaningful and developmentally appropriate for children.
“When Rogers looked into the camera on his show, he imagined talking to one person. The short distance between the television screen and the child sitting in front of it is sacred space, he says. He kept this in mind with every word he chose and every tone of voice he used.” – Bruce Weinstein
For me, what was most unexpected about the documentary was discovering all the ways he quietly yet powerfully combatted political and social controversy through his Mister Roger’s Neighborhood platform. His puppets and actors included representations of people and storylines that tackled society’s greatest challenges with curiosity, openness, and compassion.
Each slice of the film was like walking through a new door of profound realization accompanied by a deepening gratitude for the extraordinary human being Fred Rogers was. He saw every human being as a valuable, precious existence and delivered unwavering respect and kindness.
There are countless ways to infuse his intentionality and authenticity into our work with young children, with colleagues, in our leadership, in our neighborhoods, and in our homes. Even if you don’t get to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” we can all use his example to build more kindness, intention, and presence into our daily lives.