Letters of Love and Learning: A conversation through the years
Letters of Love and Learning: A conversation through the years
by Renata Capozzoli and LeeAnne Kreuger
Dear Readers, In 2017, we began a pen pal project with our Kindergarten classes, both in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, but in different parts of the city. What began as a project for our students grew into a friendship and ongoing professional relationship, including our learning about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with Educators' Neighborhood. When thinking about how to share this experience with you, it dawned on us that we should, ourselves, become pen pals. We hope the letters that follow shed some light on not only the evolution of our teacher-learning but our growth as individuals. We are indebted to the Fred Rogers Institute for facilitating our journey. Sincerely, LeeAnne and Renata
Dear Renata, My class opened their first pen pal letter from your class today! They were so excited and could not believe they got their own "speedy delivery"! I am so thankful for you, your students, and our friendship that has grown through this project. This project has been such a meaningful one. Going on a park field trip together, you visiting us here at Beechwood, and watching an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhoodtogether were such special moments. Shoo, turkey, shoo shoo!—Remember that song (#1507)? It has been powerful for the kids to think about other kids just like them across the city learning and loving Mister Rogers, too. Do you remember what year we started this? Love, LeeAnne
Hi friend, I remember meeting you during a conference back in 2017. We were using a program which allowed students to send messages to their families during the school day. During our first interactions with each other, I noticed how you approached everything with positivity, and I wanted to connect with you again. We ended up making a plan to have our classes write letters to each other and our pen pal project began! Around this same time, our mutual friend shared with me that your Kindergarten classroom was watching episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood each week. I was fascinated with this idea of how children in Pittsburgh today would respond to this show all these years later. My class watched our first episode in January 2018 and we were hooked! I loved being inspired by an episode that you shared and experiencing it in my classroom with my students. The conversations and the play that followed, along with this new professional partnership we created, helped me find joy again! How did you choose what episodes to share with your students, and what was the most memorable episode you watched together? Love, Renata
Dear Renata, You are so right about this work bringing more joy to our jobs and our lives! Bringing Mister Rogers into my classroom has helped me slow down and appreciate the ordinary along with my students. Today I played the episode where Mister Rogers tries to hula hoop (#1720). You were the first one to suggest that episode during one of our conversations a few years ago! Afterwards we got the hula hoops out and tried, too! I think Mister Rogers could hula hoop better than me! Some of my students were pros! One of the most memorable episodes for me is the one with Koko the gorilla (#1727). Gorillas are my absolute favorite animal, and every time I play that episode you can almost hear a pin drop in my classroom. The students are mesmerized by Koko and how she interacts with Mister Rogers. It always leads to a discussion about sign language and different ways to communicate. I love it! Do you have a favorite episode? Did any episodes lead you to ask Emily for items from the Archive while we were Inquiry Educators? Love, LeeAnne
-- Dear LeeAnne, I love that hula hoop episode and what an important message to share with students about practicing skills to get better but more importantly, telling them you are loved whether you can or can’t do something. With all the stresses of teaching, particularly trying to fit everything in, this message was crucial for us as teachers too! Another one of my favorites is from the week of Learning (#1653) which features construction paper. I remember after we watched the factory visit on how paper was made that each child was given just one piece of paper to see what they could create. While some made paper chains like Fred did in the episode, others created things I couldn’t have imagined. I was inspired by their play with simple materials and the idea of “Less is More” encouraged me to think about the relationship between learning and play in my classroom which eventually grew into my Inquiry Project about the impacts of prioritizing time and space for play during every school day. Having the experience of reading in the Fred Rogers Archiveat the Fred Rogers Institute didn’t just transform my beliefs around play being essential to learning. It also helped me be more reflective and has led to personal growth in all my roles—as a teacher, mother, and friend. One of the most powerful things I read was about finding joy in the process of learning versus focusing on just the product. I think about how you have focused on children’s curiosity to make memorable learning experiences and I am thankful that you have helped me find ways to explore themes that matter to my students too. Is there something you read from the Archive that you’ve come back to again and again? Are there any topics that you hope to research this year? With love, Renata
Dear Renata, I love the construction paper episode, too! We have made some really spectacular paper chains throughout the years after watching that one! There are so many amazing and meaningful episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of Educators’ Neighborhood and see how Mister Rogers can still have such a powerful impact on our little learners and ourselves. I loved hearing your presentation over the summer about your inquiry work. I can see how play with simple materials helps your students with their creativity, problem solving, and social skills. Being an Inquiry Educator last year and diving deep into the Archive and teachings of Mister Rogers may be my favorite thing that I have been a part of so far on my journey with the Fred Rogers Institute. My inquiry around curiosity and acceptance manifested into my students learning to love what makes themselves and their friends so special. Getting to spend time with you and the others from our group on a regular basis throughout the year was like having mental health days built into my schedule. I was surrounded by loving and supportive peers that valued the same things I did. It was beautiful. My biggest takeaway during our inquiry work was that you have to be able to love and accept yourself before you can love and accept others. That is the neighborly thing to do! Moving forward I want to ask Emily to find items in the Archive about school readiness, self-control and attention for me to read. I think these topics could help me address the needs of my current class and help them to be successful in school. Are there any new topics you want to read about? I am excited to find new ways to stay involved with the Institute and keep incorporating Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in our classrooms! Love, LeeAnne
Dear LeeAnne, Each year the children that come to our classroom have had various needs and particularly since the pandemic, we have seen a wide range of skills and developmental levels that affect the transition into Kindergarten. While some have had more support at home or already had formal school experiences, others might have had limited social interactions and have never been inside of a classroom before. It can be challenging to adapt to what individual children need for their academic AND social emotional growth versus our own agenda of what needs to be accomplished based on district mandates as well as what students in previous years were able to do. I appreciate the way you recognize and adjust based on the needs of each class you work with, and I look forward to hearing about what you find in the Archive related to school readiness and self-control. I am actively trying each year to adjust my own expectations of how things should go and be more present with the beautiful children I am privileged to work with. I want to celebrate everyone for all that they are and all that they are becoming. Being a part of the Educators’ Neighborhood community and reading Fred’s writings have given me a deeper understanding of the importance of relationships and having a loving community within our classrooms. I would like to spend time reading about the effects of stress and trauma on learning so I don’t forget to acknowledge what others around me have dealt with or how I can support my students' ongoing experiences. I would also like to keep reading Fred’s thoughts around self-care for children and adults. Taking care of ourselves is necessary and relying on our friendship, as well as our Educators' Neighborhood community for support and encouragement has helped me tremendously. I always leave our conversations and any Educators' Neighborhood meeting or group event with a new idea of something to try and with validation about my own feelings regarding something personal or professional. These experiences, along with studying Fred and his show, continue to remind me that I am lovable just the way I am. In addition, sharing the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episodes with my students and my own children helps us all find joy and ways to keep growing. I can’t wait to see what this year’s pen pals find out about each other and I anxiously await when they can meet in real life! See you soon, Renata
Dear Readers, We hope you have enjoyed our letters to each other and are inspired to find ways to bring more love, light, play, and curiosity into your daily lives. Mister Rogers can help you with that! Love, LeeAnne and Renata
Renata Capozzoli and LeeAnne Kreuger met in 2017 after being introduced at a conference held at Carnegie Mellon University. After their introduction, they began a friendship that continues today. They have partnered together on an ongoing Kindergarten pen pal project, were original cohort members of Educators’ Neighborhood, continued their work with the Fred Rogers Institute as Inquiry Educators during 2021-2022, and continue to share and discuss ways that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood can benefit themselves and the learning of their students.
In Mister Rogers Talks with Parents (1983), Fred Rogers, in collaboration with Barry Head, outlines six "basic necessities" for children's learning readiness, one of which is "the capacity to look and listen carefully" (p170).
Positive learning outcomes are related to healthy social-emotional skills, and both are strengthened through quality interactions with adults. As a Youth Services Librarian, I am interested in this connection, and how I can support children's learning through programming like storytime.
The question of, "How might young children today respond to episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood?" was an early wondering explored through observation of children and teachers watching episodes in classrooms.