The above link takes us to episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a PBS series centering around four-year old Daniel Tiger, son of original Daniel Striped Tiger on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood focus on social-emotional lessons, such as how to handle disappointment, sadness or anger or how to be thankful, get along with others and be appreciative.
The series aligns perfectly with what my organization, Operation Ready By 3 (ORB3), and my ORB3 Infant-Toddler Curriculum focuses on since it gives wonderful examples of the words that grown-ups should use to teach and guide children as well as words that young children should use to learn, get ready for school, and live up to their full potential. I especially like the one-minute song titled “Use Your Words and Say How You Feel” and the slightly more than 2-minute video titled “Grrr! I Want to Be the Engineer,” in which an adult encourages Daniel in a developmentally-appropriate way for a 4-year old to use his words to express his feelings and wants to get along with a peer. The 2.18-minute video titled “Grrr…You Ruined My Farm!,” in which Daniel Tiger’s mom patiently and perfectly encourages him to use his words when he is angry with her for cleaning up his farm animals, is priceless in terms of showing grown-ups how to use their words to build language and social-emotional skills in preschoolers.
The most important piece to remember here is that Daniel wouldn’t be nearly as successful while using his words, expressing his feelings, getting along with peers and grown-ups, and taking in the whole sensory experience he encounters if the grown-ups around Daniel hadn’t started using their words appropriately and encouraging Daniel to use his own words long before he was four years old. I see PBS as one of the best resources available for teaching and learning skills during the early years of a child’s life, but the brilliant minds at PBS are making assumptions that we can’t make in terms of a child’s early development or experiences. The content given to families on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood assumes that early learning has taken place from zero to three years old by way of competent, caring, communicative adults. It assumes that the grown-ups in a child’s life are watching the show in order to learn how to use their own words appropriately. After all, Daniel Tiger learns from the grown-ups around him, so we can only expect real children outside of “TV Land” to be learning from adults who are as “up” on child development as the grown-ups on PBS’s shows. It’s as important for the grown-ups to be learning as it is for the children who are glued to the screen.
Daniel’s success at four years old is directly and undeniably dependent on the language, emotional, social and sensory stimulation that he received from birth to 3. A child whose exposure to these four crucial domains was limited or developmentally inappropriate could never hope to be where Daniel is by the age of four. This child would not only have difficulty using his words appropriately, but would also have difficulty understanding what Daniel Tiger, his mom, his peers or other grown-ups are saying and trying to teach him about finding his words, being social, trusting others, expressing feelings and so much more. We can think of it as how a foreign language sounds to us as grown-ups: full of words, but lacking meaning since we can’t understand what the person is saying. Sadly, government- and privately sponsored programs that try, try and try again to make a difference in four-or five-year olds once they arrive to Pre-K or kindergarten simply haven’t been proven to be able to change the brain wiring and connections that happened from birth to 3. There can be changes made on a short-term basis and much learning certainly happens, but the permanent changes for consistent success throughout a school career and throughout life do not take place as people hope or expect. However, taking action early in a baby’s or toddler’s life, through programs such as parent training or home visiting programs, have been shown to make for permanent change in the wiring of a child’s brain for school and life success.
I challenge all of us to be the kind of parent, educator, caregiver, community member, TV-show producer, business owner, etc. who thinks about early learning from birth to 3 years old as the absolute most important period of development and learning in a child’s life. If we all did whatever we could to give children just what they need from 0- to 3-years old, every last 4-year old child in America could watch Daniel Tiger, absorb the superb lessons offered by him and his “cast-mates,” and apply them seamlessly into their real lives for success in school and life. Wow, I just got a shiver up my spine thinking about what it would look like if every child in America was ready for school and life by the age of 3!