“Every one of us—no matter how much money we have—needs to know that there’s something about us worth giving.”– Fred Rogers.
Regardless of whether Mister Rogers’ puppets, trains, and soothing voice touched your childhood personally, he was inarguably a very “good neighbor” to millions of preschool children during his nearly 40 years of public broadcasting from 1963 to 2001. A pioneer in the new educational medium of television for children at its inception nearly 60 years ago, his gentle educational program was aimed at 2 to 5 year-olds, and not only touched the lives of millions children, but made a lasting impression on Edtech as a industry, and still guides the direction it is taking to this day.
Video: May 1, 1969: Fred Rogers testifies before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications
Rogers spent his professional life confronting traditional education’s challenges and limitations, imagining new ways of thinking about old problems and steadily adhering to his own core educational beliefs. By creating Mister Rogers, he created an example of what he wanted to see more of in the world, and preserved his ideals in his television show time capsule, to continue to inspire the future of education.
Here are three long-lasting influences on edtech from the legacy of Mister Rogers:
1. Using New Technology to Improve Education
Television was a relatively new medium in the 60’s, and there was no Barney, Blue’s Clues, or Dora the Explorer when Mister Rogers came on the scene. Many parents were worried about exposing their children to the emerging new technology, and definitely did not view it as an educational tool.
As a Presbyterian minister, Fred Rogers was aware of and shared many parents’ concerns for the type of influence TV would have on young children. He explained in an interview with CNN in 2001 that he got into television precisely because he hated television in its original form. He saw the potential for digital media and new technologies to offer real value to early education and wanted to create a positive and uplifting alternative for young viewers.
Although much progress has been made on the educational television front, parents continue to face evolving challenges with each new technology. Mobile apps and tablets have incredible educational potentials but continues to be a controversial topic, with many parents divided on how much access they should grant their children and at what ages.
Mister Rogers is a powerful example of how new technologies, when used in conjunction with quality content, can actually improve educational techniques. In an attempt to continue his legacy, Rogers death in 2003 was marked by the establishment of the Fred Rogers foundation, in his hometown of Latrobe PA, which launched with the goal of supporting the ability of educators to effectively use digital media in their professions. With Rogers’ philosophy at heart, the foundation guides educators through adopting new technologies and techniques to enable them to fully take advantage of educational tools.
(Next page: 2 more ways Mister Rogers influenced ed innovation and tech)
2. The Importance of Emotional Intelligence
“You’ve made this day a special day, by just you being you, there is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” – Fred Rogers.
A visionary before his time, Rogers believed emotional intelligence and feelings of acceptance and love were essential pillars of early education for every child. In his own youth, Rogers passed through a difficult period of respiratory problems that kept him away from other children. Isolated and overweight, his maternal grandfather was the role model in his life who stepped in and began to build his sense of self esteem.
As an adult, Rogers childhood experiences caused him to reject the popular sentiments of the time which often encouraged children to politely hide their emotions and “behave” without asking questions. Going against the tide he created each episode of Mister Rogers to explore the complex feelings children experience and taught coping strategies by interweaving important lessons into songs and stories.
Topics such as sibling jealousy, punishing, accepting people who are different, and even death, were patiently explained with a compassionate and empathetic cadence that acknowledged and accepted the real emotions young children face.
16 years after Mister Rogers went off air, research into confidence and emotional skills teaching in early development consistently shows emotionally intelligent children have increased overall success with grades and classroom participation, as well as better relationship building skills and engage less frequently in unhealthy behaviors.
Nowadays there is a growing effort to teach social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools and many mobile apps and educational technologies have stepped up to address the topics, with some incredible emotional app breakthroughs for children in special education. The app guide Fundamentally Children makes it easy to filter searches for specific educational apps for target age ranges and specific topics
3. Play as a Powerful Method of Learning
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers.
Perhaps Fred Rogers’ most impactful philosophy was his championing of playful learning. Rogers possessed the unique talent of engaging with children in make believe and simultaneously teaching complex ideas in a serious yet also entertaining way that stimulated children’s natural curiosity.
Building on the progress made by Rogers and other pioneers, early childhood and primary education has been experiencing a transformation as many new methodologies have begun to embrace non traditional teaching styles and opt for play based mechanics that embrace new technology.
The Fun Academy, for example, is a complete Kindergarten curriculum based around games, entertaining learning, and technology, that engages young children fully in playful learning. Altschool also works from within the classroom, with an innovative platform aimed at providing students personalized educational experiences. Tocaboca was a pioneer in the educational mobile arena, offering educational play outside of the classroom.
Currently, mobile app platforms offer not only offer a searchable library of great learning games, but also offer guidance and resources for parents. The supportive online communities that have sprung up around mobile app platforms offer advice and guidance on how to navigate play-learning technology. Empowering parents to transform downtime, into learning time, anytime.
With the rapid advancement of technology, it will be increasingly important in the next few years to keep Mister Rogers’ core philosophies at heart. As new technologies present new educational opportunities, the best way to harness their positive potentials, will be keeping in mind Rogers’ example, to ensure future learning environments always encourage playful creativity, empathic awareness, and stimulate curiosity and wonder.