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5 proven lessons Media makers and educators can learn from the creators of Sesame Street

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Shreya Christina
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Stephen M. Youngwood, CEO of Sesame Workshop.

Early childhood education, technology and children’s media are three areas that have changed dramatically in the past 50 years, right? Yes and no. The science of early childhood development has evolved and advances in technology have enabled families to access content in countless new ways. But at its core, the lessons that Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, the founders of Sesame Workshop and creators of sesame street, were among the first to crystallize.

What they created 53 years ago had never been done before. TV was still the latest technology, and leveraging its power and reach, Joan and Lloyd founded what could be called the first educational technology organization in an industry where skyrocketing venture capital investment reached $20.8 billion for 2021.

Today, children are faced with challenges our founders could never have imagined: a global pandemic that disrupted the school, mental health crisis among American children and more children driven from their homes than ever since World War II. It has never been more important that we invest in the next generation. So, what can media makers and educators learn from these two pioneers?

Start early first. Joan and Lloyd believed that the sooner we educate children, the greater the outcome. They could not have known how prescient that thinking was or that early education would prove to have a powerful influence on future education, future earnings, and even future health.

Second, use new technology. Joan and Lloyd knew we can’t teach if we don’t achieve โ€” and she suspected that technology would be invaluable in making learning scalable and accessible. Putting technology to work can be a huge win for kids, provided you stay informed about where and how they interact with content so you can meet them wherever they are.

Third, make learning fun. Joan and Lloyd believed that creativity is key to making content engaging and that learning is more indelible when it’s fun. That’s why they enlisted Jim Henson, who created the sweet, playful, and heartfelt characters we all know today.

Fourth, focus on the whole child. Joan and Lloyd understood it is inherent that education should be more than letters and numbers – that children teach how learning can be just as important as what they learn. They also knew that social and emotional skills such as self-expression, regulating emotions, empathy and friendship are critical, as well as inspiring children to have faith in every unique aspect of who they are – from the color of their skin to the color of their skin. language they speak.

Fifth, invite adults. Famous, musical and comedic elements provide entry points for all ages. Sesame Street intentionally invites parents and caregivers to watch the show with their children, believing that watching together leads to deeper learning.

Joan and Lloyd’s vision and their work have inspired countless others to focus on early childhood and create media that leverage technology and deliver meaningful outcomes for children. As CEO of Sesame Workshop, I feel a responsibility every day to take their lessons to the next level: to reach even more children, help them become smarter, stronger and kinder, and prepare them to be not only in school but also to thrive in life.

So, what does it mean to apply these lessons today?

Starting early, making learning fun, and prioritizing family involvement are part of sesame street DNA and the theories that Joan and Lloyd embraced have been proven many times over. Nobel laureate James Heckman found that investing in high-quality birthing programs can yield estimated returns for up to five years 13% per year return on investment through better education, health and economic outcomes. Early interventions such as Head Start and other preschool programs are linked to an increase in high school graduation rate of up to 20% and an up to 15% greater chance of a student completing higher education.

To spark the interest of today’s young children and have the greatest impact, you need to gain the attention and trust of their caregivers – not just as gatekeepers, but because together you has indeed been shown to improve understanding.

The universal languages โ€‹โ€‹of music and humor can unite generations, which is why we rely on musicians and humorists to write and score segments that may seem “simple” but in reality use researched protocols to resonate on multiple levels. So my advice to other media creators and educators is to use a musical hook or a humorous twist to deliver lessons that last. Using celebrity talent is another effective way to invite caregivers to sanction content. Kids don’t need Billie Eilish to help them learn to count, but she helps.

While it cannot replace teachers and parents, technology is more important than ever. When Sesame Street debuted in 1969, there was only one platform with few channels. One of the reasons the show reached so many kids is that it was the only way to do it. Now the media environment is fragmented, and meeting kids and parents where they are means streaming and on platforms like YouTube, TikTok and WhatsApp and what comes next. You can still achieve a lot with mass media, but nowadays you can also reach different target groups with one-to-one technologies and personalized interactive apps.

Focusing on the whole child also looks different today, with varying global crises creating new barriers to learning. So while you teach kids skills like reading and writing, make sure to also emphasize emotional skills, such as the “emotional ABCs” of identifying and managing big feelings. These skills are a crucial developmental foundation for young children, especially those who have experienced conflict and crises.

Today, children and parents everywhere face uncertainty and barriers to early learning. Children’s media plays a role in delivering quality early childhood education with a holistic approach to help families meet today’s challenges and prepare for tomorrow’s. If we follow the example of Joan and Lloyd, it is more than an opportunity – it is a responsibility. Business Council is the leading growth and networking organization for entrepreneurs and leaders. Am I eligible?

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