Watching 'Sesame Street' Helps Kids Do Better In School

Most of us have grown up with Sesame Street, one of the most beloved children’s programs of all time. Yet little did we know that show’s benefits extended beyond entertainment and occasional learning.

According to a study published recently in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Sesame Street supports improved school performance for children who begin watching the program before the age of seven. It even has long-term rewards for its audience, both educationally and eventually in the workplace.

Researchers found that spending time with Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Count, Cookie Monster, Grover, and Oscar teaches children lessons that last a lifetime. Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine, the study’s researchers, analyzed data from the US census from 1980, 1990, and 2000 that evaluated the educational and employment results of children who watched the program compared to those who did not.

“Sesame Street‘s introduction generated a positive impact on educational outcomes through the early school years,” the study says. Particularly, children who watched the program consistently were “14 percent more likely to be attending the grade that is appropriate for their age in middle and high school years.”

The data also shows the positive effects for both boys and girls — and, interestingly, the show often benefits boys who watch it a bit more. “The data also indicate positive effects for all three race/ethnic groups considered, with larger point estimates for blacks and Hispanics than for white non-Hispanics.”

As for the long-term outcomes, the study shows that children and young students who watch Sesame Street are “more likely to be employed and have somewhat higher wages as adults.” Also, in terms of academics, children who watch the program also show improved test scores and “grade-for-age status.”

Sesame Street, which premiered in November 1969 and aired on PBS for decades before debuting on HBO in January 2016, has provided the researchers with years of invaluable day. The show, which always had an educational mission, also teaches children about diversity and kindness. As of 2018, Sesame Street has won 189 Emmy Awards and 11 Grammy Awards, more than any other children's program.

Conceived in 1966 during a conversation between television producer Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie Foundation vice president Lloyd Morrisett, Sesame Street was intended to "master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them," such as helping young children get ready for school.

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After two years of research, the recently formed Children's Television Workshop (CTW) was awarded a grant of $8 million from the Carnegie Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the U.S. Federal Government to create and produce a new children's television program.

Known for its endearing characters, Sesame Street has always excelled for offering relatable stories, non-threatening plotlines and cultural awareness. A formula that has benefitted generations more than we could have ever imagined.

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