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Journey to Parenthood

Mister Rogers’ Lessons Give New Parents a Blueprint for Success

The skills and values taught by Mister Rogers are lessons for parents as well as children.


Gregg Behr

Co-Chair, Remake Learning and Executive Director, The Grable Foundation

Ryan Rydzewski

Science and Education Reporter

Joanne Rogers arrived at the hospital on a chilly Pittsburgh day. She’d been invited to visit the nursery, where the staff had dressed newborns in cozy red sweaters and little blue shoes — the same outfit her late husband had worn on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Overjoyed, Joanne asked the new parents if they were nervous to leave the hospital.

“Invariably, their answer was yes,” she later joked. “Who could blame them? Beyond that door was parenthood: a state of astonishment, joy, and the nagging feeling that you’re royally screwing it up.”

It’s a feeling familiar to any expectant parent. When a baby’s on the way, we start to wonder what kind of parents we’ll be. We wonder how we’ll possibly get it right. And we wonder to whom we might turn for help.

For many of us, the answer includes Fred Rogers. It was his Neighborhood, after all, that helped countless kids feel accepted, special, and safe — the very things we want for our own children. In that sense, the Neighborhood was more than a television program. It was also a blueprint — one that expectant parents can continue to learn from today.

As we detail in our book, “When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids,” that blueprint has never been more important. The skills and mindsets the Neighborhood promoted have been found to boost children’s academic and health outcomes. They’re up to ten times more predictive of long-term success than test scores. And they can help nearly every expectant parent:

  • Nurture curiosity: Although kids are born curious, their sense of wonder can fade without adult encouragement.Newborns, for example, will stop pointing at unfamiliar objects if their caregivers seem indifferent.By contrast, the Neighborhood takes children’s questions seriously, showing them it’s good to wonder and ask. “It’s what you bring to the children every day,” Fred told adults — “your listening, your caring, your enthusiasm, and your responding to their ideas, thoughts, and feelings — that encourages and inspires children to ask questions and to be imaginative.”
  • Encourage creativity: Whether playing the piano or painting a picture, the Neighborhood found Fred creating with joy. As he put it, “The best teacher in the world is the one who loves what he or she does, and just loves it in front of you.” Research suggests he was right: Kids whose parents model creative behaviors tend to become creative adults themselves, reaping lifelong personal and professional rewards.
  • Build close, caring relationships: The more kids feel that they matter to the adults around them, the better they fare. That’s why Fred always returned to the same basic message: “I like you just the way you are.” He knew that when it comes to learning and growing, the presence of caring adults outweighs everything else.

Finally, Fred showed parents that they don’t have to go it alone. Wherever he went — whether it was a crayon factory or the Neighborhood of Make-Believe — he introduced the caring adults who could help along the way. It’s a notion we continue to honor in Pittsburgh, where parents, teachers, and others are working together to find new ways of helping each other. Here where Fred made his home, we know it takes a Neighborhood to raise a child.

Which brings us back to that hospital nursery, where Joanne Rogers met those nervous new parents. Sharing wisdom she’d gleaned from a lifetime lived in the Neighborhood, she offered “the simplest, truest thing I know: Being there for one another and supporting one another is what it’s all about.”

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