Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sesame Street

My first evaluation is going to be of the old standby: Sesame Street.

We all know who lives on Sesame Street. The program has been around for more than forty years. 4-0. That's a long time. Kids who grew up on Sesame Street are now parents, and maybe even very young grandparents by this point. That's a great run for any program, let alone a children's show. I personally remember learning to read the words "Cat Food" from an episode of Sesame Street, as well as the "Longest Word" song for my alphabet. So for me, it's neat that my son gets to share in some of the same characters I loved while growing up.

Sesame Street is aimed at preschoolers. There are lessons on letters, numbers, counting, and caring for your friends and neighbors. Characters are both human actors, puppets (Muppets!), and animated.

The latest format of Sesame Street has segments that are more akin to short episodes of other shows. Such segments include "Murray Has a Little Lamb" (where Murray monster and his little lamb Ovejita (pronounced Oh-va-hee-ta) go to various specialty schools to learn about art, music, sports, etc.), "Abby's Flying Fairy School" (an animated segment, that has jokes such as "Zsa Zsa Gabor" being a magic spell word), "Super Grover 2.0" (it's Super Grover we all know and love, with a fancy new outfit and car, as well as the tagline that I find hilarious "Super Grover 2.0: He shows up!"), and "Elmo's World" (real Elmo in an animated crayon drawing of his imagination, which generally focuses on one subject), among other less frequent ones like "Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures" (which is claymation). These episode segments are intertwined with segments highlighting the Letter of the Day and the Number of the Day, as well as a portion focusing on some characters actually on the street.

Running time is about 48 minutes on average. While that seems long, the various breaks in the show help to keep a child's attention for the good majority of the show.

PBS stations generally show the newest episodes around lunchtime (12pm EST). Sprout also has instituted an hour of Sesame Street 7 days a week at 1pm EST, however Sprout is not a channel that is in all lineups, and does require a cable or satellite subscription. Check your local listings to find out exact times and channels.

One good thing about the Sprout version of the show is that Sprout has the older episodes. Some from as far back as the late 90's have been shown in the time I've had the channel. The cool thing about that is that the older episodes have little cartoons from even OLDER episodes, i.e. the ones I remember as a kid. The pinball counting to 12, the fireworks that spell out the alphabet, "It's Hip to be a Square", and Cookie Monster's rap about "Healthy Food"...all classics in my book. Even the old "Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco" shows up from time to time... which may lead to some interesting conversations about what a Disco was.

Some of the old human actors still remain on the program and there are new faces as well. The characters Bob, Gordon, Maria, Geena, and Luis are all still "on the street", with occasional appearances by Gordon's wife and the deaf Linda. Gordon's son and Maria's daughter are both almost grown up (am I the ONLY one who remembers when Maria was expecting? I feel old!). Geena is now a veterinarian for all the animals on the street. New faces include Chris, who works at Hooper's store, Alan, who runs the local sandwich counter next to Hooper's, and Leela, who runs the local laundromat. My favorite human character is actually one of the newcomers, Chris. He's hilarious, and his acting is so fluid.

The Muppets have remained pretty much the same. Big Bird, Telly, the Count, Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert, Ernie, Elmo, Oscar, etc. All still there. My son tends to gravitate towards Elmo, as well as newcomer Murray of "Murray Has a Little Lamb", and who also acts as a host of sorts between show segments. The newer Muppets to the gang are Baby Bear, Rosita, Zoe, and Abby Cadabby, a fairy (although Baby Bear, Rosita, and Zoe have all been around a while now). The great thing about Sesame Street is that there is a character for everyone to love, and most likely your child will find one (or many) that they adore. Unlucky for you, the parent, is that fact that if the character your child loves happens not to be Big Bird, Ernie, Elmo, or Cookie Monster, your chances of finding anything with your child's buddy on it are slim to nil.

As a parent watching, it's easy to interact with my son when this show is on. It's easy to ask him questions about what he has seen, ask him what letter is on the screen, or count to the number of the day. Sesame Street has lately taken up having guests on the show. Some guests play characters... an example of which has to be one of my favorites, Neil Patrick Harris as The Shoe Fairy. Others just go over "The Word on the Street" (a segment that helps build vocabulary), and that list is already almost as impressive as Saturday Night Live's hosts... LL Cool J, Amy Poehler, Jennifer Garner, and Ty Burrell (TV dad Phil from Modern Family), just to name a few. Your kid may not care about these famous figures, so I'm guessing the guest stars are purely for Mom and Dad's enjoyment here. (Confession: I DVR'ed the NPH episode, and still watch it with joy several times a month.)

Now, the good stuff: what is your child actually LEARNING from this show?
  • Mathematics: Numbers, counting, shapes and colors, categorizing, and simple math functions such as addition, subtraction, and fractions.
  • Reading: Letters, the alphabet, spelling, and phonics.
  • Problem Solving: What should the characters do in a situation, seek and find, using clues to solve a mystery, answering questions, etc.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friend and cultivating friendships, learning about feelings and empathy, helping out, etc.
  • Cultural Education: Spanish words and numbers, learning about different heritages, races, backgrounds, and various holidays.
  • Music: Instruments and their sounds, songs, musical styles, and dance.
Overall, Sesame Street is a pretty all-encompassing standard in children's television programming. There's a little something for everyone, as well as a broad spectrum of educational redeeming value. As a parent, you'll probably find some parts annoying, and other parts highly entertaining. Your child will likely enjoy at least some of this show, no matter what age or stage of development they fall into. You also won't have to worry that your child will fall in love with it and have the show be canceled on them, so bonus points for longevity.

For fun behind the scenes looks at Sesame, check out the Sesame Street blog. (I wouldn't show that to the kiddos though, it might ruin their childhoods forever seeing that their favorite character is actually two grown dudes.)


  1. The great thing about Sesame street is that each segment and character is actually geared towards a specific age groups and what they should be learning. For example, Elmo is geared towards children ages 0-3 years old. You can usually tell what age group the character is for based on how old the character is themselves. Like Elmo is 3 and Big Bird is 6. That is not to say that your child will not find what Abby who is about 4 interesting and fun they will just benefit from her twinkle thinking fun more when they are about 4 as well!

  2. I totally remember Maria expecting Gaby, and when Gordon and Susan adopted Miles.