I remember exactly where I was 40 years ago today — sitting in front of our 26-inch color television console watching a big, yellow bird, a green garbage-can monster and a host of multicultural friends on PBS’ Sesame Street.
That program played a large part in my childhood. I perfected my counting skills, learned the alphabet with the forever 6-year-old Big Bird and even learned a smattering a Spanish. To this day, I can count to ten in Spanish because of Sesame Street!
This was exactly the goal of the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) when it started down the road of educational television programming for kids. The creators proposed using television’s “most engaging traits,” including high production values, sophisticated writing and quality film and animation, to reach the largest audience possible. CTW set out to create a program that would spread pro-learning values to both children and their parents and that would resonate with them long after they turned off the TV.
It worked. Sesame Street has become the leader and innovator in educational programming. It doesn’t talk down to the 3-to-7 set; instead, it speaks to this age group with intelligence and sophistication. Sesame Street also keeps up with the times — looking back at what I watched and what my nieces and nephews see on the Street is like comparing a buggy to a Maserati.
But even though the look has changed to keep up with media-savvy toddlers, and the topics have broadened from simple sharing and an understanding of dying (remember when Mr. Hooper died?) to eco-friendly lifestyle and diversity issues in families, Sesame Street maintains its core curriculum of reading, writing and arithmatic.
I can still sing the Sesame Street theme song 40 years later with the same intensity and joy as I did when I was 4 years old. I even have some of the books and record albums that were put out in the early ’70s with the Muppets greatest hits — pop songs hiding important lessons on sharing, phonics and friendship. And yes, I sat on the floor cross-legged with my three children, too, as they watched Sesame Street, singing and laughing.
So pull off your tie, let down your hair and embrace the 4-year-old inside and join in with me: “Sunny days, chasing 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?!”