What does it mean to be a resident of Sesame Street? For pre-school aged children, it’s a not just a half-hour of entertainment. For a parent, the benefits of sitting your child infant of a television may never feel quite right but research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a frequent dose of the publicly broadcasted children’s show can be as helpful as Head Start.
“Pennies on the dollar.”
According to studies co-author Melissa Kearney, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, Head Start costs tax payers approximately $7,600 annually per child, while the per-child cost of Sesame Street was only $5.
Children living in places where broadcasts could be more readily received saw a 14 percent drop in their likelihood of being behind in school. Head Start, the pre-kindergarten program for low-income Americans, delivered a similar benefit.
The researchers also say those effects probably come from the show’s focus on presenting viewers with an academic curriculum, heavy on reading and math, that would appear to have helped prepare children for school.
Now, in the midst of their fifth decade of broadcasting, the muppets on Sesame Street have offered far more insight for our youth which has stemmed far beyond text books.
Not just ABCs
Childhood is the foundation of a exploring and understanding the world around us. According to the Center on the Developing Child, research done by Harvard University, The Emotional well-being and social competence of a child provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities and are a source for the foundation of human development. The emotional and physical health, social skills, and cognitive-linguistic capacities that emerge in the early years are all important prerequisites for success in school and later in the workplace and community.
This isn’t just important for the foundations of school subjects, these are useful in comprehending basic emotions. Learning tolerance, resilience, and the basics of what’s right and wrong.
How can we connect the dots between learning life lessons and having fun? With the continuously expanding cast muppets on Sesame Street, learning happens everyday.
Wether it's through Mark Ruffalo teaching Murray about “Empathy.”
Or Khan Academy's CEO, Salmon Kahn, teaching Grover about the Electoral College.
Some lessons can be explained to their fullest, others only by trial an error. These may help children with comprehending simple words, phrases, or complex systems of governments that inflate or decrease the power of an individuals vote depending on their state; but how can muppets teach children about individuality? How can a child understand the differences that occur between them and another child. Can bullying be prevented?
Ernie and the Rubber Balls
Why it's ok to be different
In this classic clip from 70s, Ernie discusses the importance of diversity in an innocent and easily tangible package for the mind of a preschooler. What would it be like if everyone were the same? This skit seems to be an early precursor for what has continued to develop as an ongoing lesson in diversity taught by the muppets. In recent years, Sesame Street has introduced dozens of muppets with different nationalities, races, disabilities, and so on. An introduction to the differences amongst groups of people and the realities of the world offer a child an open and friendlier view of the world.
Sesame Street introduces a muppet with autism
Introduced to the show in April was a 4 year old muppet who loved to sing, dance, and play with friends. She also has autism.
Julia’s debut is part of the show’s “See amazing in all children campaign,” and is part of an expanding initiative towards autism awareness. Show writers hope to give viewers with autisim and their family a character to identify with as well give children with autistic friends an understanding of their characteristics and why they’re perfectly ok being different.
This comes as the CDC estimates that 1 in 68 American school aged children have Autism.
The voice and puppeteer of Julia is voiced by Phoenix based puppet artist, Stacy Gordon who also is a mother to an autistic son.
In the clip from Julia’s first episode, Big Bird meets Julia for the first time. After saying hello to the other muppets, Big Bird tries to properly introduce himself to the new kid on the block. To his surprise, Julia continues working on her painting, seemingly ignoring Big Bird. Confused, Big Bird presides under the assumption that Julia simply doesn’t like him. It isn’t until Elmo, and the rest of the group explain to Big Bird (as well as the children watching at home) that Julia has autism and does things “a little bit differently.”
By the end of the episode, Big Bird is excited to find a new friend in Julia, and the group sings together in classic Sesame Street fashion.
"It's a good thing that everyone in the world is different.”
Muppets from every walk of Life
Kami, a 5 year old muppet who’s name means “acceptance" in Tswana, first appeared on Takalani Sesame, the South African version of the show in 2003. Kami was introduced as the first HIV-positive Muppet and explains to viewers everything from how HIV is transmitted, how to avoid transmitting the virus, and dealing with the grief of someone you love passing away from AIDS. Kami has become somewhat of an international spokesman for the cause, appearing alongside Oprah Winfrey, Laura Bush, and Bill Clinton in order to raise awareness for the disease.
Here she is with President Clinton for a word from UNICEF
When the United Sates experienced an influx of Mexican immigrants, producers tackled the issue head on. They introduced a bilingual Muppet, a little girl named Rosita La who spoke both English and Spanish. Although Rosita was not the first bilingual Muppet on the show she was the first Latina Muppet to join the cast full-time. In 2001, Rosita began teaching the Spanish word of the day, helping to educate children of all ages about Latin American culture and language.
Linda the Librarian
Not all trailblazing characters on Sesame Street were Muppets. For the viewers of the show, many children gained their first exposure to sign language, and deafness itself, from Linda, a human character Sesame Street introduced in 1972. Linda, who was hearing impaired in real life, was Sesame’s resident librarian. Linda taught young children about the daily challenges, as well as proper ways for the unimpaired hearing viewers to communicate with the deaf. She also worked alongside the writing staff to make ensure the character was authentic and truly represented. After more than three decades on the show, which became the longest-running television role for a deaf character, Linda left in 2004.
In this clip, Elmo and Bob try to say hello to Linda who is busy reading the paper. Unable to shout for her, they find a creative way to get her attention.
Interactive and readily available support
Sesameworkshop.org has become a lifeline for parents and an instructive caregiving site for children in times of need. The sight offers dozens of programs for children who have experienced the death of a parent, divorce, and how to prepare for economic uncertainty. All of these programs are packaged through DVD’s, story books, and supply kits which allow children to open up about their feelings and encourage parents to be honest with their child through whatever turmoil the family may be encountering.
Little Children, Big Challenges
In this clip from the Initiative Little Children, Big Challenges, Alex talks with a few friends at sesame street about his dad's incarceration. The piece starts innocently by explaining everything from how to pronounce incarceration, to what it actually means and how it affects Alex. Real families with young children then share their own experiences with parental incarceration, and an animation shows a family's trip to visit a parent in prison.
When Families Grieve
In a lot of ways, these videos offer parents a how-to guide for answering tough questions from their son or daughter. In this particular segments from the initiative When Families Grieve, Elmo's uncle dies. The episode is shown primarily through the perspective of Elmo's father who has to sit down with Elmo and explain death in a sensitive, yet comprehendible way for the mind of a child.
Funding for PBS
Public broadcasting has been under fire from one end of the aisle but only accounts for tiny percentage points of the total government spending. With programs like Sesame Street of today and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood of yesteryear, multiple generations of citizens in America have gained unequivocal knowledge and have shared life lessons through this treasured outlet. In this, I hope to continue the fight for government funding as well as fundraising. Public television is a commodities that influences and educates the masses.
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