The Gorilla Foundation / Koko.org / Teaching Materials

Mister Rogers
Visits Koko's Neighborhood
(article based on 7/28/98 TV show)

Reprinted from our 1998 membership journal: Gorilla (Vol. 21.1)

Koko and Mister Rogers Hug
Photo by Dr. Ron Cohn
© 1998 The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org
On July 28, 1998 (August 4 in some areas.) Koko was featured on an episode of Mister Roger's Neighborhood, the popular children's television program on PBS. Koko thoroughly enjoyed her March 3rd videotaping session with Fred Rogers, host of the show. She spent well over an hour gently leading him around her room, hugging and grooming him, removing his trademark zippered cardigan and his shoes and socks, and inviting him to play chase. When the suggested "script" called for a game of peek-a-boo, Koko readily participated, even for several retakes. The show is part of a week-long series entitled "You and I Together," addressing the fears that young children often experience when faced with a new situation or a person who is different. The lesson is that there is more to peoplečand gorillasčthan what you see on their "outsides."

The following excerpts are from the videotape transcription of the visit, with Koko's sign language responses shown in boldface print:

Penny enters Koko's kitchen, followed by Mister Rogers. Ron Cohn is already inside with the camera.
Penny (P): Hi, Koko. We have a visitor.
Koko (K): Koko-love.
Mister Rogers (MR): Hello Koko. Hi Koko...
Koko purrs and signs Koko-love and hurry as Penny unlocks her room gate, and she opens the gate herself as soon as it is unlocked. Koko first looks in the tote bag Mister Rogers brought and finds a stuffed Daniel Tiger toy. She puts the bag and toy down, holds Mister Rogers' hand to her lips, and smells his hand. She pulls him close and touches his face gently. Then she unceremoniously unzips Mister Rogers' trademark cardigan sweater.
P: You know how to work a zipper. Very good.
Koko holds Mister Rogers' hands, studies his tie, and then takes him by the hand and leads him into her room.
P: Show Mister Rogers your room. Oh, good idea.

Koko removes Mister Rogers' sweater, checks his mouth for gold teeth, and then invites him to "chase" her around the room. She blows a few notes on the harmonica he brought, and spends quite some time taking pictures with his camera.
P: You seem to want to do pictures today.
K: Come. (To Mister Rogers.)
She takes his hand and he sits down.
MR: How do you say love for sign language?
P: Can you show him how to say love? How do you say love?
Koko is busy exploring Mister Rogers' fingers with her lips.
K: What that, flower? (Touching Mister Rogers' cufflink.)
P: She's asking you about your cufflink, is that a flower.
MR: That's a sun. And my grandfather gave me these.
P: It's a sun. It looks like a flower though....
K: Hurry...
P: Can we talk a little bit about love?
K: Frown.
P: Frown? Oh, honey! What? Love?
K: Love you visit... (To Mister Rogers.)
MR: Love. (Trying the sign.)
K: ...Koko-love.
MR: Oh, thank you, Koko.
P: That's very nice, she loves her visitor.
MR: Well, I love visiting with you.
K: You do hurry go.
Koko takes Mister Rogers' hand as Penny explains her signs to him. He starts to follow Koko but Penny suggests that Mister Rogers would like to rest and they should sit down. As Penny continues to talk, Mister Rogers shows the Daniel Tiger toy and the harmonica to Koko.
P: ...Why don't we sit here.
Koko takes Mister Rogers' hand and again puts her lips to his fingers. She puts her arm around his neck.
P: Oh, that's so nice. You're giving Mister Rogers a hug. That was very nice.
MR: Thank you, Koko.
K: Lipstick.
P: I don't think he has any of that in his pocket.
As Penny says this Koko reaches into his pocket and pulls out his hanky.
MR: She found my handkerchief. Where's Koko? Do you ever play peek-a-boo?
Koko holds the hanky up to her face briefly, then unfolds it and blows her nose. She is turned away from Penny and Mister Rogers as she does this.
MR: Oh, she knows what that's for.
P: Koko, you do know.
K: Sneeze, no look. (i.e., for sneezes, not peek-a-boo.)
P: It's for sneezing.
Koko checks Mister Rogers' pockets again, unbuttons his shirt, and plays with the microphone on his tie. She asks Mister Rogers to chase again, but Penny tells her they want to rest.

Penny holds up the cat towel that Koko and Mister Rogers have been using to play peek-a-boo.
P: And I bet you could show him about your favorite color.
K: That red. (Pointing to the red on the towel.)
P: That's red. She's teaching you a sign.
Mister Rogers tries the sign.
MR: Is that how you say red? This way?
P: Did he do it right?
K: Sit down.
P: We are sitting down, sweetie.
With her back to Penny, Koko produces a new gesture, her two hands cradled together.
[At the time Penny read this gesture as chase, but later after viewing the videotape, she realized that Koko was probably trying to say she wanted Mister Rogers to sit closer.]
P: I know you want to chase. We were learning red.
She holds up the towel again.
K: Upper-faketooth have. (And she pulls Mister Rogers close.)
P: You have any upper gold teeth?
Koko checks Mister Rogers' mouth, and grooms his eyebrows.
K: Visit hurry. Chase hurry go foot.
MR: That's your foot.
P: How about if he just tickles your foot?
MR: May I tickle your foot?
Koko doesn't respond, but he tickles her foot. Koko lets him tickle for a moment, then moves his hand.
K: Hurry.
Mister Rogers moves his foot over and Koko lifts his pants leg, then unties his shoe.
MR: You're doing a great job with that.
P: You're really good at that. You know just how to take shoes off.
Koko takes off his shoe, then his sock.
P: Now she can tickle your foot.
Koko smells Mister Rogers' foot...
K: Stink.
...then tickles it.
MR: It tickles! (He laughs.) Could you put your foot beside my foot?
First, Koko unties and removes his other shoe.
P: She's got another foot to work on. We're going to do the other one first.
Mister Rogers helps Koko remove his sock when she has trouble with it.
MR: It's hard to get it over the heel, isn't it?
Koko takes his arm.
K: Time. (On Mister Rogers' watch.)
P: What time? Time for tickle?
Koko holds up her foot.
K: Foot.
Mister Rogers holds his foot up to Koko's, sole to sole.
K: Foot. (On Mister Rogers' foot.)
Koko moves in closer and grooms Mister Rogers' fingers again, then lies down leaning on him as he pats her shoulder. She sits back up.

Next, Koko and Mister Rogers try on a red felt hat, and Koko puts the tote bag on like a hat. She initiates another game of chase, signing "You chase. Chase foot," "Hurry," and "Good you chase."

At Penny's suggestion they all sit down again. Koko gazes at Mister Rogers. He touches her hand as it rests on his arm.
MR: (To Ron.) Could we get those two hands together?
The camera zooms in on their clasped hands. After a few seconds Koko pulls her hand away. Mister Rogers strokes her foot.
MR: Your feet.
Koko takes his hand. Mister Rogers touches her fingernails.
P: Nails.
MR: Nails.
P: What other body parts do you share?
K: Ear.
MR: And we both have ears, and we both have noses, and eyes, and mouths.
K: Upper-faketooth.
MR: And teeth.
P: And teeth.
K: Upper-faketooth.
Koko grooms Mister Rogers' hand.
P: What else?
Koko examines his cufflink.
P: And you don't have cufflinks.
K: Look.
P: Yes, look at those cufflinks. That's different from you.
MR: That's different. You don't need them. You think I could put on my sweater? 'Cause you don't need a sweater. You have such wonderful fur.
P: It's cold. There's the sweater.
Mister Rogers gets his sweater.
MR: Can I put this back on?
He starts to put it on, and Koko checks the pockets.
MR: Anything in there? Think you cold help me with the zipper?
Mister Rogers zips the sweater part way.
MR: Could you help me zip it up?
Koko "helps" by promptly unzipping it and taking it off him again!
They work on getting some more video shots of the requested activities, such as peek-a-boo with the cat towel and playing the harmonica. Koko shows Mister Rogers one of her alligator toys. He takes another picture of her.

Koko blows gently at Mister Rogers, then she looks away.
MR: There's so much to think about, isn't there? ...You're such a wonderful hostess. You share so many of your things. Could you show me your teeth? Could I see your teeth again?
Koko looks at Mister Rogers, and grooms his hand with her lips.
MR: Oh, thank you.
They sit. Mister Rogers takes Koko's hand. She pulls away at first, then lets him hold it.
K: Knee (on Mister Rogers' knee) chase.
MR: Chase again?
They chase.

After a session of writing on the sign checklist, Koko hugs Mister Rogers.
MR: Thank you, Koko.
Koko holds the hug, looks toward the camera, then over Mister Rogers's shoulder, then back at the camera. Penny takes pictures, then sits down beside them.
MR: There's your good friend.
P: Hi, baby.
Koko tucks her chin as Penny reaches to touch it.
P: No, you're not a baby, you're a big girl.
Koko grooms Mister Rogers' face.
Penny and Koko blow gently at each other across Mister Rogers.
MR: And what does this mean?
P: It's just a greeting, to see what you've maybe been eating, what you smell like.
MR: It's a greeting?
P: Yeah. Who are you? Like who.
MR: Isn't that lovely?
P: Like who. Who.
MR: Who.
Koko produces her version of the spoken who, a soft blow with a voiced sound like her purr. It really does sound like who.
P: That's a happy sound.
MR: Is it?
P: That's a purr.
MR: Can you teach me how to do that? (Makes a purr sound.) Like that? Koko just sits with her arms around his waist.

At the end of the visit Mister Rogers is in the kitchen sitting on a chair, and Koko is on the floor with the camera. She takes a picture.
P: Oh, Koko fixed the camera! You're so smart!
MR: Should we give it to Penny?
He attempts to take the camera from her, but Koko keeps using it. She blows on the lens to clean it.
P: Yes, good girl!
Penny takes the camera and winds it.
P: I think we're almost to the end. Got one more left.
Penny gives Koko the camera and Koko takes a picture and hands the camera to Mister Rogers.
MR: Good! Thank you.
Mister Rogers and Koko exchange "blow greetings."
MR: Thank you very much, Koko, for the visit. I hope that we'll meet again.
K: Foot.
She takes his hand and pulls it toward her.
K: Hurry sit on.
MR: OK, we will. OK. I hope we have another visit soon again, 'cause we're friends now.
Koko stares at his face, perhaps realizing that this new friend is about to depart. She gazes into his face for a long moment, then picks up the stuffed alligator and touches its mouth to his knee.

[Note: If you missed it the first time, check your TV listings or contact your local PBS station to see if and when the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood episode featuring Koko is scheduled to re-air ; the show is #1727.]

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