The littlest learners, the greatest gains.
Young children are sponges for learning. From birth to age five, they’re making giant developmental strides, more than at any other time in life. In fact, the brain forms as many as 700 neural connections per second before the age of five.1 It’s a lot easier to influence the developing brain than it is to rewire it later.
In this critical window, education is the key to unlocking their potential. Young children who are given the right support and stimulation arrive at school excited to learn and ready to thrive—academically, emotionally and socially.
The influence of these early experiences can be felt for decades. By age 40, adults who attended high-quality preschools as 3- or 4-year olds were more likely to have graduated from high school, held a job, and earned a higher income. 24% were more likely to own a home and 53% were less likely to have multiple arrests.2 In other words, early education leads to more successes with fewer setbacks.
And that has huge ripple effects for society. Here in the U.S. and globally, studies show that spending on early childhood interventions produces significant economic gains. What we invest, we more than recoup: up to $17 for every dollar spent.3 That’s money saved on special and remedial education, criminal justice costs, and welfare rolls, as well as increased tax revenue from a more capable workforce.4
The benefits are proven and overwhelming. Yet our public commitments to early education leave millions of children unready for school. Less than four percent of spending in the United States on education and child development is for those under the age of 5. Of U.S. children enrolled in preschool, more than half a million (or 43%) attend programs that meet fewer than half of the benchmarks for quality.5
Hit hardest by this lack of access are children from less privileged homes, who often enter preschool already at a disadvantage. Take vocabulary for instance. By age four, the average low-income child has heard 30 million fewer words than her higher-income peers, as low-income parents tend to talk with their children much less than parents with higher incomes.6 While education can be a powerful remedy for such disparities, far too few preschools are prepared to meet the challenge.7
Working to close this readiness gap is Sesame Street.
For over 40 years, Sesame Street has stepped in here and around the globe to guide children toward success in school and life. Our initiatives bring essential early learning to kids of all backgrounds and in all sorts of settings, with a special emphasis on those less privileged. We’ve been the subject of over 1000 intensive studies into how young children learn best. What does all this research tell us? That Sesame works.
It’s a conclusion borne out across countries and languages. A 2011 study by a leading research group concludes that children who watch one of our international co-productions of Sesame Street gain an average of 10% on learning outcomes compared to those who don’t.8 That means Sesame Street’s impact is comparable to focused preschool interventions—but on a vastly larger scale.
So much more than ABCs and 123s, Sesame works to enrich the physical, social, and emotional aspects of children’s development. “We can teach them letters and numbers,” says Dr. Sharon Lynn Kagan, Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy at Columbia University. “What’s really important is that [Sesame Street] highly motivates children. It engages their minds. It encourages their creativity and curiosity.”
By addressing the full spectrum of children’s needs, we instill advantages that last. Frequent Sesame Street viewing in preschool is associated with grade point averages in high school that are almost 16% higher than those of children who didn’t grow up watching the show. Not only are average grades better, but grades are also better in the core areas of English, math, and science. Sesame Street “graduates” read more books for pleasure, place higher value on academic achievement, and express less aggressive attitudes than those who watch rarely or not at all.9
That’s success we are committed to spreading to as many children as possible, not only through television but wherever they learn—at home, in community centers and classrooms, and through the newest forms of media. Our efforts have made Sesame the world’s longest Street, with more than 90 million graduates in the U.S. alone. 10
That’s reason for celebration. But also a call to action: with over 750 million children globally under the age of 5,11 we are boundlessly driven to reach and teach even more.
2 Schweinhart, L. J., Montie, J., Xiang, Z., Barnett, W. S., Belfield, C. R., & Nores, M. (2005). Lifetime Effects: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.
3 Karoly, L.A., Kilburn, M.R., & Cannon, J.S. (2005). Early Childhood Interventions: Proven Results, Future Promise. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
4 Rolnick, A., & Grunewald, R. (2003). Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return. Retrieved fromhttp://www.minneapolisfed.org/pubs/fedgaz/03-03/opinion.cfm.
5 Barnett, W.S., Carolan, M.E., Fitzgerald, J., & Squires, J.H. (2011). The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.
6 Hart, B., & Risley, T.R. (2003). The early catastrophe: The 30 million word gap by age 3. American Educator, 27(1), 4-9. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.
7 Pianta, R.C., La Paro, K., & Hamre, B. K. (2008). Classroom Assessment Scoring System. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
8 Mares, M., & Pan, Z. (2011). Effects of Sesame Street international co-productions on key learning outcomes: A meta-analysis. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
9 Huston, A.C., et al. (2001). Sesame Viewers as Adolescents: The Recontact Study. In S. Fisch & R. Truglio (Eds.), “G” is for Growing: Thirty Years of Sesame Street Research (pp. 131-143). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
10 Nielsen Media Research & Census Data. Audience Estimation. 1969-2012.
11 United States Census Bureau, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/idb/region.php.