Literacy & Numeracy
Impact that goes way beyond ABC and 123.
For more than four decades, American children and caregivers have counted on Sesame Street for their ABCs, 123s, and other academic skills, such as vocabulary, math, and science. In fact, Sesame is currently at the forefront of U.S. efforts to focus on science, technology, engineering, and math — fields in which American children have started to lag behind other developed countries, according to a global study.1
Over and over again, research shows that Sesame Street can and does make a difference in preparing children for academic success. One such study found that children who frequently view Sesame Street at age 2 score higher on school-readiness tests in kindergarten than those who don’t.2 And the advantages last well into high school and beyond. 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 each of the core areas of English, math, and science. What’s more, 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.3
In the area of vocabulary, our recent efforts to bridge the so-called “word-gap” are yielding strong results. A 3-year-old from a professional family has typically heard 30 million more words than a child from a family who is on welfare.4 To challenge this gigantic gap head-on, our U.S. show has included Word on the Street vocabulary lessons since 2008. Building on the popularity of these lessons, we created outreach materials that bring the power of words into childcare settings with powerful results: Using the Word on the Street materials increases the number of words children know by 78%.5 The materials were also shown to significantly increase word-related activities in the classroom, such as asking children to use new words to describe a personal experience.6 Childcare providers agree enthusiastically with the program’s efficacy: Two out of three providers (68%) who use the materials say they help children learn and expand vocabulary.6
Supporting the power of Sesame Street to boost vocabulary skills early on is a recent experiment conducted at the University of Michigan. A supplemental literacy curricula that includes Sesame Street video content increases word knowledge among Head Start children up to 22%, an important step towards closing the vocabulary gap with more affluent children.7
Another area showing strong impact numbers, is, well… numbers. Our Math Is Everywhere outreach kit nurtures early math skills in several ways. Almost all parents (97%) using the kit say it increases the time their child spends on math-related activities, and over 90% of parents report a positive change in their children’s interest in counting, sorting, and matching. Children aren’t the only ones making a change: Over half of teachers using Math Is Everywhere say they will teach math differently as a result.8
On the science front, two recent studies show dramatic increases in both concepts and vocabulary related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). After watching Sesame Street’s nature and science episodes from the first year of our STEM initiative, children know 50% more nature-related science terminology—such as metamorphosis, hibernation, habitat, and pollination — than children who didn’t watch the shows. Teachers report that children enjoy watching these programs in class and talk about them afterwards.9 And after viewing programs from the second year of our STEM curriculum, children increased their ability to articulate scientific concepts, such as hypothesis and investigation, by a whopping 100%.10
Sesame Street’s proven ability to produce academic benefits and close achievement gaps bears out in our international efforts as well. To meet local educational needs, we may create a homegrown version of Sesame Street in close cooperation with local educators, researchers, and other partners. Research shows that these local efforts are paying off, increasing important skills like literacy and numeracy, especially among those who need it most.
Bangladeshi children who watch the local version of Sesame Street, Sisimpur, show faster attainment of academic skills such as literacy and math, with literacy scores of 4-year-old viewers 67% higher than those who don’t watch. Some viewers gain as much as a year’s advance in learning.11
Similar advances are seen elsewhere. In Egypt, 4-year-olds who watch the local version of Sesame Street, Alam Simsim, frequently perform at the same level on math and literacy tests as 5-year-olds who watch little or not at all.12 And children with exposure to Galli Galli Sim Sim, the local Indian version of Sesame Street, show significant gains in Hindi literacy, especially those from less privileged backgrounds.13
Strong improvements on a whole range of learning outcomes were also measured in Indonesia. Children who frequently watch Jalan Sesama outperform children who don’t watch the show on early cognitive skills (15% higher), letter recognition (10% higher), number recognition (15% higher), and counting (15% higher).14 And as another study shows, the impact adds up: Children who watch Jalan Sesama regularly over an 18-month period do better on academic skills, with letter recognition up 23% over those who did not watch.15
And the impact keeps growing. By instilling fundamental academic skills now, Sesame is giving children from Chicago to Cairo a love of learning that will serve them for life.
Literacy & Numeracy-related impact studies
- Sisimpur’s Reach and Educational Impact: Evidence from a National Longitudinal Survey (Monograph)
- The impact of Jalan Sesama on the educational and healthy development of Indonesian preschool children: An experimental study.
More Literacy & Numeracy-related impact studies
2 Fisch, S., & Truglio, R. (Eds.). (2001). The Early Window Project: Sesame Street Prepares Children for School. In “G” is for Growing: Thirty Years of Research on Sesame Street (pp. 97-114). Mahwah: Erlbaum.
3 Results controlled for several demographic factors. 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 Research on Sesame Street (pp. 131-143). Mahwah: Erlbaum.
4 Hart, B., & Risley, R. T. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
5 Increase based on words measured. Schiffman, J., Cohen, D., Kotler, J., & Truglio, R. (2008). The Word on Sesame Street is Vocabulary! Paper presented at the annual conference for the International Communication Association, Montreal, QC, Canada.
6 Brooks, M.K., & Cohen, D.I. (2009). Word on the Street Outreach Kit Use Study. New York: Sesame Workshop.
7 Neuman, S.B., Newman, E.H., & Dwyer, J. (2010). Educational effects of an embedded multimedia vocabulary intervention for economically disadvantaged pre-K children: A randomized trial. A report prepared for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.
8 KidPoint, LLC. (2011, March). Math Is Everywhere Evaluation Report.
9 Brooks, M.K., Kotler, J.A., & Truglio, R.T. (2011). The Influence of Sesame Street on Children’s Understanding of Nature and the Environment. Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Montreal, QC, Canada.
10 Brooks, M.K., Kotler, J.A., Gartner, T., & Truglio, R.T. (2011). The Influence of Sesame Street on Children’s Knowledge of STEM concepts. Unpublished presentation. Sesame Workshop, New York.
11 Overall literacy score of 4-yr.-olds with high exposure to the show is 54.8 vs. 32.9 for those with no exposure. Associates for Community and Population Research (ACPR). (2008). Sisimpur’s Reach and Educational Impact Evidence from a National Longitudinal Study. Dhaka, Bangladesh.
12 Average gender equity score of 6-yr.-olds with high exposure to the show is 3.2 out of 4 vs. 1.6 out of 4 for those with low exposure. Rajiv, R.N., Fieguero, M.E., & Federowicz, M. (2006). Impact of Alam Simsim among 4-to-6-year-olds in Egypt: Effects on math ability, literacy skills, and gender attitudes. Baltimore, MD. Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs.
13 GyanVriksh Technologies. (2009). The reach and Impact of the Galli Galli Sim Sim television show in India: Midline report of a naturalistic longitudinal study. Hyderabad, India.
14 Adjusted means control for baseline score, age, gender, and parent education. Borzekowski, D. L. G., & Henry, H. K. M. (2011). The impact of Jalan Sesama on the educational and healthy development of Indonesian preschool children: An experimental study. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 35, 169-179.
15 Borzekowski, D. L. G. (2010). The educational impact of Jalan Sesama: Evidence from a longitudinal study. Baltimore, Maryland: Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University.