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  • Teacher Stacey

Please, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Fred Rogers was the creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and hosted all 895 episodes. The very last episode aired on August 31, 2001. According to Fred Rogers was also the composer of its more than 200 songs, and the puppeteer who imagined 14 characters into being. It has been said that Fred through his unique, personal, talking-directly-to-the-camera-style, changed the face of children’s television. He also brought up topics on television that had certainly never been addressed before, in ways that had not been addressed before. His work was unprecedented. And this transformed the way many adults began to think about young children.

It has been 20 years since the last recording of his show. It has been 17 years since his death. His lovely wife Joanne passed away earlier this year. But I believe Mister Rogers' wisdom is still relevant and true today. Fred is known for many of his inspiring quotes. Entire books have been written compiling them. I would like to share a few with you here:

"What matters most is how children feel about their uniqueness once they do begin to realize that they are different from everyone else. How each one of us comes to feel about our individual uniqueness has a strong influence on how we feel about everyone's uniqueness -whether we grow into adults who rejoice in the diversity of the world's people or into adults who fear and resent that diversity."

My 7 year old daughter who is of mixed race recently told me that a teacher in her elementary school repeatedly confused her and another child in the classroom. I asked my daughter why she thought she was being confused. Maya's face fell as she shrugged and said, "Well, Mom I guess it's because the other girl has brown skin and curly hair just like me." My heart was in pieces. I wanted to scream and shout! NO! Her brown skin and curly hair do not define her. They are gorgeous characteristics that make up her exterior beauty. And I have no doubt the other child is also gorgeous. But my daughter is also unique and not to be confused with another child because of her skin color. My child wants to feel unique and recognized for the way she can draw a star or do a cartwheel or do a backflip into the pool. She does not want to be lumped into a category with other children because of the texture of her hair. Fred Rogers knew this. Every single child on Earth; past, present and future is a unique individual and should be treated as such.

"Children's dramatic or fantasy play may be as simple as their dressing up and pretending to be other people or as complicated as their construction of a whole little world inhabited by animal and doll figures who go through elaborate rituals and adventures. For many children, dramatic play is one of their most important tools for dealing with everyday problems. A large part of children's making and building play comes from the desire to feel in control of the outside world and the inner self. The child is in control of what takes place. Being able to express his or her feelings through making and creating is a healthy part of a child's growing."

At my preschool the biggest section is the dramatic play area. We have a kitchen area with toy food, dishes pots and pans. We have dolls with blankets, clothes, strollers a crib, high chair and bath tub. We have a shopping cart and cash register. I have a train with tracks, cars and trucks, a doll house with dolls, a puppet theater with puppets and an extensive dress up area. Over the past 6 years that my home has been operating as a Preschool, dramatic play has been the preferred area by most of my students most of the time. After reading this quote, I feel like a light bulb came on. I always knew children enjoyed pretending. And I always knew children enjoyed having as much control over their situations as they could. But I had not put the two things together before. Part of the reason they enjoy playing pretend is the control it gives them!

Probably my favorite Fred Rogers quote of all time (or at least the one I repeat the most frequently):

"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. At various times play is a way to cope with life and to prepare for adulthood. Playing is a way to solve problems and to express feelings. In fact, play is the real work of childhood. Play of a child's own making is a must, because it's how children come to learn so many important things about being human."

If Teacher Stacey's Playground had a motto this would be it: Play is the Real Work of Childhood. So wherever you are on this day please take some time to remember a true genius when it came to Early Childhood and everyone's favorite neighbor and please let the children play!

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