4 Things I’m Learning From Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

There’s a point in life where we stop expecting to learn anything from the shows we watch. I mean, we’re not exactly watching Breaking Bad for educational purposes.

At least we learned who knocked.

Most of television – as entertaining as it is – does nothing for us. We’re not getting roommate etiquette from New Girl.. We’re not getting relationship advice from Friends. We’re not learning how to handle our emotions from This Is Us. And we’re certainly not getting lessons in modesty from Game of Thrones. TV is purely entertainment.

Most children’s programming is too. Have you seen the way kids completely zone out when they watch TV? It’s eerie. In these shows, there’s an inverse proportion of entertainment to education. The more entertaining a show is, the less educational. The more educational, the more boring the show. When picking content for our little ones to watch, we accept that they’re watching mindless entertainment, mostly because we’re happy that they’re occupied. Who needs educational content? Isn’t that why they go to school? Well, the shows we expose our kids to might actually be making the school’s job more difficult. Children’s television can actually zap the IQ right out of their little heads.

It really is shocking that this isn’t educational.

That’s why Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood from Fred Rogers Productions stands in a league of its own. It’s fun to watch and is an extremely effective teaching tool. I’ve mentioned this before, but it quickly went from being my favorite show for my daughter to my favorite show. In many ways, I feel like I’m getting more out of it than she does. As my daughter learns about sharing, I’m getting life lessons that linger way longer than any tears shed during This Is Us.

Here’s what I’ve picked up from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

4. I’m learning to sing songs about things I need to remember

Despite what you might think, my beard and grey hair are not signs of wisdom. They’re more like signs of senility. I’m the type of person that will go upstairs to get something and come back down 15 minutes later with an armful of everything except the thing I went up to get. Our house is filled with my shoes laying wherever I took them off. I forget to put a trash bag back in the can when I take it out. I leave the refrigerator door open. Once I even put the milk away in the cabinet.

One of the things I’ve learned from Daniel Tiger is to sing a song to reinforce any lessons I need to learn. Here’s an example:

If you can’t watch the video, this is a clip where Daniel and his friends learn a song to help them remember to clean up. I may be a little too old for the social and emotional lessons of the show, but this musical method really works for me. All day every day, I now walk around the house singing, “🎶When you take out the trash, put a new bag in right awaayyy.🎶” Or “🎶When your wife asks how she looks, before you say ‘great,’ make sure you look.🎶”

My musical interludes help me at work too. “🎶Expense reports get submitted on the 5th, 5th, 5th day of the monnnth.🎶” And of course, “🎶Tray 2 has the legal size paper. The legal size paper.🎶” I’m expecting a raise any day now.

3. I’m learning how to step up my parenting

I often obsess over whether I’m teaching my daughter enough. Sure, she’s speaking in full sentences, but can she drink out of a cup? I’ll think about that literally all day. Have I ever let her try drinking out of a cup? Seriously, is the sippy cup teaching her to properly drink out of a cup, or is it creating an incorrect habit of throwing her head back and sucking liquid into her trachea? Oh my god, my daughter won’t be able to drink out of a cup! What have I done?!

“Thanks, Dad!”

So one day, I was having my daily freak out moment (“Does she know the color purple yet?”), and I see a character on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood explaining the definition of the word “ambivalent.” That was an actual lesson on the show…for three- to five-year-olds. That’s when I realized I was micromanaging my daughter’s learning experiences. I need to get away from a daily worry of whether or not Jebecca is stacking blocks high enough for her age, and instead, I need to set the bar higher. Today, she learned the definition of ambivalent. Tomorrow, I’ll teach her trigonometry. We’ll move on to particle physics by next weekend.

2. I’m learning the true meaning of nostalgia

It’s very easy to retroactively ruin our childhoods. All it takes is one movie featuring Ninja Turtles with nostrils to burn down all of my fond childhood memories.

Bye-bye childhood memories. It was fun while it lasted.

Every time something is designed to tap into our sense of nostalgia, it gets messed up just a little bit. The pursuit of nostalgia is an obsession. It’s this desire to get things back to the good ol’ days that gave birth to Buzzfeed. It’s amazing how many pictures of 90s-era potato chips and candies I’ll stare at to feed my nostalgic spirit. We long for the past.

That’s why I want a Delorean – I want to go back and try Doritos 3D again.

Daniel Tiger is nostalgia done right because it’s not a reboot. It doesn’t recast Mister Rogers and plop him down into a shiny, remodeled set. And they didn’t just animate him. Instead, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a reimagining of Mister Rogers’ essence. When I watch an episode, I’m reminded of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in so many ways, but not in any way that tarnishes my memories of the original. From the opening text in that familiar font, to the design of Daniel’s house, to the appearance of Mr. McFeely, the show carries on the memory of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but in its own way. It’s not an attempt to cash in on fond memories of an old favorite show (*ahem* I’m talking to you, Fuller House). Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood celebrates a legacy.

It’s amazing to see something I loved as a child live on as something relevant and new that I can now share with my children. Nostalgia should never be about relaunching the original. (“Let’s remake the Ghostbusters, but with women this time!”) Nostalgia is about remembering and honoring the original, while setting up something entirely unique.

1. I’m learning why I need to apologize to my younger sister

Check out this scene:

That was a short clip where Daniel’s baby sister Margaret is trying to take his stickers. He’s getting really frustrated because she won’t leave him alone. Daniel’s dad steps in and admits that the stickers are Daniel’s, but maybe he could give Margaret just one to play with. He does, and they end up having a great time being silly with where to put the stickers in his sticker book.

My sister is five years younger than me, which is why the dynamic between Daniel and Margaret is so familiar. Like freaky familiar. I remember as a little kid, I would get so frustrated when my sister would play with my things. It never once occurred to me that I could actually have had more fun if I let my sister join me. She’s an insanely creative person, which I only fully appreciated years later when we took a road trip down to see my grandparents. On the drive, for fun, we wrote a sequel movie to MacGyver. Seriously. It’s called “MacGyver Lives” and it’s awesome.

Michael Bay, if you’re reading this, you’ll be very interested in our script. It’s very explodey.

Daniel Tiger showed me how much better my childhood could have been if I was more accepting of my baby sister. As I was writing this post, I texted her to apologize for not letting her play with my toys when we were kids.

That’s the kind of show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is. The social and emotional lessons are so poignant, that it can make an adult call his sister after 28 years to say he’s sorry.

Even if you don’t have kids, you owe it to yourself to watch at least one episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. And you’re in luck! Three new episodes are premiering this week – the first one is starting at 9:30 a.m. ET today (Monday). The next episode will premiere Tuesday, January 8, and another one will follow on Wednesday, January 9.

In today’s episode, Daniel visits the dentist and gets his first haircut. If you’ve ever dreaded going to the dentist, you won’t want to miss it. Here are some sneak-peak images provided to me by The Fred Rogers Company.

4 replies »

  1. OMG your post resonated with me. The worry about sippy cups struck home. Thanks to Velcro straps, it took our daughter FOREVER to learn to tie a shoe. My brother is 8 years younger than I am, and the only game we played on a regular basis was hide and DON’T seek (he was an excellent hider). Thanks for the laugh!


  2. My niece and her 4 precious children just moved away from me. Through the Tom Hanks movie about Fred Rogers, I discovered Daniel Striped Tiger, then Danuel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
    I am 72, a professional librarian, but, I am finding great comfort in Daniel. I feel love throughout this program, and it feels good! It feels positive. It helps me deal with my own loss


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