Robin Milwit’s summer internship with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1996 was life-changing.
“What a learning experience,” says Milwit, who teaches kindergarten at Greenwood Elementary and is the author of Hedda and the Hourglass.
Milwit, then a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania pursuing a bachelor’s in elementary education and a master’s degree in adult education, met Fred Rogers three weeks into her internship. After that, she was a fan forever.
During her time with the show, she was involved in administrative duties, which included sending information and brochures to families on issues such as managing anxiety, going to the dentist, and grieving a pet. She read through letters from prison inmates expressing gratitude for how Mister Rogers made them feel special and unique.
“Mister Rogers saw them for who they were and not the mistakes they made,” she says.
Reading the letters from people of all ages helped her realize that both kids and adults have trouble communicating and expressing their feelings. That realization was the seed that eventually became her children’s book.
Milwit had kept in touch with Hedda, the show’s former associate producer and currently a consultant with the Fred Rogers Institute in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. When Milwit received the 2018 Teaching Excellence Award, given by The Community Foundation, she reached out to Hedda and told her that she and Mister Rogers were her inspiration. The award included a trip to Finland to learn about the education system.
“On the trip, I knew I wanted to reach more kids. They incorporated play and social and emotional learning into everything,” she says about Finland’s approach to education.
Milwit had always thought about writing a book and talked with her niece, Samantha Milwit.
“She’s a great illustrator,” Milwit says. “I told her about the idea, and she loved it.”
Books Can Help Kids Process Their Feelings
During her college internship, Robin learned the importance of helping kids be more self-aware, curious, and able to self-regulate. She also learned about the importance of listening to children.
“As a teacher, I try to intertwine these skills into every part of the day,” she says. “I wanted to reach as many kids as I could to help them deal with their emotions – their fears, excitement, anger, all of. t. Mister Rogers said, If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable”
As a teacher, Milwit sees kids in the classroom who don’t know how to handle their feelings. One of the ways she could help was through the character of Hedda.
In the book, Hedda learns to deal with her feelings with the help of an hourglass.
“The top part with the sand represents all the feelings you have. You might have so many feelings that you don’t know what to do with them. The skinny part of the hourglass is how to tame your feelings and the bottom part is how you reframe your feelings. So it’s name it, tame it, and reframe it.”
The book, which came out in June, empowers kids.
“Kids have anxiety and behavior problems and we’re hearing more about it. If there is anything I can do to help kids process their emotions, that’s the goal.”
When Milwit sent her college mentor – the original Hedda – a copy of the book, Hedda told her how much she believed in the book’s message.
“She was taken back by it and so excited for me,” says Milwit, the mom of two — Zack who is studying at Virginia Tech and Cammie who attends Glen Allen High School.
Milwit hopes to write another book and continue Hedda’s journey.
“All of this stemmed from that one internship,” she says. “I just want to help kids process their feelings so they can be better adults when they grow up.”
Hedda and the Hourglass by Robin Milwit is available on Amazon.