Fred Rogers dedicated his life to understanding childhood. He took that knowledge to the medium of television with his groundbreaking PBS series, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Over more than 30 years Mister Rogers created a relationship with millions of children, each of whom felt like they were visiting with a trusted friend. Mister Rogers looked directly into the camera and sang and talked to each child watching. His radical kindness, acceptance, and empathy created a place that as TV Guide described: “… makes us, young and old alike, feel safe, cared for and valued… Wherever Mister Rogers is, so is sanctuary.”
Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, Rogers earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Rollins College in 1951. He began his television career in 1951 at NBC in New York. He returned to Pittsburgh in 1953 to work for children’s programming at NET (later PBS) television station WQED. After graduating from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, he became a Presbyterian minister in 1963 and attended the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Child Development, where he began his 30-year long collaboration with child psychologist Margaret McFarland.
In 1968 he created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran for 33 years.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
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Each “visit” starts with the donning of the sweater and sneakers signaling the transformation from Fred Rogers to Mister Rogers. That seemingly simple routine is part of a larger message and an invitation. The message: I care about you, no matter who you are and no matter what you can or cannot do. The invitation: Let’s spend this time together. We’ll build a relationship and talk and imagine and sing about things that matter to you.
As a part of each visit, he shares people, places and things. He invites viewers to learn about something new or look deeply into something familiar. By sharing, he makes a personal connection. He’s brought something to show you.
Mister Rogers “takes us by the hand” and tells us where we are going. There are no unexpected surprises. All the transitions – from room to room, from place to place in the neighborhood, and especially to Make-Believe – are handled with purpose and care. Mister Rogers prepares children for what’s ahead, and afterwards reflects on where we’ve been and what we’ve learned. It’s one important way children know Mister Rogers cares about them and that they can trust him. And trust is the foundation for building relationship.
There’s lots of quiet time, too. Fred Rogers used to say there’s not enough quiet in the world, so he wanted to give children silence within the program itself. It’s no wonder TV Guide once described Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as “an oasis of quiet amid the clamor of children’s television.”
Many people are surprised to learn that Fred considered himself first and foremost a musician. His college degree was in music composition and over his lifetime he wrote the melodies and lyrics for more than 200 songs.
Through his songs, Fred Rogers translated the concepts of child development into musical messages in a language that children could understand. Some songs celebrate good feelings. Some are calming. Others are for times when children are struggling with a particular issue like jealousy or persistence or being apart from a loved one.