Document 34725

Can You TeU Me How To Get To Sesame Street?
Jacqueline Anne Mooney
"Sunny days sweeping the clouds away, on my way to where the air is sweet,
Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?"
riginally conceived as a disadvantaged children's show, Sesame Street has channed
children and adults alike with educational games, creative skits, and diverse situations
(Brooke 1). Characters such as Big Bird, Kennit the Frog, and Elmo have influenced
toys, educational games, interactive CD-ROMs, and internet websites. In spite of the halo effect
of these lovable characters, the controversy of educational television has been debated. Many
argue educational television does not achieve the goals of teaching children basic concepts;
researchers argue that educational programs deteriorate cognitive abilities and language skills.
Other research disproves these theories and presents the view that educational programs,
especially Sesame Street, are effective learning tools for children. Sesame Street has been very
successful and is one of the longest running, award winning educational television programs for
children (Fisch and Truglio, "Introduction" xvi). The success of Sesame Street is not only due to
the research and expertise implemented into the show's effective educational curriculum, but
Sesame Street has presented appealing educational activities, technologicaUyidvanced their
product lines, and exposed children to diversity through characters and situations that conform to
the child's environment.
Since Sesame Street first aired on November 10, 1969, criticl) and researchers attempted
to find fault in the show's structure and content. Many critics perceive that "'educational
television' is an oxymoron" (Anderson 2). These theorists claim Sesame Street decreases a
child's cognitive abilities, attention spans, and language skills. "Television's constant movement
and scene change mesmerize young children, producing a form of addiction" (Anderson 2).
Also, extended viewing can be harmful to children during their critical period of brain
development (Anderson 3). The claims made by various theorists in Anderson's book propose
that television cannot supplement quality education nor can it serve as a teacher. These theories
lack empirical evidence to bolster their argument and many studies support the value of
educational television, especially Sesame Street.
Sesame Street's great success can be attributed to the use of research in the development
of all aspects of the show. Over one thousand studies have been perfonned on Sesame Street,
and it is proclaimed to be "the most widely discussed, researched, evaluated -~d successfulchildren's television program" (Kraidy 11). Before each season, the producers of Sesame Street
develop a focus curriculum for upcoming seasons. This research ensures educational value in
the segments and episodes, gives the script for the season a drive and focus, and keeps the show
on its chosen path.
Research is also completed to ensure the segments presented will be interesting to
children and assure that the viewers retain the information shO\Vll. For example, the producers of
Sesame Street wondered if the topic of space travel was too advanced for a young audience
(Truglio et at 64). The original storyline of Slimey Goes to the .\loon traced a time line of
"Slimey's fascination with the moon, and proceeded with the mission training, lift-off, the long
journey in space, landing on the moon and exploring it, and finally his jubilant return to earth"
Sesame Street
(Truglio 64). After interviewing several children in two different daycare facilities, results
showed that these children had retained knowledge about astronauts and space travel (Truglio
65). These various research experiments display the concerns of the producers to provide an
interesting storyline for their young audience but also to foster the ability to learn. "[This]
'marriage' between research, content experts, and producers continues today as the cornerstone
of the long-term success of Sesame Street" (Truglio 61). All three components provide a strong
support for the building achievements of Sesame Street.
Educational activities within the Sesame Street episodes are also an essential building
block of the show's success. Each activity presented in the different segments is carefully
planned and researched to meet the educational goals of Sesame Street's producers in addition to
interesting young audiences. In Slimey Goes to the Moon, writers planned different segments
and actions to aid the child's comprehension of the action and understanding of the presented
information about the space program and space traveL One of the most notable factors of
Sesame Street is that every show has a sponsor letter of the day. For example, at the end of the
show, Big Bird or another character may say, "This show was brought to you by the letter 'M.'"
This aspect of Sesame Street seeks to give a child an understanding of the alphabet and what
each letter looks like. Research found that children remembered this information when the letter
of the day was repeated in multiple segments throughout the show (Truglio 66). Throughout
educational segments, a character may pause and act like they have forgotten what comes next in
the sequence. The child corrects the puppet, allowing them to feel "faster [or] 'smarter' than the
character" (Fisch and Truglio 239). This technique allows Sesame Street viewers to feel
intelligent and gain self-confidence. Anderson observed that pre-schoolers benefited from these
activities. As he explains, he "frequently saw that pre-schoolers were inte~active with those
segments that in any way invited it. For example, when Kermit the Frog would draw a letter on
the screen, children would draw the same letter in the air with their fingers" (6).
The educational activities that cause children to interact with the characters of Sesame
Street are associated with academic success not only in years of primary school but also in high
school. zm states, "the NHES found evidence that first- and second-grade students who were
reported to have watched Sesame Street prior to school entry were better readers than their
classmates who had not watched the program" (Zm 123). Of the students studied, 91 % of the
children who viewed Sesame Street were able to read short books independently (Zm 124).
Through the educational activities displayed in Sesame Street episodes, children gain an '
advantage over other children who do not regularly view the show. The benefits of Sesame
Street's activities can also carry into the academic endeavors of students once they r¥nch high
school. Huston et al. found that "Adolescents who often watched Sesame Street as
preschoolers ... had higher grades in English, mathematics, and science; spent more time reading
books outside of school; perceived themselves as more competent in school. .. and expressed
lower levels of aggressive attitudes" (Zill 140). While these effects were more prevalent in boys
than girls, the effects of Sesame Street's interactive educational activities aided these students in
academic endeavors that encouraged much more than counting numbers and identifying the
letters of the alphabet (Zm 140). Sesame Street enhanced the abilities of these children and
made the concept of learning fun and interesting. Ten or more years after a child views the show,
the beneficial effects are a testament to the success of Sesame Street.
Sesame Street's success is also built on the concept of changing with the times. The
show not only produces items in print such as Sesame Street books and Sesame Street Magazine,
The Arak Anthology
but has now also added CD-ROMs, video games, and an interactive website. Sesame Street
books and Sesame Street Magazine present the opportunity for parents to use Sesame Street
materials as supplemental education tools. When parents choose these Sesame Street materials
to read to their children, their choice shows that parents value the television show. The approval
of an educational television show by parents is essential, and "the show's violence-free, clean
language skits are likely to preserve the show's role as a parental safe zone for kids'
unsupervised TV viewing" (Brooke 2). Parents place enough trust in Sesame Street's clean,
acceptable programming that they do not accompany their children who watch the television
show. The parents feel confident that when they buy Sesame Street's products, children will
benefit from its educational aspects.
Sesame Street products have expanded into over twenty titles made for CD-ROM, video
game systems, and internet sources (Revelle 215). Revelle also makes an important observation
as to why these new products have been beneficial for the education of children, stating that:
Television programming is linear whereas computer software is interactive. If a
child fails to understand a particular television segment, the program keeps going
and in most cases the child simply begins understanding the show again at a later
point. When using computer software, however, the child's q;nderstanding and
engagement is critical at every point in the experience. If the child doesn't
understand what to do next or loses interest at any point, the interaction stops.
(Revelle 217)
Sesame Street implemented this method of interaction into many of their new products and has
used research as a foundation for these products. Researchers invented a "Roller Controller" for
the small hand of a child that was too small to control a mouse, and this tool is useful in the
point-and-click efforts required for a computer (Revelle 220). Sesame Street CD-ROMs and
video games also implement the important concept of "scaffolding" a child (Revelle 221). This
process provides children with small clues with the hope of leading the child to a correct
response rather than blatantly correcting them (Revelle 221). The concept of scaffolding
displays the game's educational value by providing the children with clues and reasons as to why
their answer is incorrect.
As the internet has become a valuable resource to society. the makers of Sesame Street
products have expanded to an interactive website. At this site, children can become acclimated
wi~ !he mature activity of sending e-mail at the Sesame Street Post Office. ~vene explains this
Children can send questions via e-mail to their favorite Sesame Street Puppets and
receive responses the next day. Because preschool children typically are not
capable of writing or typing, users choose a Puppet from a set of pictures and then
choose questions to ask from a list tailored to that Puppet. When the Puppet
responds, he or she also asks the child a question. furthering the exchange. (224)
Allowing children to become familiar with technology and its associated activities is just as
educational as teaching them the letters of the alphabet and how to count from one to twenty.
The producers of Sesame Street successfully implemented their educational goals and curriculum
into modern technology. They also succeed in constantly updating the show and its products.
Revelle comments, "Thanks to this additional level of flexibility, the material can continue to
Sesame Street
evolve, to become as educationally effective, appealing, and usable as possible" (226). As
technology transfonns, Sesame Street will continue to find educational value in technology and
use it to increase its success.
Sesame Street also attributes much of its success to the promotion of diversity and
differences. Michael Loman, the program's executive producer, says, "{ think the most
important thing that we do is, we show children a wide variety of people living together in a
neighborhood, all races, all cultures, all monsters, a little girl in a wheelchair .... And I think that
shows children that different is not something to be frightened of, and that all kinds of different
people live together and support each other" (Brooke 1). This focus on diversity is one of the
reasons the show has been enjoyed by many cultures because it is "first opportunity [for many
young viewers] to see people like them on television" (Fisch and Truglio, "Why" 238). Sesame
Street strives to present equality in all aspects of the program, including its games and
educational activities. For example, the popular game "One of These Things Is Not Like the
Other" changed to "Three of These Things Belong Together" because the producers of the show
wanted to encourage young viewers to "look for similarities rather than differences" (Fisch and
Truglio, "Why" 239). Such careful measures to observe diversity are essential to Sesame
Street's success worldwide.
The United States is home to many nationalities and cultures, and Sesame Street portrays
these many nationalities by its human characters. The show possesses "an African American
couple ... [a] white singer ... [a] Mexican American family ... a white woman, an Asian American
man, a blind man, and a mute woman" (Kraidy 17). This diverse cast of characters, however, is
rarely seen together so that it does not present a semblance of"Eurocentnc majority" (Kraidy
17). The puppets themselves are also meant to present a diverse cast. All of the puppets are
equal "by omitting most visible references to gender, race, or age .... race and age are lost in
blue, red, green, purple, or other colored fur as_wen as in the muppets' allegorical facial features"
(Kraidy 21). The effort by the producers of Sesame Street to present such a cast of humans and
puppets to its diverse audience is another building block of its success. Along with the
presentation of diversity skits and short documentaries throughout the episodes, Sesame Street
presents non-American cultures to viewers who may not have been previously exposed to such
differences. One of the ways that Sesame Street encourages awareness of other cultures is by
presenting a very short documentary on a culture custom. Kraidy explains a documentary ofthe
Chinese New Year's Festival, which is narrated "by a girl who lives in a small village in China
and is learning stilt dancing from her grandfather, offers viewers more in-depth information
about foreign cultures" (Kraidy 17-18). The program may try to display other cult1.i'fes through
the show's characters and their experiences. The segment "'Play Date' (in which a white boy
visited the home of his African-American friend) emphasized the similarities between their home
experiences (e.g., playing video games) as well as the differences (e.g., the white boy eating
collard greens for the first time)" (Fisch and Truglio, "Why" 236). This segment allowed
viewers to see similarities to their own lives and appreciate the differences between the two
cultures (Fisch and Truglio, "Why" 236). Sesame Street successfully promotes diversity and
equality not only in its horne country but also in many countries all over the globe.
Since Sesame Street is broadcast in over 140 countries, it is imperative that the program
be adaptable to different cultures and social situations (Fisch and Truglio, "Introduction" xvi). In
South Africa, Sesame Street helps children obtain the ability of "'code switching' - the ability to
comfortably use words, phrases or sentences from more than one language in a single
The Arak Anthology
conversation" (Fuld and Cole 1). This skill is beneficial for South African children to learn
because the country has eleven official languages (Fuld and Cole 1). This connection is achieved
by changes in setting, plot, and even characters, so that "instead of Big Bird and Cookie Monster,
there are characters based on a pig and a meerkat" (Fuld and Cole 1). These characters are based
upon some of the animals in South Africa so their young viewers can relate to the situation.
Many languages are used throughout the program, especially during question and answer
episodes (Fuld and Cole 2). This adaptation of characters and plot is also used in areas of social
turmoil. Kraidy explains that "In the Middle East ... the recent IsraelilPalestinian coproduction of
Sesame Street - a combination of former separate Hebrew and Arabic versions of the show - has
been found to influence fraternity and interracial tolerance" (Kraidy 12). Children were reported
to have "an increase in the use of prosocial justifications (such as friendship) to resolve conflict.
. . .children from an test groups tended to use more positive attributes to describe the other
[group (Machlis qtd. in Kraidy 12). This promotion of peace and attempt to educate children
early in the benefits of discarding stereotypes have possibly shaped the future of those children
in countries of social turmoil. This early education allows them to see alternate points of view
that may differ from their ancestors' or their society's views. By providing an opportunity to
adapt differently to a difficult environment, the early awareness of peace and diversity could
promote a large change in these troubled nations.
Sesame Street has captivated audiences for the last thirty years through its loveable
characters and universal nature. The program has been supported by research as a provider of
educational skits and situations that teach children about the alphabet, counting, and self-worth.
Sesame Street has been successful in developing interactive technologies to keep with the
changing times. The activities presented for children within the Sesame Street episodes
themselves also hold educational value, and can enhance a student's performance once they
reach primary and high school. Diversity is an essential building block to the success of Sesame
Street. The program adapts to different cultures and reflects the diversity of American culture by
its diverse cast of human characters and puppets. Sesame Street continues to be sponsored by the
letter "K" for "knowledge," for as long as it presents a curriculum designed to maintain equality
and education, the air will be sweet, and the children will be curious how to get to Sesame Street.
Sesame Street
Works Consulted
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zm, Nicholas.
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