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Five moments that define the first 50 years of Sesame Street

Big Bird (E) and other Sesame Street doll characters pose alongside temporary signs on the street November 9, 2009Image copyright
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Sesame Street has produced nearly 5,000 episodes, won 193 Emmy Awards and now broadcasts in 150 different countries. But those five milestones in the first 50 years say a lot about your success.

Since the first television screening on November 10, 1969, millions of children have heard the classic theme "Can you tell me how to get there, how to get to Sesame Street?"

Over that time, no doubt, it has changed early childhood education around the world.

Here is how.

It all started at Harvard …

In the late 1960s, Sesame Street co-founders Lloyd Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney approached Harvard University Graduate School of Education with a new approach to teaching American children.

A team led by a developmental psychologist worked with sesame founders to analyze children's psychology and harness the relatively new medium of television to create fun lessons for children.

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Filming of an initial episode in 1970

They chose Muppet puppeteer Jim Henson to create characters like Big Bird and the set was made to look like an urban street rather than a magical world. And the four human cast members were multiracial – a landmark decision for the time.

Harvard education professor Joe Blatt, who was a consultant for the program, says the concept of using TV – which was thought to generate only laziness and bad habits in children – was a "brilliant and kind of bold and exciting move" in 1969.

Professor Blatt says the program used "powerful media strategies like [advert] jingles, as a repetition, to do things that help kids learn rather than make kids want ice flakes. "

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Professor Blatt received a Muppet version of himself as thanks for his work.

Mr. Hooper's Real Life Death

When actor Will Lee, one of four original cast members, died of a heart attack in 1983, executives made the bold choice to explain the concept of death to children.

Lee played the shopkeeper, Mr. Hooper.

"Big Bird, when people die, they don't come back," the visibly sad cast explained to the doll, reassuring him – and the child audience – that after people die, their memories stay alive and others continue their work.

The script was tested on children before airing, Professor Blatt tells the BBC to make sure the children get the message. Earlier tests had led the program to draw other lessons, such as a divorce segment, if they found out that the children did not understand.

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The death of actor Will Lee (right room) was treated in the program

The decision to write Hooper's death on the show was "one of the first times it got dark," says Common Sense Media TV publisher Polly Conway, which reviews children's programs.

"They understand that children can handle complex issues when information is provided in an age-appropriate manner," she says.

"And the answer is never to talk about death. It's to talk about death in a way that a four-year-old can understand, in a way that is supported by children's research."

Since this death lesson, executives have never replayed segments featuring Hooper. "They said he wouldn't come back," says Blatt. "And they stayed for that."

An HIV positive muppet

To the surprise of the show's creators, who designed it purely for the American public, the show was quickly adapted for international viewers. Even children in conflict zones or refugee camps can watch a version of Sesame Street.

Each co-production tries to help children understand the problems that affect their part of the world. At Takalani Sesame from South Africa, the character Kami is an HIV positive orphan puppet whose mother died of AIDS. In Afghanistan, Zari and his brother Zeerak model gender equality and respect for women.

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Kami is an HIV positive puppet whose mother died of AIDS.

Mexico, Brazil and Germany were the first to feature dubbed versions of Sesame Street in the early 1970s.

Sesame Workshop executives later undertook a partnership plan with TV executives from countries around the world to produce programs specifically for local youth.

TV producers "take the sesame model, this mix of curriculum and research, to one country and develop a new series with authentic goals relevant to the local country," explains Professor Blatt.

Sesame Street around the world

  • From Mexico Sesame Square became the first international co-production in 1972, along with the Sesame Villa.
  • From Germany Sesamstrasse debuted in 1973, followed by Holland Sesamstraatin 1976.
  • In Egypt Alam Simsim, the female character Khoka seeks to empower girls to wait for great things.
  • In 1998, a joint Israeli-Palestinian co-production was launched, showing two separate communities interacting with each other.
  • In Bangladesh Sisimpur characters gather around a banyan tree and tea and candy shops – traditional meeting places for the region
  • Sesame co-productions work with Rohingya and displaced Arab children living in refugee camps

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Media CaptionThe Secret of Sesame Street (Global) Success

In the 2006 documentary The World According to Sesame Street, co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney compared her work to missionaries, but instead of religion, the team is "spreading tolerance, love and mutual respect."

Fifty years after its original creation, more than 30 international teams customize local versions of Sesame Street content for over 150 million children in 150 countries.

A homeless character

Beginning in 2015, an online library called Sesame Street in Communities has been developing child-tested curricula around the world to help US neighborhoods cope with everyday American struggles such as school shootings, addictions, and rapid changes in school life. technology.

In 2018, a seven-year-old pink muppet named Lily became the first sesame resident to experience homelessness.

The newly added muppet is Karli, a foster son whose mother is battling drug addiction. According to Sesame, Karli's role is urgent because at least 5.7 million American children under the age of 11 have a substance-addicted father in the house.

Over the years, other muppets have taught children about autism, divorce, and smart phones.

Elmo Witnesses in Congress

The sesame characters and the puppeteers and executives behind them have increasingly focused on activism, with Sesame Street residents playing policy-making roles around the world.

Amid the childhood obesity epidemic in 2006, Sesame received praise for displaying the health-care segments designed to teach children about diet and exercise.

Even Cookie Monster has declared that cookies are "sometimes eaten" and now teaches children about a balanced diet.

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Elmo spoke to US parliamentarians about music education in 2002

In 2009, former first lady Michelle Obama visited Sesame Studios to film a segment on healthy eating.

Earlier first ladies, returning to Barbara Bush in the early 1990s, also recorded clips featuring sesame characters, both in the US and in co-productions in Egypt and India.

In 2002, Elmo also excelled in public policy when he became the first nonhuman or puppet to testify in Congress, according to the Washington Post.

He was invited to discuss music education by former Congressman Duke Cunningham, who later resigned after pleading guilty to taking bribes.

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