Mr. Rogers describes his goal to build imagination in children.
Mister Rogers' Show Seeks To Help Children Be Children New York Into the bing-bing, wham-zam, strobe-lighted, strident-voiced maelstrom that is the daily television lot of most American preschoolers, the gentle voice and quiet calm of Fred Rogers fall like precious oils on troubled waters. ' Rogers' lanky, low-key presence is the core of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," the half -hour program for preschoolers that is currently seen on the 200 nationwide Public Broadcasting Service television stations. Unlike the endless commercial cartoon programs, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is not intended simply to provide a babysitting diversion of highly questionable value for the little ones. Unlike "Sesame Street," it does not concern itself with teaching basic skills in preparation for formal education, as do Sesame Street's celebrated counting and alphabet songs and flash-throughs. It is a simple, serene program whose sophisticated purpose is to help children be children, to build them an awareness and acceptance of themselves and the physical and emotional worlds they live in. Through pictures or puppets, through quiet talk, through animal pets or music, Rogers explores various experiences that may seem strange or exciting or threatening, such as cooking, house moving or a visit to the doctor, a new baby or a train ride, or even blindness. The latter was made acceptable to children by a visit of blind saxophone player Eric Kioss who showed that he could play his sax the way a child buttons a . sweater, without looking at the buttonholes. The real message, however, was that blindness sometimes just happens, it doesn't come because you have said or done something naughty. - Mister Rogers's Neighborhood is produced at station WQ ED-TV in Pittsburgh. Rogers' instinct and knowledgability about children arise in large part from his thorough training in the field. He stud- at United Fred Rogers Presbyterian Theological Seminary and was ordained a minister expressly to work with children in the mass media, probably the only person who has been so ordained. He is an authority on child psychology, and each week's programs are DreDared in con sultation with child development specialist Dr. Margaret Mcr arland and the Arsenal and Children's Center of the University of Pittsburgh, where ne serves as consultant. He was a forum chairman at the 1970 White House Conference on Children. 'We reallv do know the developmental tasks of childhood on the program," Rogers said with a gentle smile, "so we Know wnat we re doing. We are trying to build the imagination of the child. For our age kids, me prescnooiers, there is no real sport or work. Then- sport and their work is their imaginative play. They are trying things out in miniature, li you will. A child without play is a child whn is REALLY deprived." It was from this feeling of the life function of playing that Rogers draws his adamant position to commercials on cniidren's television. He is an active supportor of Action for Children's Television. a citizens' movement that recently pressured the FCC into considering a ban on commercials in children's TV. "I agree with a lot that ACT is doing," he said. "I think they're the first group that has gotten any dander up from the FCC. The commercial networks have now assigned people to direct their children's programming, and whether they re just titles or not, a lot of it is because of the attention of the FCC and ACT before that. "The airwaves reallv do belong to the public. Thev are public property. 'My feeling about com mercials, of course, goes in the area of my feeling about everytning, which is the effect on the children. Commercials make people feel that they aren t sumcient with then- own resources. They say vou needi some sort of pill to keep calm, or some sort ot drink to keep cool or in the case of children some land of toy to play. "It isn't the tov that nlavs " Rogers said firmly. "It's the child that plays with the toy. We try to make children use their own resources. A child can make a toy out of anything: vnn know, you've seen it. Mister Rogers" started as a 15-minute nrogram nn Hnnaiian television 1963. It blossomed and Dioomed over the years, to the point that when the mnnev ran out in 1967 the Sears Roebuck foundation made a grant nf $150,000 to NET. who maMorf it, to. help Mr. Rogers go na tional, ine program continues to be funded bv Sears "RnehnMr on1 Public Broadcasting. Mister Rogers Neighborhood has two parts, the "real umrirf" and the fantasy world, or iieignoomooa ot Make Believe. The real world includes regulars such as Mr. McFeeley, who runs the Speedy Messenger Service and never has time to chat, Chef Brockett, who maintains law and order in the kitchen, and little Betty Aberlin whn ni.. the "pretend" niece of King Friday the 13th. RECOVERY Allison McKay of "Arnie" had polio at 10. was told she'd never walk again. Later, she was a featired dancer and sintror In I - "- I snow rooms in Las Vppac Rpn-. i?Jia jbaice Tanoe.