Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. As a kid who looked forward to watching him and Mr. McFeely and Lady Elaine Fairchilde every day on our teensy black-and-white ’70s TV, I can think of nothing better than sharing him with my own kids.
And today we all can — no ’70s-era TV needed! — because Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is on Amazon Prime (23 seasons are, anyway, from 1979 to 2001) and selected episodes are also on PBS Kids. Every one of them is worth watching, but here are five favorites that I’ve recently shared with my kids. I have a feeling your kids (and you!) would love seeing them too.
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Death is a difficult concept for kids to grasp, but leave it to Mister Rogers to address it in exactly the right way. When he finds one of his goldfish floating in its tank, he takes it outside to bury it. He starts talking about how he felt when his childhood pet dog, Mitzi, died. He tells us that feelings about death are complicated — sad and heavy — but they don’t always feel that way. And he makes sure to let kids know that it’s okay to feel bad, because death is a hard thing for everyone to understand, even grownups.
Episode 1453: Mister Rogers meets a witch
And not just any witch…the witch! Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, joins Mister Rogers for talk about how she played the character of the witch — a character that she knows can seem scary, but really it’s just her under the hat and makeup. Her sweet interview is part of a series in which Mister Rogers helps show the difference between real and pretend (another episode features Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby of The Hulk). As a kid who found the Wicked Witch the very definition of terrifying, this episode stuck with me for a long time in the best way. (The full episode isn’t online yet, but here’s a short clip of the interview.)
Mister Rogers knew what kids wanted to see long before YouTube videos did: How things are made! So many of his episodes take kids behind the scenes to explore the origins of ordinary things they see in their day-to-day lives (he even showed us how towels are made. Towels! And it was mesmerizing!) but this one — where we see how crayons are made, from the railcar that carries the hot wax to the boxing of the finished crayons — stands the test of time.
Mister Rogers introduced kids to opera — and how amazing is that? These weren’t just any operas, of course; these were whimsical stories set to music and performed by the puppets and people of Make-Believe. This episode’s opera is called Windstorm in Bubbleland, a trouble-free land that experiences sudden weather that threatens all the bubbles. It’s just completely enveloping — such a lovely chance for kids to get lost in a world of imagination.
This fun episode is all about work — including kids’ own work, which, according to Mister Rogers, is to play and learn. But one of the things that’s mind-blowing about this episode is that Mister Rogers shows us his job. He takes us behind the scenes of the show, panning the camera to reveal the set and explain it wasn’t his real house. We see some of the puppets and meet people who help plan and produce the show. And what’s absolutely magical is that none of this shatters the illusion of Mister Rogers — his honesty only makes us trust and appreciate him more.