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Reading with Sesame Street

The cast of Sesame Street stands in front of their building posing happily
Credit: Zach Hyman/Associated Press

Not many television shows can claim the same long-run or worldwide fame that Sesame Street can. For over 50 years, the fun and playful monsters on Sesame Street have earned a place in the hearts of several generations by teaching reading, spelling, and counting skills with their catchy songs and friendly furry monsters. The show has played a large and important part in promoting early childhood development in children across the country

The idea for Sesame street came as an answer to a question posed by one of the show’s cofounders, the question being: “Whether TV can teach anything?” And for more than half a century, the colorful puppet cast has proved that, yes, TV can teach, and it can do it very well.

In the 1950s-60s, the education gap was gaining attention and becoming a greater concern to address. There was a huge gap between typically white, affluent communities and communities of color with how ready their children were for school. Also, TV broadcasting was still a relatively new medium and with kids it was mostly used to push for toy sales. TV producer Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett came to the idea to try to use TV to teach children, and they developed Sesame Street to reach that goal.

Since it aired in 1969, Sesame Street pushed several boundaries by mixing entertainment and education. Each episode is carefully crafted for its young audience, mixing cheerful tunes, animated segments, and lively puppets to lead kids in basic letter and number skills. While it was made with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in mind, the aim was to make Sesame Street open to all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. The first season’s cast was unapologetically diverse and inclusive and it was even enough to get the show banned in Mississippi in 1970, when its public television commission “felt that [the state] was not ready” for an “integrated cast.”

Over the years the show has been developed into several different languages and broadcasted to over 120 countries across the world— all of them with the same intention of promoting early childhood learning and tackling relevant real-world issues. They’ve included honest conversations about sensitive topics such as addiction, natural disasters, incarceration, and homelessness, and racial diversity.

When comparing the early childhood development, researchers found that kids with access to the Sesame Street growing up performed better in elementary than those who didn't. Joan Ganz Cooney, CoFounder for Sesame said in a tv interview, "It’s not whether children learn from television, it’s what children learn from television," and Sesame Street has indeed dedicated itself to providing children with fun, memorable, and educational content to help them grow and teach kids that learning can be easy, playful, and accessible to everyone.

Works Cited

Wong, Alia. "The Sesame Street Effect." 17 June. 2015.

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