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Make:cast – Mister Rogers, a Maker and More

A new book out April 20 looks at the learning science that Fred Rogers used to develop an understanding of the “inner needs of children” and then construct Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to reflect those needs. The book is called “When You Wonder, You’re Learning” and its authors, Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski who are with the Grable Foundation in Pittsburgh, are my guests on this episode of Make:cast. We talk about the ideas behind the work of Fred Rogers and why they are still relevant for today’s learners and young makers.

Information about the book can be found at whenyouwonder.org.

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May 1, 1969. Fred Rogers Testifying before Congress in Support of PBS (source: Wikimedia)

So many of us grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a show that Fred Rogers made and put together beginning in 1968 and which ran until 2001. He once told a US Senator, at a hearing on Capitol Hill in 1969, where he went to advocate for funding for PBS, that he not only hosted the show. “I do all the puppets, I write all the music and I write all the scripts,” he said, originally on a budget of $30.

(We) came to know Fred Rogers as this incredible presence on our television, someone who was loving and caring, but we can also think about Fred Rogers entirely differently.

Gregg Behr

He was a learning scientist. He was an incredible maker. He was radical and disruptive in taking advantage of the technology of his day in television and saying, and noticing, this is attractive to kids. How do I make it constructive and good? And so when we think about educators, … those artists and designers and technologists and others who are taking advantage of today’s tools and understanding the ways that they’re attractive to kids and saying, how do we make these productive and constructive and meaningful to learning?

Gregg Behr

Gregg is the founder of the ReMake Learning network in Pittsburgh and he believes it is founded on the methods and insights of Fred Rogers.

Ryan Rydzewski

Ryan says “Fred Rogers was ahead of his time”.

One of my favorite aspects of the neighborhood is you can pick any frame from any episode at any of his some 30, some seasons that span more than three decades and find something in there that once you understand the learning science behind the show, you can see what his intentions were. … He had a team of some of the top learning scientists in the country working with him.

Gregg explained that the book has six chapters based on themes. The first two are Curiosity and Creativity.

We ground you in some scenes from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood itself, but then what we try and do is elucidate in very smart ways, readable ways, ideally, Modern research about learning and the learning sciences to make plain.

In fact, what Fred Rogers was doing say 40 or 50 years ago has been born out by learning scientists and other researchers today and how that matters. And then what we try and do is give very concrete examples in school classrooms today, in museums today, and after-school programs today. Very contemporary examples of ways that people are in fact, using that Fred Rogers method in ways to support today’s learners.

Ryan cited the result of a longitudinal study that compared two groups of children over many years, which applies to any adult who is with children but especially parents:

What the scientists boiled this down to was this really beautiful, simple statement where they basically just said that their main takeaway from 40 years of following these kids was ‘be present with your children.’

That means playing with them. That means acknowledging and indulging their questions, it means letting them have these big, deep feelings, even when they seem irrational to us as adults. A big theme of the neighborhood is respecting childhood and being there for your kids.

And I think in many ways, all of the other studies, all of the other science that’s in the book is just an expression of that deep and simple statement of the importance of presence.

The authors were fortunate to get a cover blurb from Tom Hanks, who portrayed Mister Rogers in a recent film. The book, which is released today, can be found at local bookstores and, of course, this links to the book on Amazon.

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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