Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

Growing up in my house, Big Bird, Grover, the Cookie Monster and their friends on Sesame Street visited me almost daily through our little TV at home.

I learned about counting and the alphabet, and discovered how people build friendships. I sang and danced along. And while I was supposed to learn about impulse control from watching Cookie Monster’s antics, I’m pretty sure the message went the opposite way with me (Mom/Dad: I’m sorry I was so out of control!).

There is fascinating research, recently reported in the Economist magazine, highlighting the work of economists Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine from the University of Maryland on why it was perhaps a very good thing I spent so much time glued to the Muppets.

Kearney and Levine report on studies revealing the immediate payback Sesame Street had on those of us addicted to its lovable characters. We seemed happier, we behaved a little better, and (most of us) learned to delay gratification a little longer.

But what is especially interesting about their research is they report there was not only an immediate positive impact on little ones, but that watching Sesame Street had some longer-term value, as well.

Kearney and Levine show that children who had access to Sesame Street were better prepared for school and more likely to advance through school with their age group. As the authors share, this effect is particularly pronounced “…for children living in economically disadvantaged areas.”

While Sesame Street was so much more than silly pratfalls and jokes, and there is long history of the evidence of its effectiveness, the authors do not carry their research to the next stage to say that we should use Sesame Street as a replacement for proven early education intervention programs like Head Start.

Evidenced-based, early childhood education programs that help those growing up in economically disadvantaged areas succeed are one of the most important – and cost effective – public policy interventions we can wield.

But it is refreshing to know that it won’t hurt our little ones one bit – and might help a little – to turn on Sesame Street to see what Oscar the Grouch has been doing.

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