Mr. Rogers Is My Hero


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Note: This column was published in Barrow Journal on April 3, 2013.

We just passed what would have been Fred McFeely Roger’s 85th birthday. If you are like me, you remember him as “Mr. Rogers,” and you couldn’t wait to visit him everyday in his friendly television neighborhood.  Recently I discovered that I could share my childhood favorite with my sons because many of the full episodes are available for viewing at

My six-year-old loves it, and watching the show with him, I can see why I loved it too.  Mr. Rogers doesn’t speak down to children. He treats them with the respect they deserve, and every episode deals with real situations that children encounter in their young lives like having to share, fighting with friends or having to buy a new pair of shoes.

Mr. Rogers is my hero for many reasons, but what I most admire about him is how he saw the potential to use television for good, and he didn’t just give that lip service – he actually got into television to try to change it. He says he went into television because he hated it.

As a mother living in a time when many parents restrict media for their children and scoff at other parents for using it, I find his stance refreshing.  He saw television as I see it: a valuable tool.  In a video clip I watched of him online he said,

The space between the television screen and the person…whoever happens to be receiving it…I consider that very holy ground. A lot happens there.”

He was a patient, kind person who never acted phony because he thought children were smarter than that.  He stood up for what he believed in. When he accepted his Emmy award, he made everyone in the audience take ten seconds of silence to remember the people in their lives who had helped them get where they were that day.

He was a Presbyterian minister, a vegetarian, a puppeteer and a songwriter.  He worked and voiced most of the puppets on his show, and he wrote all the songs for it. He taught children that music was a good, healthy way to express their feelings. Much of his work had to do with teaching children that all their thoughts and feelings were okay.

His messages made long-lasting impressions. When I wrote on my Twitter feed recently that “Mr. Rogers is my hero,” I got two, quick replies. The first one: “Are you going to write about him? He was my first friend.”  Another said, “He was my surrogate parent because my biological parents were so crappy.”

This is exactly why Mr. Rogers advocated for government funding for children’s programming. Kids need this kind of programming. We all do. We don’t always get the role models we need at home.

In another interview Rogers said,

There are those people who sometimes say that T.V. doesn’t affect us all that much. Well, all I can say is then why would advertisers pay so much money to put their messages on a medium that doesn’t affect us all that much? I do feel that what we see and hear on the screen is part of what we become.”

I don’t restrict my children from watching T.V. or playing on the computer, but I do monitor what they are watching, and by taking advantage of Netflix, I have eliminated advertising from their viewing. I would never use these mediums to replace real-life relationships, unstructured playtime, or other modes of learning, but good television can provide excellent social and educational lessons that compliment their other experiences.

There’s a lot of bad television, computer games, websites etc., but thanks to people like Fred Rogers, there’s also a lot of awesome television, computer games and websites that we can all use and benefit from.


Links You May Be Interested In:

My Previous Posts on T.V. Viewing and Children:

In addition, I have begun a Pinterest board of our favorite Netflix shows which I’m adding to (with commentary) as we watch them. Check it out here.


What are your childhood television memories?

Post Script: Using E-mail in Home Education

When I wrote my last column on using e-mail in our homeschool, I didn’t realize how beneficial one aspect of it would be, so I thought I’d add a little more about that.

What I’m referring to is sending my six-year-old articles that I find on the web that he might be interested in.  Sometimes my husband finds them too.  Mostly these are science-related articles having to do with animals because at six-years-old, that’s something he can wrap his head around.  The articles always have photos, and my son likes for me to read the text.

Sometimes I put it in more simple language, if I feel that is necessary, but sometimes I read it just as it’s written.  Even if some of it goes over his head, if he’s interested, it’s a good way for him to build his vocabulary and hear how articles are written.  Sometimes he asks me the meaning of a word, or we might do a google search for more photographs of the subject.  Perhaps in the future, these articles will spark an idea for a longer-term project!

I should also mention that we watch a lot of educational television, so my son is used to some of this scientific language and imagery.  If you want to try this, you’ll have to judge for yourself what you think your child is interested in and ready for.  You might want to experiment!

Here are some recent articles that my son received from my husband and me.  Feel free to snatch the link and show them to your children!

Feel free to leave more ideas on how to use e-mail or other technology to spark a child’s interest in learning.  As I come up with more ideas, I’ll be sure to share them with you too.  Thanks so much for reading my blog.

Using Technology in Home Education

{Homeschooling and Technology}

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, October 10, 2012.

My husband told me I ought to listen to an episode of a podcast called Mac Power Users: Episode 93. This episode is an interview with Fraser Speirs, a mobile education consultant.  He works for the Cedar School of Excellence in Greenock, Scotland, and he’s also a writer and does public speaking about using mobile devices and technology in schools.  The Cedar School of Excellence was one of the first schools to give macs and then iPads to all of its students.

Obviously, it would be not be feasible for most schools, especially publics schools, to offer an iPad to every student.  The Cedar School of Excellence is a small, private K-12 school, but my husband knew I would find the ideas behind the use of technology useful in our homeschool.  I did, and I also think it could be useful for any parent who is involved I their child’s education and working with them at home.

Listening to Speirs talk reinforced my opinion that technology is not something we should shield children from. I know parents have different views on “screen time,” and I respect that. We need to set up boundaries for our children and use technology as a tool and not as a babysitter.  But our children are in a unique position to grow up with technology (something we never had), and someday they will be competing in a world with more advanced technology.  We parents need to assist them in acquiring useful skills.

I was impressed to hear that children as young as kindergarten age use iPads in the Cedar School of Excellence.  The device follows them throughout their education at the school, and the way they use it changes as they get older.

Speirs said they expected the younger grades to use the iPad more as a tool in which they would work through certain educational programs (called applications or “apps”) and that it wouldn’t be until grade Primary 5 that kids would use it more as a productivity tool.  However, they were wrong. Kids as young as Primary 2 – that’s 1st or 2nd grade here in the U.S. – used the iPad to create their own stuff.

Speirs observation of how young children can use an iPad does not surprise me. At two, my six-year-old was a master at my iPod Touch. Now I think he could use a device like the iPad or a computer for creativity, especially since there are so many educational apps for children available.

At one point Speir states,

“…we very much look at the iPad as a tool for expressing: for creativity and also expressing your understanding. So, if I’m teaching about some science topic, let’s say the planets, then one of the ways I can assess what the children have understood is that I can have them express their understanding through various creative tasks on the device.”

He goes on to explain that they also do assignments off the device.  They are not a paperless school.

I wish Speirs spent more time talking about exactly what young, primary-age children do on the iPad, but he did make it clear that teaching the children presentation skills at every level was a priority.  This is something I feel strongly about too, and his explanation was right on target.

When thinking about the office applications people use today, he and his staff look at word processing as something that is used solely for the purpose of printing on a piece off paper.  I don’t think this need will ever go away completely, but I do agree with him that it is becoming less necessary as our world becomes more and more digital.  I also agree when he states that learning today’s current word processing programs is not important.  Because twenty years from now when these kids are in the work force, who knows what kind of programs they will be using?

Speirs states,

“…we thought, well, in the end of the day, [word-processing is] a secretarial-level skill, whereas presentation, and persuasion, and communication is a CEO-level skill.”

This is the idea that captured me behind this interview.  I have been thinking a lot about the necessity of teaching our children entrepreneurial skills and other high level skills that they typically don’t learn in a traditional public school.  We shouldn’t be preparing them for the world as it is today – we have to prepare them for the world they are going to enter as young adults.

Speirs says,

“We spend a lot of time thinking about the future.You’ve got to realize how far ahead you have to think in education because quite often you end up, in education, where you’re sort of fighting the last battle, whereas you’ve got to be fighting a much longer game than that.”

I agree.  Right now, we have countless college graduates with higher degrees and school loans to pay off, but there are no jobs for them.  Some say this might be the next bubble to burst.  I don’t know exactly what the job market will look like when my boys graduate, but I know that letting them have some daily control over their education will go a long way in teaching them how to take charge of their lives as adults.

This is also what attracts me to project-based homeschooling, which I have written about before.  In project-based homeschooling, the child chooses what he or she wants to study, and they do their own research to complete the task.  Then they present their findings in a format of their choosing such as book, poster or other form. After listening to this podcast, I’m thinking in terms of what the Cedar School of Excellence might use – Keynote (PowerPoint) or mind-mapping (they use iThoughtsHD).  I could also throw in ideas such as photo slideshows or video.

As you can see, this interview with Fraser Speirs has got my wheels turning, and I’m thinking of different ways to incorporate technology in my son’s education.  At six years old, I can start by introducing him to different programs on our computer and showing them what they do.  My first endeavor to do this was to give him his own e-mail address.  We also gave him a point and shoot camera for his sixth birthday, and we’re using it as an educational tool too.  I’ll write about all of this and more in upcoming columns.

How do you use technology in your home education? What do you want to learn about technology so that you can pass this knowledge on to your kids?