My Generation’s Pre-School

The trend today for people with young children, and for school districts as well, is to expose those young children to education at a much earlier age than when we were three and four years old. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that is a bad idea, especially with there being so many homes where both parents are working, or it’s a single parent home where that one parents has to work and parents aren’t home with the children. You see, when we were three and four years old, our Pre-School took place in our homes. Our moms were the primary teachers, but they were assisted by some great fellow teachers, found on either channel two, four, or seven of our black and white television sets.

As we were in that early childhood time of our lives, mom was doing her best to teach us our alphabet, our numbers, our colors, and so many other things. Moms, though, still needed to find time to maintain the home, do the laundry, cook, bake, sew, etc. She needed to keep up with all those things that moms did back then in their capacity as stay-at-home moms, housewives, and all the other titles they held during that time, along with raising us kids. (Please do not think I am profiling women, I’m just pointing out signs of the times back then.) Fortunately, she found many helpers for her children on a few television programs of the day.

One such program debuted in 1953 and throughout its run, had numerous hostesses in various cities across the country and even in other countries of the world. It was a show originally created and produced by Bert Claster, and featured his wife, Nancy Claster, A.K.A. Miss Nancy who ran TV’s popular children’s home school, Romper Room. It was on Romper Room, where children learned many of the things that moms started to teach at home, and more. Just as mom was assisted by Miss Nancy, Miss Nancy was helped by Mr. Do Bee, and Mr. Don’t Bee helping teach what behaviors to practice, and what behaviors not to practice, in daily routines. There was also a segment of the program where it was Milk and Cookie time, but before children could have their snack, they had to recite the Romper Room prayer of “God is Great, God is Good, Let us thank Him, for this food.”

On Romper Room, children also often got to sing along with Miss Nancy as she wound the popular toy of that time, the Jack in the Box, and had children sing a popular children’s song of that time, “Pop Goes the Weasel,” along with her. There was also a segment of the program where Miss Nancy wanted to know if children were paying attention, and/or enjoying the show, so she looked through the “Magic Mirror,” where she could “see” the children who were watching, and she named them on the show. She, and Romper Room, were tremendous helpers to moms at home, giving her time to raise the kids and get work done around the house as well.

There were other helpers to moms back in the days when we were preschoolers too. One man, one Bob Smith, A.K.A. “Buffalo Bob” (he was from Buffalo, NY) and his best friend, a marionette named Howdy Doody, taught some great things to children on the show he emceed, the Howdy Doody Show.

Buffalo Bob and Howdy hosted that show, which also featured the likes of Howdy’s adopted sister, Heidi Doody, Phineaus T. Buster, Flub-a-dub, and Clarabell the Clown. They all emphasized good eating habits, good behavior habits, good manners, how to be a good friend. They taught all those good lessons you’d want children to learn at a young age and cultivate as they get older, as part of the goal of growing up to be the best person they could be. Ironically, another television “teacher,” Bob Keeshen, A.K.A. Captain Kangaroo, was cast as the very first Clarabell the Clown on the Howdy Doody Show. Clarabell had no lines of dialogue throughout the entire series, prompting viewers of every age to believe he could not speak, but on the September 24, 1960, series finale, Clarabell surprised the Peanut Gallery and viewing audience by uttering the words, “Goodbye, Kids,” as the last show came to an end.

Captain Kangaroo came to television in October of 1955 and ran until December of 1984, marking it as the longest running nationally broadcast children’s television program of its day. The captain had a cast of characters which included Mr. Green Jeans, played by Hugh Brannum, Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, Dancing Bear, and Grandfather Clock. All of them followed the lead of Captain Kangaroo, suggesting ways and showing examples on how to be good friends, good students, good children, and grow up to become good people.

Looking at the formats of Romper Room, the Howdy Doody Show, and Captain Kangaroo, and comparing the content of the programs, the types of lessons they presented to children, and then looking at today’s Pre-School curricula, the lessons presented there, and the social skills they emphasize, you could say that Pre-School today could have been a children’s television program of the 50s and 60s, and the three shows mentioned could definitely be preschools today. The two could be considered interchangeable in conversations of then and now.

So the children lucky enough to be enrolled in licensed preschools or in educational institutions’ Universal Pre-K programs today, many of them operating in community churches, or school buildings that have been closed, no doubt, are in very good hands as their early education begins. Looking, though, at the “hands” my generation was in during our early education years, those of Mom, Miss Nancy, Mr. Do Bee, Mr. Don’t Bee, Buffalo Bob, Howdy Doody, Heidi, Phineaus T., Flub-a-Dub, Clarabell, Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Green Jeans, Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, Grandfather Clock, Dancing Bear, and all the other characters on all three of those shows, you could debate long and hard as to which generation might have been a just a little bit luckier. I vote for my generation.

Which would you choose?