An Ode to Daniel Tiger

While our household has strict limits on kids’ screen time, there is one show we consistently allow Sprout to watch- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. This Mr. Rogers’ spin-off captures much of the charm of the original, even though it’s animated rather than live action.

It focuses on realistic social situations: Every episode consists of two halves, each of which has slightly different takes on the same theme. While the characters are cartoons and many are animals, Daniel Tiger and his friends face scenarios similar to those of real-life preschoolers. From a younger sibling being born to trying new foods, the episodes address common issues in a relatable way. The lessons from the animated sections are then reinforced with a short live action piece on the same message. Doing variations on a theme reinforces the lessons and helps kids apply them in different situations. As a result, it provides great fodder for conversations between parents and kids. Even when it’s a subject we’ve discussed before, Sprout is much more interested when Daniel Tiger has talked about it. In fact, researchers found that if parents talked to kids afterwards about the episode, watching Daniel Tiger can help kids develop social and emotional skills.

The parents (and adults in general) are present and caring: Children’s media is notorious for cutting parents out of the picture. From dead moms in Disney to Dora’s jungle hijinks, people just can’t figure out how to allow kids to have adventures if adults are anywhere nearby. Even Sesame Street has cut back drastically on its adult presence from the old days. Daniel Tiger flips this script, in part because the adults are based on Mr. Rogers’ original puppets. While they’re now animated, the adults – from King Friday to X the Owl – are just as much a part of the Land of Make Believe as the kids. They have a steady presence in the kids’ lives – not directing or impeding on their play, but there when needed. As a parent who sees myself as a guide more than anything else, this balance is refreshing.

Daniel himself is a good role model: I really dislike kids’ shows where the protagonist is obnoxious. (Ahem, Caillou.) Even if the lesson is good, it’s a psychological truth that people remember the majority of what they see, regardless of whether or not it is contradicted in the end. The uselessness of “Do what I say, not what I do” applies to TV as well. In contrast, Daniel is one of the most patient preschoolers of all time. He still learns lessons, of course, but changing his behavior doesn’t require a personality transplant.

It has a calm, almost gentle pace: A lot of kids’ shows have a frantic, rushed pace. They overwhelm the senses with music, sound effects, and incredibly bright colors. They jump from very short segment to segment with abandon. In contrast, Daniel Tiger feels relaxed and almost slow. It doesn’t try to cram too much in per episode and has clear, logical transitions. Even beyond the theme song, which is based on Mr. Rogers’, you can almost hear his calm voice informing the episodes.

It doesn’t make parents want to claw their eyes out: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood isn’t exactly high entertainment, but I enjoy watching it with Sprout. The songs are catchy, the animation is fairly good, and the voice acting is well-done.

It emphasizes the power of imagination, especially to problem solve: One criticism that Generation Xers and Millennials kept hearing about our parenting is that we’re trying to protect our kids too much from failure. Daniel and his friends run into a variety of everyday dilemmas and use transferable skills to resolve them. Often, this involves using their imaginations to get creative or process the feelings they have about an issue.

It doesn’t have that much merchandise and what it has is pretty good: Some kids shows literally started as toy advertisements. (My Little Pony appears to have redeemed itself, but it’s still heavily commercial.) Even other shows produced by PBS have overwhelming amounts of stuff, especially Thomas with its horrifyingly expensive trains. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has only been on for a season and a half, so it only has a limited amount of merchandise associated with it. And if you or well-meaning relatives do choose to buy stuff, most of it is books and clothing, not cheap, breakable junk. In addition, PBS’s website has a phenomenal page about Daniel Tiger birthday parties, with activities and free printable materials. It makes having a Daniel Tiger party on the relatively cheap side very doable. For Sprout’s third birthday, we used the coloring sheets, printable masks, and certificates.

If you are against showing your kids television at all, that’s a choice I fully support. But if you’re looking for a TV show with good values that will be reasonably enjoyable for everyone, I recommend Daniel Tiger.


3 thoughts on “An Ode to Daniel Tiger

  1. I was really impressed by Daniel Tiger, but it does get to me that all the “legacy” characters seem like they’ve had their personalities filed off and replaced with “generic caring responsible parent with no particular traits of their own”. It’s not really a problem for actual children who are unlikely to be familiar with the original interpretation of the characters (Though I did use it as a hook to introduce my son to old episodes of Mister Rogers), but it makes me sad.

    • Unfortunately, I don’t have strong memories of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, even though I know I watched and loved it. So I myself don’t have a strong association with the original characters. I can see why that would be frustrating though.

  2. Pingback: 9 Things I Learned While Visiting the New York State Museum with a Three-Year-Old | We'll Eat You Up – We Love You So

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *