Learning from Old Friends
Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about something that may sound really familiar to you. How many of you grew up watching Sesame Street or watched it with your grandchildren?
I can still remember parts of the theme song:
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet…
That song is going to be stuck in your head now…I would sing it, but trust me, you don’t want to hear my singing voice. But as a kid, I sang along with all of their characters…Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, and well, I’m not sure Oscar the Grouch did much singing.
Recently, I discovered something that many of you may have already known…Sesame Street is about much more than the television show. I’ve been following the work of Sesame Street in Communities. Their website—sesamestreetincommunities.org—builds upon their already strong commitment to addressing kids’ developmental, physical, and emotional needs.
In 1969, Sesame Street was created from the idea that early education played an important role in a successful future. The creators wanted all children—especially those living below the poverty line—to have access to early educational opportunities. Joan Ganz Cooney first created TV programming as a documentary producer for public television. As her career progressed, she began to think about television as a teaching medium. With this in mind, she founded the Children’s Television Workshop in 1968. Their first show was Sesame Street, followed in 1971 by The Electric Company. Just a little extra information: In 1989, Cooney received an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement and has been the recipient of countless other honors for her work.
Sesame Street was conceived in 1966 during dialogues between Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie Corporation vice president Lloyd Morrisett. They wanted to create a children’s television show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them,” such as helping young children prepare for school. After two years of research, the Children’s Television Workshop received a combined grant of $8 million from the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the U.S. federal government to create and produce a new children’s television show.
Here’s a little bit more extra information that I learned about the show. Seems it started with a little controversy over a few things.
- Some critics didn’t like the name. They thought it was too hard for young children to say.
- Mississippi at first refused to air the show, citing its integrated cast, but then reversed the decision.
- Latinos and women complained about stereotyping.
And speaking of something else I didn’t know about the show…Jim Henson’s Muppets (and how can we talk about this show without mentioning them) were added to the “street scenes” of the show against the advice of educational advisers. The advisers thought that seeing the Muppets in the scenes throughout the neighborhood would be upsetting to kids. The characters originally could only be seen in their own segments of the show. I can’t imagine Sesame Street without Big Bird walking around with the kids. Of, and speaking of Big Bird…I didn’t know that the character won more than 100 Emmy awards.
We may think that Sesame Street has basically stayed the same since its debut on TV, but the show has evolved through the years, being more sensitive to the needs of its audience. For example, when childhood obesity became an increasingly difficult challenge to tackle in our nation, Cookie Monster declared on national television that cookies were only a “sometimes food.”
And the show producers were not afraid to talk about difficult issues that others may steer away from with kids. Childbirth, and child abuse, were among sensitive topics discussed, and that openness continued into episodes that related to the September 11th attacks and Hurricane Katrina. When Will Lee, who played the beloved store owner “Mr. Hooper,” died in 1982, his passing was talked about in an Emmy-winning episode. The show has also recently introduced the topic of homelessness to its viewers. Viewers also got to meet Julia, the first Sesame Street Muppet with autism
I think I have really taken Sesame Street for granted. But even if we all agree about how wonderful the show is, why am I talking about today as if something new is happening? Well, a few months ago, I saw a social media post about the Yellow Feather Fund. You can go to their website…yellowfeatherfund.org…and read more about this. The Sesame Street Yellow Feather Fund brings education to children in need—helping them grow smarter, stronger and kinder.
Here are a few examples from their website detailing the work of this fund:
*Twelve million children under the age of eight have had to leave their homes due to the Syrian conflict, and many have no access to the quality education that can set them on the path to a brighter future. Sesame Street is working with the International Rescue Committee to bring critical early education directly to young refugee children in the Syrian response region—and providing success strategies for their parents as well. Their loveable Muppets add so much joy to the lives of the children. Your donation to the Yellow Feather Fund helps them bring the laughter, learning, and hope to these children who desperately need it.
*Military families experience unique challenges like deployments, homecomings, relocations, and sometimes grief. For more than 12 years, Sesame Street has helped children and their families build resilience in times of separation and change. Working with military and child development advisors, they create books, videos, digital toolkits, and other free resources featuring the lovable little Elmo and friends. When you give to the Yellow Feather Fund, you help them build a virtual support network for the 700,000 young children with a parent in the service and help them develop success strategies for facing military milestones.
*One in 68 American children is diagnosed with autism, and nearly every family is affected in some way. Sesame Street helps children and families with the everyday challenges autism can present—through engaging, fun, (and free!) videos, books, and digital content in both English and Spanish. And they reach out to the public at large, promoting acceptance and understanding around autism spectrum disorder. Your gift to the Yellow Feather Fund enables them to research, create, and distribute materials used by educators, families, and service providers nationwide—and helps them spread the message that every child is unique, and every child is amazing.
You want to know something amazing…you can access a lot of their resources free of charge. And if you donate to the fund, you allow other families to have access to the resources.
I went to the Sesame Street in Communities website and found so many resources that I was not previously aware of. Through ongoing collaboration, training experiences, and local partnerships, this website continually adds content that meets the changing needs of our communities. As you scroll through the site, you can find hundreds of bilingual multi-media tools to help kids and families deepen their knowledge during the early years of birth through six (and this is a critical window for brain development). Their resources engage kids and adults in everyday moments and daily routines—from teaching early math and literacy concepts, to encouraging families to eat nutritious foods, to serious topics such as divorce and food insecurity.
They have resources for a wide range of issues that affect our communities: community violence, coping with incarceration of a family member, dealing with divorce, homelessness, preparing for emergencies, grieving, facing traumatic experiences, needing and giving comfort, and the need to learn to be resilient.
The website offers a section filled with information on staying mentally and physically healthy. Families have resource pages for learning to care and share, eating well, caring for children, explaining autism, playing together, building routines, bonding, managing asthma, handling tantrums, and many more topics.
The website also has educational resources for language development, financial education, science, reading and writing, and math skills.
These things I am mentioning aren’t just fun little games for kids to play. Each page is filled with professional and community resources for family members to explore. There are interactive pages, videos, and articles written by professionals to help us all be able to be life-long learners on issues that affect our families and our communities.
Now of course, there’s still the website for kids—sesamestreet.org—filled with fun and games for all ages. We can’t forget about that.
So, what’s our challenge for the week. Consider donating to the Yellow Feather Fund to keep this material available for all members of our communities. But here’s a big challenge that will take a little time—explore the Sesame Street in Communities website and familiarize yourself with all of the resources there. You may run across something that will help you. But, also, if you know what’s there, you can pass this along to community members who may need this information. Know a young parent who isn’t familiar with milestones for the growth and development of a child? Know a parent of a toddler struggling with tantrums? Anyone in your community looking for information on eating healthier? dealing with asthma? explaining autism to a sibling?
This information is publicly available free of charge and is frequently updated as we learn more about various topics. Find out what’s there and share it with others.
Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.