Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Social Justice in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

by Stacy Shaneyfelt

How many of you desperately want to reinforce vital notions of inclusion and character education among your early childhood-elementary aged kiddos but need a little winter “pick me up” in the parental or pedagogical department? Well, this blog offers a “neighborly” solution through the form of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a wonderful show that address issues of disabilities, biracial families, and other important themes through the cartoon as well as various products, activities on the PBS app, and more!

“Blast from the Past”

Did you as parents or teachers grow up with the beloved Mr. Rogers and his pioneering show that reinforced how we are all special, regardless of our differences? He was one of my favorite educators for sure! Well, look no further, as experts praise this modernization as a “young tiger changes his shoes and puts on a red sweater before having adventures with his friends and family that reinforce the same concepts found in the original TV show. That is, recognizing that everyone is special, that we are all unique but also share many characteristics, and the importance of general kindness, empathy, and responsibility for those around us” (Bateman, 2016).

“A Tree Grows in Pittsburgh: Daniel Tiger”

As an avid bookworm all my life, I’ve always admired by A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which mirrored some of my own socioeconomic hardships as a child and teen. Now as an adult, I recognize how Daniel Tiger also cultivates this “tree of life” notion, as it reflects the need us to embrace empathy and diversity, particularly in the horrific aftermath of the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in my city. Specifically, I struggled to explain to my inquisitive three-year-old at the time why mommy was crying and unable to drive the car, as we pulled over at the nearest empty school lot upon receiving a text that one of my former friends from a yoga class might have attended that service. When acts of hate hit us like the latest round of wintery Artic blasts, how do we instill resilience, tolerance, and compassion for the next generation?

“Daniel Tiger: More Wows than Growls”

Through the show’s subtle mix of songs, lessons, and diverse characters, we can find solace that our kids will receive more “wows than growls” from this terrific tiger! Daniel uses his words and emotional regulation skills to delicately touch upon themes of masculinity as well as his interactions with friends such as Miss Elaina, a bubbly, brilliant, biracial child, Prince Wednesday, his royal but humble friend, and Chrissie, a spunky, beautiful, and independent gal pal with a physical disability. Chrissie is a “she-ro” because she does not allow crutches or braces to hinder her free spirit and determination to participate in activities with her friends. She models how little modifications and accommodations enable me to dispel any myths or labels. Girl power, indeed!

We need more “Chrissies” in our children’s lessons and programs. Specifically, research shows how depictions of disabilities in cartoons are gravely lacking as “One in six children in the United States has a developmental disability” (Huckstadt & Shutts, 2014), but these portrayals are majorly missing from children’s programming, games, apps, toys, and books currently. Studies further reveal how after an analysis of 407 episodes of children’s programming to better understand what children could be acquiring about people with physical disabilities from television, the findings indicate how “characters with a physical disability are rare, tended to be older males whose disability is not central to the character’s importance, but the characters themselves are not central to the plot” (Bond, 2008). Although many shows shy away from including diverse characters, check out Daniel and his friends to impart that neighborly feel to your kids and students this week!

 

In addition to social activism, Stacy is the mindful mamacita to two fierce and fabulous females, ages 1 and 4 and two frisky fur babies. Stacy was an English/Drama educator for 16 years but now works as a virtual freelancer, online teacher, and editor at Upwork.com, BrainMass.com, and Wyzant.com. Stacy enjoys travel, films, coffee, art, and blogs

References

  • http://www.neighborhoodarchive.com/dtn/characters/chrissie/index.html
  • https://pbskids.org/daniel/
  • Bateman, T. (2016). Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: You Are Special, Daniel Tiger! School Library Journal, 62(11), 48.
  • Bond, B. (2008). The Invisible Minority: Portrayals of Physical Disability on Children’s Television Programming. Conference Papers, National Communication Association, 1.
  • Huckstadt, L. K., & Shutts, K. (2014). How Young Children Evaluate People With and Without Disabilities. Journal of Social Issues, 70(1), 99–114.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s