Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

The following is from a talk that I gave this morning at Kidscreen Summit. The session was entitled Like a Boss:  Honing Your Leadership Skills. I was honored that Donna Friedman Meir had asked me to be among such a smart group of panelists, which was made up of

  • Kate Ebner
  • Thomas Lynch
  • Maggie McGuire

 

WHAT DOES LEADERSHIP MEAN TO YOU?

I believe that a leader is an eternal optimist. She has a vision, has audacity to see that vision through, and has contagious, passionate energy to empower the right people to help make the dream a reality.

My passion is to empower kids.  I want them to know that they have a voice, and that what they say matters…even if it takes them longer to say it.  I believe that if we pause, wait, listen attentively, preschoolers (kids in general) will talk.  And what they have to say is brilliant.  My vision is to create educational shows that kids want to watch.  My approach has been to marry the very best preschool curriculum with the magic and influence of media.

I was that 4 yr old who couldn’t sit any closer to Mister Rogers when he was on…& talking to me. I grew up and wanted to make my own mark on children’s television because I did not like much of what was on for kids.  Blue’s Clues was born out of the desire to have kids learn the skills they needed for kindergarten. I wanted them to practice those skills by using their voice and “interacting”. So, we left a 4 beat pause in.

Super Why is about motivating and teaching kids to read. By leaving the pause in, kids at home are practicing literacy skills by helping our super heroes with the power to read.

With the premiere of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood this Fall, I am bringing the pause back full circle, honoring the man who taught us about the power of the pause in television – Fred Rogers. And this time we use it for the most important skills of all…socio-emotional.

 

I started in the research department at Nickelodeon. And the day that I decided to leave to finish my Master’s Degree because I wanted to “create shows for preschoolers” was the day people called my “crazy”. I got lots of push back. But I saw my future. And I love to prove my neigh sayers wrong.

I remember being on set for the pilot of Blue’s Clues thinking to myself, “This had better work out because I’m never going back!” My father in law was the one who told me that only the best & biggest accomplishments come out of educated risks. I believe he was right.

 

THE BUMPS IN THE ROAD… 

My biggest career obstacle was the day we found out that Blue’s Clues had ended its run. What? 10 years, just under 100 people who were like family working under one roof for this great show. This wasn’t just a job.

As much as I should have known that productions don’t stay around forever, I wasn’t prepared for this day. I took some meetings and my barometer was, “If I don’t feel like throwing up after the meeting, I would pursue it.”. It took a year.

I had pitched PBS’ Linda Simensky my “reading show”, which was Super Why, and the day she called to tell me that PBS wanted to make it, I literally sank to the floor. My identity was back!

ADVICE FOR UP & COMING LEADERS…

Push through the negativity. Don’t follow the status quo. Don’t ask too many people what they “think”. Follow your gut, your passion, have chutzpah, make calls, meet people and follow through on opportunities to learn in the area that excites you even if you don’t know where its going to take you. Be open. Find an outlet to get your vision out in the world. And remember that it takes a village. So find the best and the brightest, be good to them, and have them join you in making your dream a reality.

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Conferences, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Super Why!

The kids’ entertainment industry’s most important annual event, Kidscreen Summit is in NYC this year from February 7-10.

On Feb 7th, I will be moderating the Channel Team Spotlight: PBS Kids session at 3pm. Coming off a 20% ratings hike last year, PBS Kids is all about transmedia in 2012. Listen in as the team talks strategy and explains why an integrated multi-platform approach to content is the new baseline for producers looking to land one onto the schedule. Also find out what is up next for the coveted Ready to Learn grant.

Come hear discussions about important issues & engage in critical dialogue that is integral to the business. Attendees from over 42 countries and 350+ kids broadcast buyers will be in the house.

[more info on Kidscreen Summit 2012]

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Blue's Clues, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood

I was going through some old bins over the weekend & came across something quite special.

14 yrs ago, I’d sent Mister Rogers some flowers and my little puppy, Blue, to thank him for inviting me to Pittsburgh and for showing me around his set. Shortly after I’d sent the gift, I’d received a photo of Daniel Tiger seated with Blue, in front of the flowers.

Just under the photo was a touching note from Fred. Fred Rogers was authentic…the real deal. He undoubtedly brightened my neighborhood as well as millions of others.

With all of our flaws and busyness, make sure to brighten someone’s world today!

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Blue's Clues, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Parenting

One common thread among successful people is that they’ve all been inspired in some way or another. I know that when I created Blue’s Clues, it was my brother, who is 14 years younger than me, who served as my inspiration. When he was six, I saw him physically reacting to a somewhat aggressive show he was watching. So I thought, why not harness that interactive power, but in a positive way? Hence, Blue’s Clues. And when The Fred Rogers Company asked that my team and I create the follow-up to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, what better inspiration than Fred himself? If I couldn’t find inspiration through his helpful ways and pleasant demeanor, I think I would’ve changed careers!

Of course, you don’t have to have a major project on your to-do list to find inspiration. In fact, for many creative people, finding inspiration is almost a routine part of their day. Unfortunately, though, too many people go about their day un-inspired, simply moving from task to task, watching the clock tick away in apathy. Life should involve pleasure, enjoyment and excitement—and finding something that inspires you each day can help you live that kind of life.

To me, inspiration is almost a heightened sense of awareness, where you get lost in your feelings and can spontaneously react to them in some way or another. T. S. Elliot said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” So, let the process take you to that unknown place. Some days are definitely easier than others to allow yourself to get swept away, but if you typically struggle to find inspiration, here are a few ways to find it:

Brush up on current events. If you read or see something that arises a strong emotion within you, get it out! Harness that idea or opinion in a positive way. For example, I was honestly tired of all the bipartisanship I’ve been reading so much of in the news lately, so I wrote what seemed to me like an ideal situation into an upcoming episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. In the episode, we discuss voting and illustrate different groups working together regardless of the outcome of the vote.

Look to friends and loved ones. Tap into the feelings that you get from the special people in your life to create something personal. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of great works of art were inspired by amore. As I mentioned earlier, my first draft of Blue’s Clues was essentially a way for me to give someone I loved dearly, my brother, the tools and lessons that would truly benefit him in life.

Appreciate the arts. Speaking of art, if music, dance or studio art speak to you, expose yourself to it more often. The beauty, the rhythm, the colors can inspire you to create your own masterpiece. Even if you can’t draw a straight line (which I honestly can’t), bring a small sketchbook to an art show or museum and simply doodle—you’ll be surprised at what unconsciously emerges!

Turn to religion. If you’re a religious person, what better muse to inspire incredible thoughts and actions? If you find a certain strength from going to church, then attend services or  various functions held by the church. If a Gregorian chant mentally takes you to a safer, more pleasant place, by all means add it to your playlist.

Get active. Being in tune with and focusing on your body allows you to hear what it has to say. If your body feels good, there’s a definite correlation to how your head feels as well, all contributing to an inspirational frame of mind. Perhaps it’s the effect of allowing more oxygen into the brain, which also allows you to think more clearly after you have physically pushed your body.

Grab a pen. Spontaneously writing in your own private journal allows you to process and reflect on much of what’s going on inside you. Even if you’re not a professional writer, it is a most freeing feeling to get it all down on paper. Many go about their day on auto-pilot, repeating their daily activities without reflecting upon them. This writing will allow you to put your ideas, dreams or desires in front of you in a much clearer fashion, inspiring you to actually obtain them. I have journals and mini notebooks all over my house and office with notes scribbled throughout, as this really helps me with an inspirational game plan going forward. And after a project or episode is complete, what better motivation for me to create the next one than seeing the joyful reaction of children all over the globe after seeing the fruits of my labor?

Whatever your passion might be, get lost within it. It feels great, and you’ll love the outcome!

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Blue's Clues, Conferences, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Super Why!

Join me Nov 2-5th at the world’s largest gathering of early childhood educators at the 2011 NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo, Orlando, FL. Sharpen your Playskool saw and come explore, connect, network and become energized.

If you’re not able to attend be sure to take advantage of this year’s newest online learning opportunity, the NAEYC Live Learning Center. This resource connects you with up to 50 hrs of selected sessions from the conferences allowing you to catch up on sessions you weren’t able to attend and experience twice the knowledge!

I will be a featured speaker on Nov 4th covering the topic of:  Connecting the Classroom to Educational, Interactive Children’s Media: Blues Clues, Super Why and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Come on over and say hello!

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Parenting

In an interview for The Fred Rogers Oral History Project, Sara Lindey, Ph.D. asked me “Are children today happy to play in a cardboard box or have times changed?”

I believe that YES, kids today are happy to play in a cardboard box and should.  Imagination and play is very important for kids.   My shows celebrate imagination and enriching play for preschoolers – but on television it looks different.  Because the way kids learn from television is different than they way they learn from play.

In my research, I have found that kids learn more from television and have a longer attention span for all things visual.  In order to extend the learning in their every day play, we need to show our stories in as visual a way as possible.  So, on television, the cardboard box can be a box but then morphs into the space ship kids are pretending it to be (with lots of rich galactic vocabulary and actions) and then back to the cardboard box.

Scaffolding the play this way gives kids wings – and they soar into learning!  Watch the interview from The Fred Rogers Oral History Project, entitled “Imagination & Attention” right HERE.

 

 

 

 

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, My Projects

 

I came across this Parenting in Progress post: My Neighborhood Is Not Animated yesterday & the following is my response:

I do love everyone’s passion.  I am also a passionate fan of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and I am involved in creating the new spinoff of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, called Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.   Of course, I take all of your concerns to heart and I want to keep the conversation going.

Here are some answers to your questions:

Who is creating the spin off of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?

Out of the Blue LLC with myself, Angela Santomero, and The Fred Rogers Company with Kevin Morrison.  I have an MA in Child Development and Instructional Technology and Media from Columbia University, Teachers College.  I created Blue’s Clues in 1996 that changed the way preschoolers watch tv and helped teach them kindergarten readiness skills as supported by a Univ of Alabama longitudinal study.  I created Super Why! for PBS Kids which teaches kids reading skills based on the National Reading Panel and was proven to help teach kids to read by a longitudinal study done by Univ of Penn.

Why Animation?

Because there is no way that we could find a new Fred Rogers.  He was born, not hired.  And I know.  Because I looked at 5,000 actors for Blue’s Clue and I hired Steve and Joe.  And as much as I love them, they are not Fred.  With animation, we can more clearly see the characters emotions in their faces and give little ones a more visual way to experience the curriculum.  We are carefully animating the show using textured, hand made elements that give it the “reach out and touch it” look and feel created by Traci Paige Johnson, my co – creator on Blue’s Clues.  And for what it’s worth, we have been working on this show for the past four years, and I can tell you that our level of animation is more expensive than a live action/puppet set, a style which I had chosen on many earlier projects.

Neighborhood of Make Believe:

As a fan of the show, I loved that Prince Tuesday was a baby puppet and then “grew up” and was a teenager puppet in later years.  I thought, it would be so much fun for me to go back and play in this world, now.  But what would the Neighborhood of Make Believe look like?  Well, everyone would have grown up and have had preschoolers of their own in their lives.  Daniel, the son of the original Daniel, is the star, because as Fred’s first puppet, he was the one closest to who Fred was as a person.  Four year old Daniel Tiger wears a little red sweater and little sneakers, calmly talks directly to the home viewer about his feelings, takes rides on the trolley, goes to the Neighborhood of Make Believe school and visits the neighborhood shops with all of his friends.  The nostaglia elements are in the show for us, fans.  Because, I for one, get very upset when a spin off doesn’t acknowledge where it came from (90210?).

Joanne Rogers (Mrs. Rogers), who, as you can imagine, is the closest to the original show and she loves Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.  She said, “I dare anyone to not fall in love with Daniel”.  And I do too.  This show has been lovingly researched, written, cared for, fretted over and is the sweetest show for preschoolers in years.  It incorporates beautiful music based on Fred’s musical style that I dare you not to sing and it will undoubtedly get stuck in your head.  It has a celebration of love between Daniel and his parents and his friends.  It has gentle reminders for little ones about how “grownups come back”, “when something seems bad, turn it around and find something good” and a variety of other prosocial, emotional tips.

I hope you give our show a chance.  Because, I promise you it is THAT good.

Regardless of any SpongeBob controversy, I’ve always believed that TV is an uber powerful medium.  If created with intent to teach, we can use it to further develop reading skills, thinking skills, & positive socio emotional behavior.  But creating with intent to teach is not an easy thing to do.  My shows have a foundation in child development, an understanding of how kids think, of how kids learn & how they watch TV.  My colleagues and I know that when you model something on television, chances are that kids who watch will model it, too.  That’s why, in the midst of all the negative research onTV, I’ve always wanted to turn it around to the positive!

Yes, kids model what they see.  Kids want to be part of the action.  Kids want to help.  So, what if instead of slapstick comedy where characters fall down and hurt each other, we showed characters thinking, solving problems with REAL strategies, and asking kids at home to help?  Could that be interesting and actually fun for kids?  YES!

Blue’s Clues, Super Why and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood came from years of work perfecting the way we present stories and curriculum on television for kids so they laugh, learn, and grow.  We don’t just throw something up on the screen because it’s funny.  We don’t promise to teach something we don’t deliver on.  We don’t believe in over stimulating kids, or having them nervously scream at the television – just because we’re afraid they will turn our show off.

We believe in good storytelling.  We believe in great characters.  And we believe in kids.  If we give kids the important formal features of adequate pacing and a strong curriculum so they can think and learn, we know that we will be impacting millions of kids in a positive way.

They will learn to read

They will score better on kindergarten readiness skills.

They will know & practice important life skills.

Sometimes I feel that our shows are the newly ripened avocados of the children’s television world.  We sit there, like an avocado, full of vitamins and minerals.  We taste awesome, but we don’t have all this fancy packaging that screams out HEY!  We Are So Very COOL!.

No, we avocados just sit there and patiently wait while, one by one, they figure it out.  And soon enough, someone picks us up and says, “Wow, this avocado tastes great. And look, our brains are growing and we’re healthier too!”

And see, when you choose “avocado” everyone wins.  😉

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, PRESS
A few of the stories and posts, immediately after
the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood news
was finally released to the press: 

 

 

 

 

 

Feel free to forward Kleenex…as I’m in tears with all the positive feedback!

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Kids, My Projects, Parenting

 

I just want you to imagine a four year old little girl who would sit in front of the television and talk to Mister Rogers most every day.  She learned how crayons were made, what to do with the “mad that she feels”, that there are “many ways to say I love you” and most importantly, she learned that Mister Rogers liked her just the way she was.

That little girl was ME.

Because of Mister Rogers, I grew up believing how powerful television can be for preschool children. I studied child developmental psychology, like Fred did, and I wanted to create interactive, educational shows that would help kids learn, just as Mister Roger’s Neighborhood did for me.  As a result of being so influenced by him, I grew up to create Blue’s Clues for Nick Jr and Super Why for PBS Kids.

And now, my life has come full circle as I get to create Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.  The four year old little girl in me gets to actually play in the Neighborhood of Make Believe!  Like all the preschool fans of Mister Rogers out there (Hello!  Let’s keep talking!), I had a story for all of the characters from the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  I just knew that Daniel Tiger grew up, got married and had a son named Daniel.  And Daniel wears a little red sweater and sneakers,  just like Mister Rogers did!  Daniel talks to kids at home and as a shy, sweet, four year old tiger, he is curious about the world.  He is also most caring, and is learning and sharing with the children at home.

Joanne Rogers, the widow of Mister Rogers, has been the one that’s caused me to hold my breath, waiting to see what she thinks of all of the work we’ve put into this passionate endeavor.  Waking up this morning, in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, I read Joanne say, “I was so excited because the old feeling is there. I think  Angela Santomero really captured it and I almost cried because I felt such relief.  I’d been anxious not knowing what to expect, but, oh, Daniel is just so cute. I can’t imagine everybody won’t love him, and I’m delighted…”

That four year old girl in me is singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood….” 🙂