Senior Lecturer Junlei Li found his calling in the children’s show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. As a graduate student in Pittsburgh, Li studied cognitive and developmental psychology but would soon discover the work of Fred Rogers and the idea of appreciating the power of “deep and simple” interactions in early childhood education.
Li would go on to co-direct the Fred Rogers Center and develop the Simple Interactions Approach, which focuses on the “building blocks” of early relationships through day-to-day interactions. In particular, Li focuses on how we can empower and encourage young children’s growth by enhancing the quality of human relationships in deep and simple ways.
What deep and simple can mean became clear to Li while observing orphanages abroad. Quality can be found in many places, he says, such as when he witnessed a caregiver take time during a routine diaper change to connect with a child. “In that moment you feel like there’s quality,” says Li.
“Part of our effort," he continues, "is trying to understand what is essential about quality or, what Mister Rogers would say, 'Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.'”
Li says parents and educators are having deep and simple interactions without knowing to call them by that name. “The good news is you don’t have to be a perfect human being that gets every interaction right. ... No matter how much you think you are struggling as a teacher or as a parent, please know there are already some interactions that you are doing that are just what the child needs,” Li says.
In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, Li, the newly appointed Saul Zaentz Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at HGSE, reflects on Fred Rogers, the true meaning of "high quality" in early childhood education, and what "deep and simple" actually looks like in practice.
About the Harvard EdCast
The Harvard EdCast is a weekly podcast featuring brief conversations with education leaders and innovative thinkers from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Jill Anderson, the EdCast is a dynamic space for discourse about problems and transformative solutions in education, shining a light on the compelling people, policies, practices, and ideas shaping the field. Find the EdCast on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.