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.
2.6 billion people don’t have access to clean sanitation water and 72% of them live in Asia. Unsafe drinking water is a major cause of diarrhea, which is the second leading killer of children. Over 880 million people in the world lack access to safe drinking water and 55% of them live in Asia.
Water health and hygiene is one of the major issues facing young children in Asia. That’s why Sesame Workshop has teamed up with Planet Water to launch the Asia Water-for-Life project. Beginning in Indonesia and expanding into the Philippines, Vietnam and India over the next few months, this multimedia educational program, which includes a social media campaign and PSAs starring Elmo, teaches children about basic hygienic practices like hand washing and why failing to do so encourages the spread of germs. The beloved Sesame Street MuppetsTM will play a critical role in ensuring young Asian children learn these important lessons.
Thorough research provides the foundation of everything Sesame Workshop produces. Whether it’s a book, a game or an episode of our flagship program Sesame Street, our early childhood education experts spend hours working with parents and young children to ensure that all of our educational material, no matter what medium it comes in, is both fun and effective. That policy hasn’t changed as new technologies have allowed us to bring our educational efforts to new venues, such as applications for tablets and smart phones. In fact, the simple nature of updating apps has allowed us to continue scrutinizing the effectiveness of our educational material even after it’s been published.
Take the recently updated version of our first book app for iPad, The Monster at the End of This Book, based on the classic book of the same name. Although the app, made in collaboration with Callaway Digital Arts, was tested before release to ensure that it was educational, navigable and entertaining, we received feedback suggesting some parents and children were not fully utilizing the app’s user interface. Even little hiccups can hamper the effectiveness of an app’s educational aims, so our research team went back and took another look at it. They found there were ways to make the app even more user-friendly.
It’s the first day of Spring. You know what that means? It’s Big Bird’s birthday! In order to celebrate Big Bird’s special day, we spoke with Caroll Spinney, who has played Big Bird, as well as Oscar the Grouch, on the show for 42 years. During his time on Sesame Street, Mr. Spinney has touched the lives of millions of children. We want to thank him for taking the time to tell us about how he first got started on Sesame Street, how the character of Big Bird evolved and what his favorite memories from the show are.
Sesame Workshop: Tell me how you first got involved with Sesame Street.
Caroll Spinney: Jim Henson saw me doing my own puppet show and came backstage afterwards and asked if I wanted to join the Muppets. As a puppeteer I felt the Muppets were the Beatles of the puppet world. Jim said he wanted to build a goofy bird and also Oscar the Grouch, which was going to be a goofy purple thing that lived in a pile of trash.
Our mission at Sesame Street isn’t just to teach children numbers and letters. Encouraging socio-emotional development is also a major part of our curriculum. In particular, our goal is to encourage “self-regulation.” It’s a term our early childhood education experts use to describe a person’s ability to control his or her thoughts, actions and emotions.
Happiness, sadness, anger: These are all emotions that children feel. But they need to be taught to identify what they’re feeling if they’re going to respond productively. For instance, if a child has a toy taken away by another child, he needs to recognize what he is feeling – anger – before he can decide how to respond. Instead of, say, hitting the child who took his toy, if he knows he is angry he can realize that he has options for his behavior. One option would be to take a deep breath and ask for his toy back. Recognizing and labeling his emotions is a critical “skill” for a child to develop if he is going to think and then act instead of merely reacting.
Anger is a simple emotion, but self-regulation is also about identifying more complex emotions: pride, excitement, frustration, etc. At a Sesame Workshop curriculum seminar, an educational advisor once told a story about when her daughter came home and said she was angry. Her mom asked why and the girl said because a friend at school had a pink, sparkly coat that she wanted. Her mom told her she wasn’t angry, she was jealous. Identifying subtle differences between emotions like anger and jealousy is critical if a child is going to learn to be self-regulatory.
Identifying and managing one’s emotions and having self-control is just one aspect of self-regulation, but it is important when helping children develop social-emotional competence and achieve academic success. If a child learns self-regulation skills at an early age, it can help them be better prepared for school and for life. That’s why, when teaching children the building blocks of numeracy and literacy, we also help them learn social and emotional skills.
It’s Pi Day! We’re not sure how the mathematical constant is celebrating, but for us here at Sesame Workshop it’s a great opportunity to look back at Philip Glass’ “Geometry of Circles,” an animated short from 1979 set to the music of the famous minimalist composer. Using interesting animated shorts like “Geometry of Circles” to explain mathematical concepts is just one of the ways we help prepare children for their primary and secondary education. The origins of a child’s ability to understand complex concepts like pi (when you think about it, the notion of a number with an infinite decimal representation is, in the truest sense of the word, awesome) lies in the introduction to numeracy and basic mathematics that Sesame Street strives to provide.
Happy Pi Day! There ain’t no party like an irrational number party because an irrational number party don’t stop (literally).
It’s March, which means the country is about to come down with a serious case of basketball fever and here at Sesame Workshop, we’re not immune. Since the show’s second season, basketball players have stopped by Sesame Street to shoot hoops on the basket next to Hooper’s store and instill in young children a love of learning. In anticipation of March Madness, Sesame Workshop archivist Susan Tofte dug up photos of some of the basketball players who’ve hung out with Big Bird, Oscar and the rest of the gang over the years.
It’s critical that children learn the importance of oral health early in life. That’s why Sesame Workshop was so excited for last week’s launch of “Health Teeth, Healthy Me,” our new bilingual oral health outreach initiative that helps teach kids, parents and caregivers why it’s never too early to start learning how to brush your teeth. Please take a few minutes to watch some highlights from the “Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me” launch, but don’t blame us if you find yourself singing the “Brushy Brush” song for the rest of the day.
Another week, another birthday to celebrate here at Sesame Workshop! This week it’s the birthday of Abelardo, the big, curious green parrot who appears on Plaza Sesamo, the Latin American version of Sesame Street. Although Abelardo has been on the show since 1973, he’s only 4-years-old. He shares the optimism and happiness of his cousin Big Bird, but he’s also very interested in the world around him and loves to learn. He’s still learning how to read, but like kids his age he does know the letters of the alphabet. Despite his size, he’s very agile: Abelardo loves to dance, exercise and even roller skate. And did you know that, unlike most of the Sesame Street and Plaza Sesamo MuppetsTM, Abelardo has a last name? His full name is Abelardo Montoya.
To learn more about Abelardo and all the ways Plaza Sesamo MuppetsTM are bringing the building blocks of education to millions of children across Latin America, click here.
Dr. James Crall is a pediatric dentist and a professor of pediatric dentistry and public health & community dentistry at UCLA. He has served as a member or consultant on numerous national panels concerning oral health and advised Sesame Workshop on the development of our new oral health outreach initiative. We spoke with Dr. Crall in order to learn more about the general state of children’s oral health in this country and ways parents can help encourage an emphasis on oral health.
Sesame Workshop: First and foremost, tell me about the general state of oral health among young children in this country?
Dr. James Crall: Looking at the big picture over time there have been significant improvements in children’s oral health in this country. However, the first ever U.S. Surgeon General’s report on oral health in 2000 noted that there remains a “silent epidemic of dental problems.” Nationally things have improved since then, but despite those improvements there is still disparity in children’s oral health and millions of children still face significant problems accessing dental care, especially young children.