Kids who watch Sesame Street at home may benefit in the classroom, a study has found.
According to research recently published in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, preschool-aged children who watched Sesame Street had an improved school performance. This was particularly true for boys, black children and those living in economically disadvantaged areas.
Researchers out of Wellesley College and the University of Maryland studied the long-term effects of those who had access to the show when it first aired in 1969. They found that Sesame Street led to a “positive impact” on performance throughout elementary school, and that the effects of the show were long-lasting.
Researchers combed through U.S. census data from 1980, 1990 and 2000, and compared the educational and employment outcomes of those who had access to Sesame Street and those who didn’t.
Their study, which was completed in 2015, found those with greater exposure to the show were “14 per cent more likely to be attending the grade that is appropriate for their age in middle and high school years” and were more likely to be employed and have somewhat higher wages as an adult.
When the beloved children’s show first aired in 1969, its primary goal was reducing educational gaps experienced by disadvantaged youth, the researchers wrote. The show was successful in that aim, researchers said, stating that “Sesame Street is one of the largest and most affordable early childhood interventions ever to take place.”
“Remarkably, the show accomplished that at a cost of around $5 per child per year (in today’s dollars),” authors wrote.
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Melissa Kearney, one of the study’s authors, said Sesame Street filled an important gap. The fact that it was on TV made it largely accessible across socioeconomic demographics, too.
“Sesame Street aired at a time when enriching educational opportunities for preschool-age children were very scarce,” Kearney told Global News.
“That is probably why access to Sesame Street was so meaningful for the children who obtained access. If they weren’t watching Sesame Street, they almost surely weren’t watching a different educational program or enrolled in an in-person educational program.”
According to Julie Romanowski, an early childhood consultant and parenting coach at Miss Behaviour, Sesame Street is still effective in helping children learn because of the type of topics it covers.
“(It) focuses on relationships, numeracy, literacy, problem solving, feelings, concepts and good manners,” Romanowski explained.
“These can be hard to find all in one shot these days. That is why I believe Sesame Street packs a powerful punch because it includes so much quality and value.”
Romanowski notes, however, that television programs are not the only instrumental learning tool for children. It’s important that kids learn from their parents and caregivers, as well as through play.
“It is important for young children in the early years to be exposed to as much learning as possible overall in life as well as the feeling of security and attachment,” she said.
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“This allows their developing brains to absorb as much information as possible to help further their development in a healthy way.”
Kearney acknowledges that TV shows have come along way since Sesame Street, and there’s an abundance of kid’s shows to choose from. Still, she thinks the show teaches children today just like it did decades ago.
“The programming is still based on an educational mission and it is created by experts who study how children learn and react to specific content,” she said.
“In a time when children from different socioeconomic backgrounds and places have such different experiences and educational opportunities, the fact that all kids can watch the thoughtful, well-designed content of Sesame Street, and be exposed to not only literacy and numeracy lessons… is really quite special and critically important.”