REMEMBER DING DONG SCHOOL?
From Reminisce Mag
by Jan Parrott-Holden
My kids grew up with Mr. Rogers, but I'm convinced there's no televised teacher in the world to equal Miss Frances...and no classroom, real or imaginary, as fascinating as Ding Dong School.
An apple-cheeked woman with twinkling eyes, Miss Frances always had a friendly smile. Though she couldn't have been very old, her conservative clothing and matronly figure gave her a grand motherly charm.
NBC television cameras brought Miss Frances ( her real name was Frances Horwich) into my life in the mid-'50s, but the program had its debut in the Chicago area in October of 1952. Within 6 months, it was such an overwhelming success that it was seen coast to coast, sponsored first by Scott Paper Company and later by General Mills.
Miss Frances had excellent credentials. She was, after all, a real teacher. She'd received a master's degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from Northwestern and was head of the education department a Chicago's Roosevelt College. Yet, despite her impressive academic background, she knew just how to talk to children.
Bend and Shape
When I was 6, Miss Frances taught me how to grow a sweet potato and turn it into a beautiful green plant. I remember feeling special when Mom displayed my plant on the coffee table. Miss Frances encouraged kids to be creative. Although my artistic abilities were minimal, I was always eager to try a new Ding Dong Schoolproject. Once, Miss Frances showed us how to make something special out of pipe cleaners. She bent and twisted them into all sorts of cute animals. At the end of the program, she encouraged us to run out to our local five-and-dime and purchase the inexpensive pipe cleaners. That's just what I did. But I was devastated when the clerk said he was sold out--all the other boys and girls who'd been watching my favorite show had beaten me to the punch!
Miss Frances received thousands of fan letters a week. At the height of her popularity, the show was watched by 95% of the nations preschoolers. I didn't know what a fan letter was back then, but I wrote to Miss Frances and was delighted to receive a personal reply. Years later, I discovered my mother (also a teacher) had written her own fan letter to Miss Frances. Mom appreciated Miss Frances' innovative approaches to teaching and liked the way she stressed respect and responsibility.
An Argyle Pony
My most fond recollections of the show come from the special times Mom and I spent together, trying out Miss Frances's ideas. I'll never forget the time Mom helped me make a stick horse out of and old broomstick and one of my dads argyle socks.
I also recall how Mom would tiptoe into the room during the last few minutes of the show to sit with me while Miss Frances told parents a few things about the program. Sometimes Miss Frances would even tell parents to send us kids outside to play. I'm not exactly sure what she shared with parents during those time, but I imagine it had something to do with encouraging us kids to have good manners or learn how to be more independent. Sometimes when I wasn't sharing or had lost my temper, Mom would remind me that "Miss Frances wouldn't approve". It may not have always worked, but it certainly gave Mom an ally.
I could almost hear the voice of Miss Frances asking, "Did you follow directions? Did you hang up your coat when you came indoors from play? Did You offer to help Mom set the dinner table? Good for you! Miss Frances is proud of her boys and girls!"
ThoseDing Dong School days are long gone now. But I don't think I'll ever forget my television teacher, smiling and ringing her old-fashioned hand bell. That "cling-a-clang" was such a happy sound-- a promise of good times to come with Miss Frances.