You’d be forgiven for wondering, as an adult, why Mister Rogers carries a spoon.
There’s nothing noteworthy about a spoon. It’s just…a spoon. An everyday tool that doesn’t demand our attention — or the airtime that Fred Rogers, in this episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, seems to insist on giving it.
And it’s not just this spoon. Fred has a whole collection he wants to show us: here’s a sugar spoon, a serving spoon, a soup spoon, and a small spoon. Later, we’ll visit a spoon factory. And we’ll find, in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, that the characters there use spoons as shovels! They’re even planning an opera about spoons, one titled, appropriately enough, “Spoon Mountain.”
“There’s so much more to everyone you meet than will ever meet your eye,” Fred will tell us by the episode’s end. “There are wonderful surprises in all of us.”
This journey — from a simple Point A (a spoon) to a deeply human Point B — embodies the magic of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Decades before the term itself came into being, Fred deployed connected learning to help learners discover themselves and the wonderful surprises within us all.
Viewed through a connected learning lens, the Neighborhood’s blueprints start to make sense. “Some children really like to dig with spoons,” says Fred, and suddenly we see what he’s doing: putting children’s interests first. Why wouldn’t he start with a spoon? Fred knew that children’s interests don’t spring from a void, but rather from what’s familiar: It might be spoons this week, crayons next week, and any number of enchanting things after that.
As we detail in our book, When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids, the program’s neighbors helped expand and deepen those interests. The Neighborhood’s guest stars, puppets, and everyday adults support viewers’ connected-learning journey: In the spoon episodes, we meet Mary Sherred, a friend of Fred’s who makes music with spoons. We visit a factory to learn how people make spoons in real life. And through songs, drama, and dance, the “Spoon Mountain” opera brings it all together.
The effect is that for children, spoons become more than passing intrigues. They become musical instruments, a spark for artistic expression, and even possible career paths. Most importantly, they become points of connection between kids and caring adults. As science has shown, the more of these connections kids have, the better they tend to do.
Therein lies the brilliance of the Neighborhood. Fred could have built Mister Rogers’ Living Room, or Mister Rogers’ Classroom, or Mister Rogers’ Monologues. But he understood that only connected learning — and the myriad relationships that enable it — can build social capital; open artistic, academic, and economic doors; and help learners develop their full potential.
“I love to have guests and presenters in a whole smorgasbord of ways for the children to choose” how to explore and express themselves, Fred explained. “Some child might choose painting, some child might choose playing the cello, but there are so many ways of saying who we are and how we feel.”
It’s the kind of learning that every parent wants for their child and every teacher longs to offer. That’s why, for nearly 15 years, we’ve been using Fred’s blueprints to build a real-life Neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where Fred lived and created his program. Called Remake Learning, this “neighborhood” includes more than 600 schools, libraries, museums, makerspaces, and more, bringing together the people and places that serve the region’s learners. Thousands of educators involved in the network all do a version of what Fred did: connect young people’s interests to caring adults and engaging, relevant, equitable learning opportunities for every student.
On any given day, kids can follow their interests through Remake Learning’s smorgasbord of neighbors, mentors, institutions, and events. Kids interested in podcasts can produce podcasts of their own. Budding musicians might learn beat-making in a library, while young activists testify before lawmakers and help to pass a bill. Within this connected-learning landscape, the list of partnerships and possibilities goes on and on. True to Fred’s blueprints, there’s even something for kids interested in spoons.
And next spring, Remake Learning will once again take this “neighborhood” on the road. From April 22 to May 23, Remake Learning Days Across America will take root in cities and regions from coast to coast, giving hundreds of thousands of families an up-close look at what connected learning can do. At every event and in every community, kids and families will find what Fred Rogers provided on television: a taste of the world’s smorgasbord, a caring adult to support them, and the “wonderful surprises” inherent to each human being.
Visit remakelearningdays.org to learn more. We look forward to being your neighbor!
Guest post by Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski
Gregg Behr is executive director of The Grable Foundation and co-chair of Remake Learning. Ryan Rydzewski is an award-winning science and education reporter. Their book, When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids, is now available from Hachette. Learn more at whenyouwonder.org.