If you’re a 3-year-old (or you know one), and you watch TV, you know Daniel Tiger. The star of the PBS KIDS series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the animated offspring of the scruffy little tiger puppet from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, also named Daniel Tiger.
Daniel Jr.’s show airs six times a day on WHYY and Y Kids and anytime on Amazon. More than 8.6 million kids watch the show on-air each year, according to spokewoman Lubna Abuulbah.
In the powerful age 2-to-4 demographic, Tiger is a warm, fuzzy TV juggernaut. As of this week, he’s also Philly’s.
“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: A Grr-ific Exhibit” will open Thursday and run through Jan. 15 at the Please Touch Museum. The bright, temporary, made-for-preschoolers neighborhood occupies the space between the John Wanamaker monorail and Flight Fantasy. It features 4-year-old Daniel Jr. and four fellow progeny of original Neighborhood of Make-Believe residents. There are Miss Elena, O the Owl, Prince Wednesday, and Katerina Kittycat. On select days, a silent, adult-size Daniel Tiger mascot will roam the museum.
For parents of preschoolers, resistance is futile.
“From a visitor standpoint, [Daniel is] probably the most popular character we’ve had. He has the most star power,” Please Touch spokewoman Alice Emerson said.
Median age of a Please Touch visitor: 3.5 years.
Other recent character exhibits have featured Curious George and Mr. Potato Head. “We’re the only place on the East Coast who has Daniel,” Emerson said. Next year, the exhibit will head to the Minnesota Children’s Museum in Saint Paul.
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh created the “Grr-ific Exhibit” and hosted its debut in summer 2016. In January, the exhibit visited the Magic House in St. Louis, and then the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, Calif.
Pittsburgh, not coincidentally, was the home of Fred Rogers, the children’s-television showman, and the location of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The Fred Rogers Co. still has its headquarters there. A life-size statue of the late Rogers sits outside Heinz Field. Mister Rogers is Pittsburgh’s Joe Frazier. Or Rocky. Or something.
“Daniel Tiger” is the third Mister Rogers-inspired exhibit produced by Children’s Museum. It attempts to achieve something a parent of a preschooler could only dream of: create an analog experience that’s as engrossing as a cartoon. That job — or part of it — belonged to Children’s Museum design director Anne Fullenkamp. “It is always challenging to make a physical experience out of a series,” she said. “There are so many episodes, and every child has their own favorite.”
Spoiler alert: The exhibit includes the hit tune “When You Feel So Mad That You Want to Roar.” (Next line: “Take a deep breath, and count to four.”)
Other Neighborhood of Make-Believe highlights include costumes, masks, and a mirror for viewing your reflection while wearing them; a post office for sorting and delivering letters and packages; a music shop with real and not-so-real instruments to play; a factory that makes number-and-hands-free clocks, inspired by the one where Daniel’s dad works; a tree for posting thank-you sticky notes; a knitting machine filled with red yarn (the color of Daniel Tiger’s signature red cardigan); a movable mural of all five characters in kids’ sizes; and, highlight of highlights, a stationary climb-in and mini mobile renditions of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe’s trolley, bell and all.
“The trolley is always a star,” Fullenkamp said.
But the exhibit’s purpose is bigger than cartoon celebrities, or playing with just-like-TV toys, or even learning facts through play, she said. “The idea is, this is about friendship,” she said. “You have the five main characters, and they’re all friends, and they’re welcoming you because you’re friends, too. You go into the neighborhood and play — and learn how to socialize, how to share, how to be kind, how to say thank you, how to interact with society.”
Emerson called these lessons “social-emotional skill-building.” Fullenkamp, like Daniel Tiger’s creators, referred to them as “strategies.” She also called them “tools for growing up.” The techniques take aim at classic little-kid struggles — tantrums, hoarding, fear, sadness, anger, general ungratefulness, tantrums, and more tantrums — and deal with them, mostly through music.
In the TV show, these strategies arrive in the form of catchy, impossible-to-forget songs that Daniel sings to himself. These songs — Tiger’s greatest hits, if you will — play in the exhibit when kids place a “strategy block” inside an oversize replica of a vintage radio. (Grown-ups: Stand back, or you’ll risk getting these tunes stuck in your heads for the rest of the day.)
The exhibit is also designed to offer its small visitors open-ended opportunities to play among and learn from other children. Kid-size buildings simulate a neighborhood, as does a mat of toy-size buildings. Interaction is encouraged. So are feelings.
“Whatever is going on at home, [children] can bring that into the exhibit. They can continue that experience. You can see them working it out in the exhibit,” Fullenkamp said. “These are the tools for growing up and, frankly, for being a good person.”
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: A Grr-ific Exhibit
Through Jan. 15, Please Touch Museum, Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, 4231 Avenue of the Republic, pleasetouchmuseum.org.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the live show, comes Jan. 5 & 6 to the Merriam Theater. kimmelcenter.org.