After decades of division, finding common ground…in a tree.
In regions with histories of conflict, Sesame Street helps to promote respect and understanding among children of all backgrounds.
How do we do this? By developing programs and initiatives in collaboration with local educational experts, producers, and puppeteers (read more about our process). And by using the most disarming ambassadors of open-mindedness: the Sesame Street Muppets.
While deep-rooted mindsets won’t change overnight, Sesame’s lovable characters can help today’s kids grow up to be more tolerant parents for the next generation of children. This kind of “Muppet diplomacy” is now at work in Israel, Palestine, Kosovo, Jordan, Egypt, and elsewhere.
Sesame Workshop brought the approach to Northern Ireland just as the country was emerging from a civil conflict that had flared for decades. Cultural and religious divisions still persist: Currently only 5 percent of children in Northern Ireland attend integrated schools. Yet it is children who are the best hope for finding more common ground. Studies show that kids who watch the Northern Ireland version of Sesame Street are more willing to be inclusive of others.
A shared street still feels elusive for many in Northern Ireland. So a “Sesame Tree” took root, inspired by a centuries-old “fairy tree” that, in Irish folklore, is inhabited by magical forces. Now in its second season, Sesame Tree, the locally produced version of Sesame Street, provides 3- to-6-year-olds with an educational foundation of open-mindedness, empathy, and appreciation of diversity, thanks in large part to Muppet role models such as Hilda the Irish Hare and Potto, a furry, purple monster, who live together in the tree.
Episodes follow these very different friends as they negotiate, help each other, and grow up side by side, with forays into the diverse communities of Northern Ireland. Experiences of common humanity are captured from a child’s-eye view: meeting new neighbors, the excitement of attending a festival, and how good it feels to share. Watch a segment.
The first two seasons of Sesame Tree have reached millions of children, not just in Northern Ireland, but also throughout the United Kingdom, presenting a powerful image of a new Northern Ireland. Studies conclude that Hilda and Potto are indeed making an impression. Kids who watch Sesame Treeshow a marked change in awareness and attitudes, becoming more socially inclusive and more willing to participate in cultural events –– their own and others’.
Sesame Tree outreach materials deepen the learning in classrooms, supported by online resources for educators. Questions and activities help children open up about their own lives and feelings, from “What makes a really good friend?” to “Why is it important to let others join in?”
In November 2010, former opposition leaders Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness stood together in support of the show’s second season. “It is especially apt at this time that the focus of [Sesame Tree] is on helping children learn about each other and the diverse society in which they live,” said Deputy First Minister McGuinness to a crowd of press and children from across Belfast.
Echoed First Minister Peter Robinson: “This is work we can all be involved in, across all the spectrums and age groups.” In other words, every Northern Irish citizen would do well to follow Potto and Hilda’s example and invite their neighbors over to play.
International Fund for Ireland, The American Ireland Fund, Northern Ireland Screen, Northern Ireland Fund for Reconciliation, BBC.
Children who watch Sesame Tree…
- …show a greater willingness to be inclusive of others.
- …are more interested in participating in cultural events associated with other communities.2
2 Karkin, E., Connolly, P. & Kehoe, S. (2009, August). A longitudinal study of the effects of watching Sesame Tree on young children’s attitudes and awareness, Centre for Effective Education, Queens University Belfast.
Reaching nearly 1 million children throughout Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.