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The effects of 'Sesame Street'

Child Psychology - A Contemporary Viewpoint

Can children learn new intellectual skills from watching television?

To answer this question, ‘Sesame Street’ was introduced to millions of American children in the late 1960s. The aim of the show was to improve the cognitive skills of preschoolers so that they would be better prepared for elementary school education. By using TV as a medium, the Children’s Television Workshop hoped to bring the educational message to a large proportion of preschool children. In fact, among its target group of 3-5 year olds, "Sesame Street" is very popular with children averaging three to four hours per week of viewing.

Over 1.4 million households watch this program. The show introduced Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie and their zany companions. However, it was not merely puppets and a host of clever attention-holding tactics but a well defined set of educational goals that made "Sesame Street" so successful. And it has worked, as demonstrated in evaluations conducted by Ball and Bogatz (1972). Children were tested on a variety of items such as identifying body parts, letters, numbers, geometric forms, sorting and classification before and after a six-month viewing period.

Children who watched "Sesame Street" showed a marked improvement in a variety of cognitive skills; more important, as viewing became heavier, the amount of improvement increased. The more one watched, the more one learned. Finally, the results were not restricted to middle-class children; disadvantaged children who watched showed marked improvements as well. Perhaps one of the most interesting outcomes is that reading skills improved, even though this was not specifically taught on "Sesame Street". Later studies underscored the continuing benefits of "Sesame Street" viewing for children today.

- Reproduced in brief from Child Psychology A Contemporary Viewpoint, Fourth   Edition, Published by McGraw-Hill, Inc.

*Children learn by observation and TV can be an important educational tool particularly when the parent or caregiver watched and discussed content with their child(ren).