For those who grew up watching Sesame Street in the seventies, there is research suggesting the much-loved show led to improved early educational outcomes for children.
A new study has found that US children who had greater access to Sesame Street when it first aired experienced positive learning outcomes throughout primary school. Boys and black, non-Hispanic children experienced the greatest benefits.
The authors noted that “Sesame Street may be the biggest and most affordable early childhood intervention out there, with benefits that can last several years. These findings raise the exciting possibility that TV and electronic media more generally can be leveraged to address income and racial gaps in children’s school readiness.”
Created in the late 1960s, the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) was considered an experiment. However, if you watch the pitch reel for Sesame Street, you’ll see this wasn’t an experiment at all. The show’s rationale was to take the best theory and practice in early learning and apply it to a contemporary context – TV. Behind Ernie and Bert, Big Bird and Count Dracula was a carefully crafted learning experience designed to engage, enable and empower young learners. It was achieved by:
- operating from the fundamental premise that every child could learn no matter what their background
- integrating various techniques to engage children through song, animation, conversation and puppetry
- meeting young learners where they were (at home) by locating the show outside a house on Sesame Street
- giving children control over their learning and TV viewing (which is why it was aired in the mid-morning when older siblings were at school)
- creating an awareness of the child as an individual and the world around them
- making learning fun and recognising diversity as the norm
That Sesame Street is still broadcast forty five years on is testament to its core values and principles. The context may have changed but the principles remain. According to the study’s authors Sesame Street acted as the first Massive Open Online Course of its time, aimed at delivering free educational content to a mass audience.
Sesame Street began with the belief that every child can learn. Its success and longevity globally can be attributed to professionals working and planning together and continually evaluating the impact of their work by seeking regular feedback from children.
UK educational leader and speaker Richard Gerver (quoted in Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools) says educators today need to find the best early learning facilities and spend time learning about what they do. Sesame Street has taught millions of children valuable lessons over the past four decades and there are valuable lessons educators can learn from Sesame Street.
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