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March 27, 2012

By Rosemarie Truglio

Keeping the ABCs Relevant: Finding New Ways to Teach Kids to Read and Write!

Ed. Note: This post was authored by Rosemarie Truglio, Jennifer Schiffman, Jennifer Kotler and Susan Scheiner of Sesame Workshop’s Education and Research Department.

N.B. Above is a playlist of Sesame Street ABC segments from throughout the years. Keep watching to see more examples of our educational alphabet content, or use the playlist icon to scroll through and find your favorite.

The alphabet hasn’t changed since Sesame Street first debuted in 1969. No letters have been removed. No new letters have been discovered. Similarly, the importance of providing a foundation for a lifetime of learning is just as important then as it is now. What has changed over time is the expectation for a child once he or she enters kindergarten. We’ve heard countless stories from parents who are concerned that activities that were appropriate for first and second graders have trickled down into kindergarten. Standards are more stringent and expectations are higher. However the country is still facing a literacy crisis, with newspapers around the country citing statistics indicating that many children are entering kindergarten ill-prepared.

At Sesame Workshop, we produce content not only to help children with particular skills, but to generate excitement around the learning process and instill the pride the comes from mastering that skill. Knowing ones ABCs is one of the most recognizable and fundamental academic skills that children are expected to possess when they enter school.  For over 40 plus years, we have been creating new content intended to build that knowledge.  We do this by focusing on what is most important to obtaining a fundamental understanding of the alphabet: letter recognition (upper and lower case), letter sounds, alliteration (the repetition of an initial sound in two or more neighboring words or syllables), and an understanding of how letter sounds blend together to make words. Children learn best when all those elements are highlighted together within a segment. It provides children with a deeper, more meaningful understanding of these early literacy concepts.

So how do we continue to keep the ABCs relevant?  We do this by bringing in social references that are specific to the time and parodies of popular culture that are both educationally sound and appealing to adults. Children are more likely to retain the educational material when watching with an engaged parent, so our hope is that the parodies and pop culture references will draw parents in to the segment.

Over the years we have learned which formats and techniques have been particularly effective when teaching through television – highlights, sound effects, animation, movement and strong visual portrayals – and our current educational content continues to utilize them. We also provide different kinds of portrayals so that a variety of learners can benefit from this content. Whether it’s by featuring a young James Earl Jones speaking slowly with authority into a camera, India Arie singing a new tune with Elmo, or Ricky Gervais humorously crooning a lullaby about the letter N, we ensure that there is something for everyone.

This has been brought to you by the letter J & S & R (for two Jennifers, a Sue, and a Rosemarie).

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