A Street for all: reaching out to communities in need.
Every day Big Bird, Elmo, Abby, and friends help young children engage with learning like no one else can. That’s why we count on them to bring the messages of Sesame Street directly into the homes and hands of families most in need—where research tells us they have a dramatic impact. We call it outreach.
For over 40 years, Sesame Street has gone beyond the power of television to deliver targeted lessons and support to particularly vulnerable communities. Way beyond. To date, we’ve made these special educational materials available through over 16 million “outreach kits” and events that have reached hundreds of thousands of people.1 Partnerships with over 3000 organizations throughout the country for funding and distribution support are behind these remarkable numbers.
Through our outreach initiatives we’re taking on important challenges: from helping military families cope with deployments to improving nutrition for households with limited access to healthy food. New programs are continually in the works, like our latest effort to help kids build the resiliency skills needed to deal with day-to-day challenges as well as more serious ones such as bullying, divorce or the incarceration of a parent.
Outreach has been part of our playbook since our very beginninng, now more than four decades ago. To help families get the most out of Sesame Street in its first seasons, we developed “View, Do, Read.” This community-level effort guided parents to tune in, understand what the show was teaching, and build on the lessons with their children at home. This success showed huge potential: turning our brand of engaging education into hands-on learning for kids and families.
As with everything we do, Sesame’s outreach is the product of continuous research. First, we assess the need with the families and caregivers we aim to help. Then we shape our initiative around that need with input from education and child development experts. Resources created in support range from activities, to videos, to apps and other online tools, and are often distributed in the form of easy-to-use kits. Once our resource-rich programs reach families, we study how they’re used and uncover ways to make the lessons even more fun, relevant and, in turn, effective.
As a result, our programs hit home in ways other education efforts cannot. “In our outreach we work to visualize hard challenges from a child’s perspective—what it feels like to be a kid in these situations,” explains Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President for Outreach and Educational Practices at Sesame Workshop. “At the same time, we use humor to engage the parents. By speaking to both children and the adults in their lives, we’ve shown we can change behavior.”
From inception to implementation, we rely on likeminded partners to extend our reach. Their financial support allows us to provide our outreach resources to families free of charge. More crucially, these partnerships connect us at a community level, embedding our messages and materials where they can do the most good. Such as our resources for military families that reach many of the affected households through the Military OneSource system. Or our collaboration with the National WIC Association (Women, Infants, and Children) which enabled us to reach at-risk moms with resources on healthy eating through its network of about 10,000 local clinics.
How effective is our outreach? The numbers speak for themselves. For the millions of households struggling to afford healthy food, our Food for Thought kit has been shown to increase caregivers’ knowledge of how to eat healthy on a budget by as much as 75%.2
For children in military families dealing with the hardship of a parent leaving for duty or coming back injured, studies show our materials make these situations a little easier to cope with. 80% of parents felt our Talk, Listen, Connect kit on deployments helped their children better handle future deployments.3
While nothing can fully shelter a child from the impact of losing a parent, research shows our When Families Grieve materials provide some comfort. 83% of caregivers using the multimedia kit feel they “have more appropriate language to better discuss death with my child.”4
To start kids on the path to academic success early, we created Happy, Healthy, Ready For School, a 3-part initiative in partnership with PNC Bank. To get kids truly ‘ready,’ the initiative covers a range of topics from preparing them for their first day to finding teachable moments in everyday activities. With over 1 million kits distributed so far, parents and teachers have described the materials as inspiring. Said one, “It reminds us that every time we talk to our kids we are teaching them.”
Results like these inspire us to do even more. A new multi-phase program is now underway to help children build resilience skills in the face of tough challenges. Rolling out in 2012 and 2013, our Little Children, Big Challenges initiative grapples with common yet potentially devastating issues such as divorce and incarceration, alongside more daily concerns including dealing with bullies and making new friends.
Meanwhile, the pressing need to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education (or STEM) in the U.S is behind another very promising venture. Launching in late 2013, we’re putting our playful science and math experiences within easy reach of families and teachers at Sesamestreet.org and on mobile devices. The initiative does not only bring science and math into homes and class rooms but also offers a lively forum for children (and adults, importantly) to investigate and ask questions—the essential skill set of STEM.
That’s the exciting promise of outreach: by making topics more accessible and engaging to families and their communities, education blends into everyday life—to the benefit of children on up.
2 Field Research Corporation. (2011). An Evaluation of Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget – Topline Findings.
3 Russell Research. (2006). Talk, Listen, Connect Kit Evaluation.
4 Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University. (2011). Preliminary Findings from the Talk, Listen, Connect III: When Families Grieve Kit Evaluation.