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February 21, 2012

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The Meaning and Importance of Pro-Social Behavior

By Graydon Gordian


Sharing, taking turns, listening to one another: Sesame Street has been encouraging these kinds of benevolent actions since the show’s first episodes. Here at Sesame Workshop, our early childhood education specialists call these kinds of actions “pro-social behavior.” It’s a term we use often when talking about the empathy and kindness we try to engender in children.

But we can’t all be early childhood education specialists, which means we might not all recognize the term pro-social behavior right away. That’s why we wanted to take a few minutes and explain exactly what we mean when we use the term.

According to our early childhood education experts, pro-social behavior is when children show positive behaviors such as sharing, cooperating, empathy, and taking turns when interacting with others. These skills can help children build strong friendships and relationships and enable children to navigate different social circumstances in a constructive manner.

Put differently, children experience many of the same emotional trials as adults – interpersonal conflict, the loss of loved ones, even the challenges of economic hardship are not lost on children. If a child is not given the emotional tools to handle those trials, they can have a lasting negative impact on his or her life. The more emotional education a child can receive at a young age, the better. If children’s behavioral problems are ignored, they are more likely to struggle in school and act out later in life.

The value of encouraging “pro-social behavior” at a young age isn’t just a theory of ours. Our research and education team has demonstrated its importance and the effectiveness of our educational methods time and again. For instance, children who view Sesame Street episodes with pro-social messages exhibit significantly higher levels of pro-social behavior than those who do not watch, as much as 40% higher.

For more information about pro-social behavior and Sesame Street’s proven ability to encourage it in young children, check out our page on emotional wellbeing.

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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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February 08, 2012

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Electric Company Cast Meets Young Girl on her Make-A-Wish Day

By Graydon Gordian


For years Sesame Workshop has been working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help fulfill the wishes of young children with life-threatening illnesses. That’s why, when we found out that it was the dream of 8-year-old Isabella Icatar to meet the cast of The Electric Company, we were honored to make that dream a reality.

On Sunday, January 29 Isabella and her family came from their home in Connecticut to New York City, where they had lunch with Jenni Barber, Priscilla Diaz and Josh Segarra, who play Lisa, Jennifer and Hector on the show. Jenni, Priscilla and Josh were so excited and humbled to get to know such a brave young girl as Isabella.

Isabella’s father Roneil wrote about the day on her family’s blog. From the sounds of it, they had a pretty wonderful time:

The most exciting time of the lunch was when the three of them made Isabella an actual member of the Electric Company!  She had to first agree to the terms of becoming a member, then they presented her a certificate to prove her membership!  Afterwards, they serenaded her to one of her favorite songs “Silent E”.

As lunch wound down, we took a bunch of pictures with them and they also signed a bunch of things for us.  We said our goodbyes, and although our time with the Electric Company was done, our Make-A-Wish day was not done yet.

Isabella and her family spent the rest of the day taking a carriage ride through Central Park and filling up on tasty treats at Dylan’s Candy Bar. Read about the rest of Isabella’s Make-A-Wish day on her blog and check out the slideshow her parents made from all the photographs they took that day.

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February 07, 2012

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The Making of a Sesame Street Comic

By Mark Magner


Ed. Note: Mark Magner is a Design Director at Sesame Workshop. His team released a new comic strip today in conjunction with the release of our newest home video, “Elmo’s World: Favorite Things!” Mark wanted to take a few moments to tell you just how he and his creative team go about conceiving of and creating a comic strip.

Our mission here at Sesame Workshop is always at the forefront of our mind. We want to educate children, to prepare them for school, to help them better understand the world and each other. We want them to think, dream and discover, to reach their highest potential. Sesame Street‘s home videos are already effective tools for helping and inspiring children. Alicia Durand, who handles public relations for Sesame Street, approached the creative team about creating some activity or artwork to accompany the release of the home videos, and we were excited by this new challenge.

For the first video, “Bye Bye Pacifier,” Diana Leto, an artist who creates visuals for everything from our apparel to style guides to web elements, and I created spoofs of old propaganda posters, which were a big hit. The second video released was “Iron Monster,” and because of its cartoonish nature Evan Cheng, associate art director of character design, created a comic strip that would parody the story in the video, another idea that proved popular.

We realized that comic strips were the perfect way to connect parents and children while encouraging literacy. That’s why we’ve created another comic strip for our newest home video release, “Elmo’s World: Favorite Things!”

We start our process by watching the Sesame Street home video that we plan to feature in the comic strip. We choose a section of the video that lends itself well to a comic strip, and then discuss how to tell the story in a few frames. We decided it would be fun to spoof a famous comic strip. In this instance, a spoof of Calvin and Hobbes worked perfectly. The layout and design pays homage to Bill Watterson, the author of the comic, and features dinosaurs, a perennial favorite of Calvin’s.

At this point, Evan Cheng starts to sketch out his ideas using pencil on paper. Evan does several small sketches until he knows what the final comic strip will look like. Evan then sketches the final illustration, refining each frame to tell the story. Evan scans his final artwork into Photoshop and passes the file onto Diana Leto.

Diana takes Evan’s illustrations and digitally applies color, texture and halftones to the artwork, bringing it to life. In this instance, the color palette and texture was chosen with the style and tone of Calvin and Hobbes in mind. Using Photoshop, Diana layers the color and textures, fine tuning the look until it’s perfect.

We always work to ensure children engage with a story or a lesson in as many mediums as possible. That’s why, in addition to the home video and comic strip, Diana also created a coloring activity based on the comic. Our hope is that, if the child watches the video, uses the coloring activity and is read the comic strip by their parents, they’ll not only have lots of fun but they’ll learn a little something too.

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February 03, 2012

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This Week in Sesame Street: Elmo’s Birthday

By Graydon Gordian



I
t’s birthday season here at Sesame Street. For the second week in a row we’re celebrating the birthday of one of our beloved Sesame Street MuppetsTM. Last week we celebrated Ernie’s birthday. Now it’s Elmo’s turn to have cake and open presents.

Performed by Kevin Clash, Elmo has gone from being an unheralded baby monster to one of the most popular furry friends Sesame Street has ever had. Elmo turns 3½ this year – Elmo always turns 3½ on February 3rd. In honor of his birthday, here are 3½ fun facts about Elmo you might not know:

1. Elmo is the only non-human to ever testify before the U.S. Congress. In 2002 he was invited to testify before the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee to urge more funding for music research and music education in schools.
2. Elmo also appears on Sesame Workshop co-productions in China, Denmark, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan and South Africa.
3. Elmo’s favorite food is wasabi, which is why his eyes are so wide open when he’s awake.
3½. Elmo loves you (but you already knew that).

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January 26, 2012

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To Square One TV, With Love

By Dan Lewis


Twenty-five years ago today, my life changed for the better. Twenty-five years ago today, Square One TV debuted.

Square One was a thirty minute delight featuring short sketches about math. There was Mathman, a math-parody of Pac-Man, who would go around the game board looking for tasty numbers to eat — but only ones which met the rule of the day. (Fans of the show can probably hear the voice in their head: “Mathman, Mathman, multiples of three, multiples of three, Mathman.”) The show had miniature game shows, like Piece of the Pie and But Who’s Adding?, featuring regular children as contestants. It had math-teaching music videos like Nine, Nine, Nine (“times any number you can find, it all comes back to nine”) and Less Than Zero (“a certified, nationwide klutz”). There was Dirk Niblick, Blackstone, Mathcourt, and more.

And of course — of course! — there was MathNet, which closed every episode with a piece of a week-long story. Be it the kidnapping of Steve Stringbean or the complicated confidence scam perpetuated by the mysterious swami, these MathNet memories are ingrained deep in my psyche. Trying to figure out how George Frankly and Kate Monday (or Pat Tuesday!) would solve the case became an obsession; tuning in on Friday to have the answer revealed became a core part of my week.

It was math. And it was wonderful.

The nine year old me did not know it at the time, but like everything else we do at Sesame Workshop, Square One was designed to address an educational need of children. In this case, Square One‘s goal was to address the “math crisis” of eight to 12 year olds in the United States, using media to help teach mathematical concepts in an enjoyable fashion. And while writing this blog post for the organization which created the show appears self-serving, if you’ve spoken to me about Square One, you know that I can still sing significant parts of 8% Percent of My Love (and have also reserved 10% of my love for the New York Football Giants; sorry Patriots fans) while reciting esoteric plot points from series of MathNet. Does anyone else remember the kid who tried to sell George the $50,000 pencil? He only needed to sell one!

Happy birthday, Square One TV. And may you avoid Mr. Glitch.

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Sesame Street Partners with 100Kin10 Movement to Promote STEM Education

By Graydon Gordian


Sesame Workshop is excited to announce that we are now officially part of the 100Kin10 movement, a collection of non-profits, government agencies, corporations and universities working to recruit and retain 100,000 new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teachers over the next ten years.

STEM education is already a major part of the Sesame Street curriculum. For two laughter-filled years we’ve incorporated STEM education into the show. STEM lessons are also integral to our online content, outreach initiatives and efforts to work with pre-school educators. For years our team of childhood development specialists has been refining our multi-platform STEM curriculum to make sure it’s not only fun but effective. That’s part of the reason why we are in a unique position to meet the challenges of teaching critical STEM knowledge and skills to children through the involvement of their teachers, parents and caregivers. Helping raise a generation of children that is excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics is a critical part of our mission.

That mission is why we partnered with the 100kin10 movement. Founded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Opportunity Equation and NewSchools Venture Fund, the movement has brought together dozens of organizations that are concerned about the future of STEM education in the United States. Every organization brings something unique to the table. Sesame Workshop is proud to bring our expertise in early childhood education and firmly held belief that it’s never too early to encourage kids to be excited about science and math.

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