Remember Romper Room? It was like preschool on TV

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Romper Room: Television classroom for preschoolers (1971)

From The Leaf-Chronicle (Clarksville, Tennessee) May 26, 1971

The world’s largest kindergarten is not located in India or China. It is located in Baltimore, although — geographically speaking — its classrooms are scattered throughout 106 American cities and 56 foreign cities around the world.

This internationally famous children’s institution is better known as the “Romper Room” (except in French Canada, where it’s known as “La Jardiniere”).

Romper Room originated in Baltimore 18 years ago, the creation of Bert Claster, an independent television producer, and his wife Nancy. Since then, the Clasters have continuously improved and updated their original program concept and format as new educational techniques have been developed.

Romper Room - Nancy Claster (1956)

Currently, the latest revamped version of Romper Room includes a series of 12 new children’s games, geared to the two important areas of perceptual motor development and visual training.

The games were prepared in conjunction with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and were introduced on the program in April. As a result of this close cooperation, the Clasters have been authorized to end the program each day with the President’s Council Seal.

Doing it 

“Our guiding principle,” says Nancy Claster, “is based on the old Chinese proverb which teaches us that to hear is to forget, to see is to remember, and to do is to understand.”

“In line with this motto,” adds Bert, “doing, rather than viewing, is our goal. We want our millions of young viewers to participate, to become involved with the children and the teacher on the program, by playing the featured games in their own living rooms.”

Vintage Nebraska Romper Room

Each Romper Room Kindergarten program features six local girls and boys aged four to five, under the supervision of a qualified preschool teacher. All of the teachers, including those from other countries, must undergo an intensive training course in Baltimore under Nancy Claster’s supervision.

Each youngster participates in the Romper Room for a period of two weeks, three of the six participants being replaced each week. So far, over 160.000 children around the world have received their two-week diplomas.

There are international Romper Rooms in Canada, Mexico, England, Northern Ireland, Brazil, Argentina, Finland, Japan, Hong Kong and Jamaica, in the West Indies, among other countries.

“The program’s purpose,” says Nancy earnestly, “is to prepare preschool youngsters for their first classroom experience in ‘big school.'”

Romper Room 1970
Romper Room ad from 1970 (courtesy of The TV Guide Historian)

Hood college

To achieve this, the program’s teaching techniques and content are approved by Hood College of Frederick, Md., which participates in the formulation and periodic review of the Romper Room program.

in developing the new visual perception games, the Romper Room. staff consulted with members of the Kennedy Institute, a branch of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Approximately 60 new visual perception activities will be incorporated into the format.

“These activities,'” explains Bert Claster, “were created to help children develop their spatial and auditory perception. Although not diagnostic, by design, these visual perception games can serve to alert parents that something could be wrong with their child. Hopefully, this would lead them to seek medical or other professional help in time.”‘

One of the commonest conditions disclosed by the games is dyslexia, a reading disorder that causes a child to transpose letters —  “‘natsy” for “nasty,”‘ for example. Another is amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” in the Romper Room’s simplified by effective language, which means just that — an eye that is weaker than its twin and needs to be strengthened through exercise.

Vintage Romper Room Book of Manners

Motor games

The new perceptual motor games are designed to involve movement of all parts of the body, to develop locomotor skills, muscular strength and cardio-vascular endurance. They also develop hand-eye coordination, balance, good posture and an awareness of gravity.

The Clasters are proud of the fact that an estimated 19 percent of their 5 million viewers in the United States are mothers.

“To help achieve communication between mothers and their children,” says Nancy, “we created a ‘Think About’ segment, during which the teacher suggests questions for our young viewers to ask their mothers,”‘

The program works closely with various government and public service organizations. such as the American Red Cross, American Dental Association, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the National Tuberculosis Association, the U. S. Public Health Service and the National Fire Prevention Association, among others.

As a result of their frequent screening of a film on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation made by the Red Cross, the Romper Room program has been credited by that organization with saving at least 19 lives.

“The most dramatic case,” says Bert, “was that of a nine-year-old boy in Tennessee, Ricki Gore, who pulled his two-year-old brother from a well, and saved the baby’s life by expertly following the Red Cross demonstration he had viewed on Romper Room a few weeks before.”

Vintage Romper Room clock puzzle toy

Romper Room: “Real children doing real things” (1978)

Excerpted from an article by Anna Quindlen in the Winchester Evening Star (Virginia) March 3, 1978

Perhaps no one in America publicly exhibits such unalloyed pep, good humor, and energy in the early hours of the morning as Sally Gelbard, known to those of her friends who are between the ages of four and six as Miss Sally.

Various Romper Room TV show hostesses

Unless, of course, you count Miss Marti in Wichita, Miss Soco in Los Angeles, or Miss Marianne in New York, who have all taken tutelage in good temper from Miss Sally herself.

While many people are still grumbling over their morning coffee, these ladies are preparing to fall on the floor, fondle fish or fowls, bang spiritedly on pots and pans, and sit on small seats, surrounded by small children, with big smiles on their faces.

They are Romper Room teachers, and this month, the show they host celebrates its 25th anniversary as the oldest children’s show on television, most fittingly led by the daughter of the original smiling Miss Nancy, the present Miss Sally herself.

“Romper Room has really seen the metamorphosis of this business,” said Miss Sally recently, after doing one live and one taped segment of the quasi-classroom show for preschoolers from her home base in Baltimore. ”

When we first syndicated, it was all local, with our representatives going around checking for quality control; there wasn’t much for children on television — or at least not much that was good.

Now there are pre-taped shows in a lot of cities and, of course, there are excellent children’s shows. But I still think ‘Romper Room’ is good because it’s real. Real children doing real things.”

Vintage 1966 Chicago Romper Room

This day Miss Sally, handsomely dressed in a silk blouse and buck skirt, had showed a half-dozen real children chosen for a two-week stint on the show a variety of “yuk” items — poisons found in and around the home — demonstrated an experiment anyone could do consisting of chasing pepper across the surface of a pie plate with a bar of soap, and brought in as guests some exotic fish and the man who raises them.

The children seemed oblivious to the cameras, the lights, and the fact that they had to change clothes to simulate two days of shooting, but the fish man was quite starstruck. “How’d I do?” he asked when he left his little chair.

It’s all in a play day’s work for a Romper Room teacher — as are those moments when one of the children gets sick, says something embarrassing, or lifts up a shirt or a dress on camera — but for none so much as Sally Claster Gelbard, whose parents founded the show when she was ten.

Vintage Romper Room Songs album

Although in 16 cities, including New York, the show is produced locally; and in 35 others, Chicago and Washington among them, Miss Sally comes in a film can. The family has maintained close control over scripts, props, operations, and the all-important Romper Room teachers.

Sally’s brother, John, is president of the syndicating company, which also produces “Bowling for Dollars,” and her husband Bert is vice president.

And, to the amazement of some farsighted children, Sally’s sister Candy is the Do-Bee (as in “Do be a helpful boy or girl”), one of the features of the original show fondly remembered and still retained.

Romper Room on WRAL-TV
Children learning from Romper Room teacher Jo Ann Federspiel (Photo courtesy of WRAL-TV/Capitol Broadcasting)

Candy, the mother of two children herself, wears a gold and black fake fur bee costume and causes a great deal of commotion among the children who visit the studio, occasionally, however, one savvy child will blurt out, “Hey, there’s a lady in there.”

This didn’t happen in the old days, when the Do-Bee was merely a placard drawing; then, too, there was a Don’t-Bee, which has since been discarded in favor of positive thinking.

Sally has never been a Bee, but her career as a Romper Room teacher has been long and satisfying. A graduate of Connecticut College, she planned to do graduate work in history. But her mother, Miss Nancy, developed cancer, and Sally replaced her 15 years ago.

Nancy Claster now comes out of healthy semi-retirement for very special on-the-air occasions; she and Sally estimate that between them, they have over the years trained more than 500 Romper Room teachers.

Although a Romper Room teacher often finds herself, early in the day, wearing a fire hat or peering into the Magic Mirror (“I see Donnie and Leslie and Peter and Rhonda…” ), Sally says she does not think of the job as silly. ” Oh, occasionally you feel silly doing certain things, but most of the time, no. Children aren’t silly; they’re fun.”

More than two million children watch “Romper Room” each week in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and millions more recall it as much a part of their ’50s and ’60s childhoods as crayons and Tinkertoys.

Romper Room

“Whenever I meet someone of a certain age, they immediately remember the Do-Bee, or the Magic Mirror,” said Miss Sally, whose format still includes the pledge of allegiance and frequent references to good manners.

“It’s a very rewarding job,” said Miss Sally, “but there is responsibility. No swearing in public. I don’t smoke, although that’s not why I stopped. And no matter how naughty they are in the market. I can’t spank my kids. And they know it.”

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