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

By Rosemarie Truglio


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.

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Sesame Workshop Partners with Planet Water to Promote Clean Water in Asia

By Graydon Gordian


From the Planet Water PSA starring Elmo

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.

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The Evolution of a Sesame Street iPad App

By Graydon Gordian


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.

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March 20, 2012

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Happy Birthday Big Bird: An Interview with Sesame Street’s Caroll Spinney

By Graydon Gordian


Big Bird in 1969, Sesame Street's inaugural year

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.

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March 14, 2012

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Happy Pi Day!

By Graydon Gordian


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).

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March 06, 2012

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Highlights from the Launch of Sesame Street’s New Oral Health Initiative

By Graydon Gordian


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.

If you want to learn more about our new oral health initiative, made in partnership with Sam’s Giving Made Simple and the MetLife Foundation, read our question and answer session on the importance of oral care among young children with Dr. James Crall. You can also check out Sesame Street’s “Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me” page to find more fun videos and games that make kids smile while also teaching them how to keep that healthy smile.

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February 28, 2012

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The Technology Behind the Art of Drawing Oscar the Grouch

By Graydon Gordian


Evan Cheng, associate art director of character design, draws on his digital tablet.

When Sesame Street debuted in 1969, the term “digital pen tablet” didn’t exist. It would be years before the use of personal computers and similar technology became widespread. But nowadays digital tablets are one of the primary tools used by our Creative Resources team, the talented people who take Grover, Elmo and Big Bird and create the vivid two-dimensional images that go in educational books, on clothes and on any other item where Sesame Street MuppetsTM can be found.

Often they’ll begin drawing an image with a pencil and paper, but the advancements made in tablet technology now allow them to complete a drawing in a small fraction of the time it formerly took. Unlike previous tablet technology, the Wacom tablets Sesame Workshop uses allow an artist to draw directly on the screen, as opposed to a separate touch sensitive pad. They also respond to the pressure of the pen, giving the artist crucial control of the thickness of lines. Whether furry or feathery, every Sesame Street MuppetTM is incredibly textured. The artists on our Creative Services team need that level of control to render them accurately.

The tablet also allows the artist to view the drawing from a variety of angles and distances. If the artist zooms in on a particular section of the image in order to add small details, his pen strokes will affect a zoomed-out version of the image as well. That way he or she can see how the details are changing the entire drawing.

The digital pen tablets used by the Creative Resources team are just another example of the ways Sesame Workshop is using technology to encourage laughter and fun, while educating children all over the world.

To learn more about the digital pen tablet technology, watch this video in which Sesame Workshop artist Diana Leto explains how she uses it.

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February 27, 2012

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Tweeting the Clouds Away

By Dan Lewis


Tomorrow  – February 28th – we’ll be trying something new here at Sesame Workshop. A few of us are going to be tweeting about what we’re up to, giving others a glimpse into the work we do here at Sesame Workshop.  We’re visiting potential funders, working on handwashing habits in Indonesia, preparing for an event Thursday (stay tuned!), and a few other things.  If you follow us on Twitter at @SesameWorkshop, we’ll be retweeting some of the updates from:

  • Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, @srwestin
  • Patrick Key, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Development, @PatrickKeySW
  • Dan Donohue, Senior Director, Global Education, @DJD007NYC
  • Giao Roever, Director, Marketing and Creative Services, @GiaoRoever
  • And me, Dan Lewis, Director, New Media Communications, @DanDotLewis

See you tomorrow!

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February 17, 2012

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This Week in Sesame Street: Happy Anniversary Jalan Sesama

By Graydon Gordian


In this week’s edition of “This Week in Sesame Street,” we’re celebrating the 4 year anniversary of the debut episode of Jalan Sesama, Sesame Workshop’s co-production in Indonesia. On February 18, 2008 Tantan, Momon, Putrik and Jabrik – the Jalan Sesama MuppetsTM – began bringing the children of Indonesia laughter and encouraging them to love to learn.

Like every international co-production Sesame Workshop helps produce, Jalan Sesama takes into account the specific educational needs of children in Indonesia. That means not only teaching the building blocks of literacy and numeracy like we do in every international co-production. An appreciation of cultural diversity – Indonesia has over 300 native ethnicities spread across its more than 17,000 islands – and environmental awareness – Indonesia has the world’s second highest level of biodiversity – are also major parts of the Jalan Sesama curriculum.

Congratulations to all the hardworking people in Indonesia who help make Jalan Sesama a reality, especially our local partner Creative Indigo Production, and thanks to the American people and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), whose generous support makes the show possible.

For more information on Jalan Sesama and the work Sesame Workshop is going in Indonesia, click here.

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February 14, 2012

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Sesame Workshop, Toonmax Media Bring Sesame Street Back to China

By Graydon Gordian


Toonmax Media President Yang Wen Yan, Sesame Workshop CEO Mel Ming, and Oscar the Grouch chat at a cocktail party to celebrate our partnership.

For Yang Wen Yan and Ye Chao, the respective president and vice president of Shanghai-based Toonmax Media, the return of Sesame Street to China is about more than a strategic partnership that they believe will help their company grow. It’s about reuniting with a show that has been a part of their lives for decades.

“About 20 years ago I was involved in the Production of Zhima Jie,” as Sesame Street was known in China, said Ms. Yang through a translator. “I was a line producer” when Sesame Workshop started working on a Chinese co-production in 1993.

For Mr. Ye, the connection goes back even further. “The first time I experienced Sesame Street was 1984, when I was visiting a studio in Germany that was producing the German co-production of Sesame Street,” he said, also through a translator. He would begin working on Zhima Jie in 1994.

However, Zhima Jie went off the air in 2001 and Ms. Yang and Mr. Ye moved on, eventually working together again as the top executives at Toonmax Media. Mr. Ye said he was pleasantly surprised when the opportunity to bring Sesame Street back to Chinese television came along in 2010.

“It’s just like the Sesame Street TV content, which brings lots of surprises,” said Mr. Ye. “I got surprised too.”

According to Ms. Yang, partnering with Sesame Workshop makes perfect sense for a company like Toonmax Media. High quality educational content is one of their two major focuses (the other is animation), and from their experience working with Sesame Workshop they know firsthand how much time, energy and educational research goes into producing our programs.

Just like every international co-production, Sesame Street’s Big Bird Looks at the World, which began airing in China in 2010, a tremendous amount of effort and care has gone into ensuring that the program is best suited for the educational needs of local children. In China, this means creating a curriculum for a slightly older audience – 4 to 6-year-olds instead of 2 to 4-year olds, which the American show is meant for – and making sure the series fosters children’s natural curiosity about nature and science and encourages hands-on exploration as a great way to learn.

While the curriculum for Sesame Street’s Big Bird Looks at the World may differ from the American version, Ms. Yang believes it is the universal charm of the Sesame Street MuppetsTM that makes the program a success.

“It’s really about the personality of the characters,” she said. “What is unique is the Muppets.”

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