How Sesame Street’s New Storylines Reflect The Modern World

Elmo from Sesame Street

Most Kiwi parents will have grown up watching Sesame Street, but how has the iconic show evolved for our kids’ generation?

“At Sesame Workshop, promoting kindness is fundamental to who we are, says senior vice president of content”, Dr Rosemarie Truglio. “Our mission is to help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder by providing kids and families the tools to engage with an increasingly challenging world in healthy and positive ways.”

For the 48th season of Sesame Street, the focus is on fostering mutual respect and understanding, especially across cultural, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Along with academic skills like literacy, mathematics, and science, prosocial behaviours like perseverance, empathy, and compassion are integral to kids’ success in school and beyond. 

According to a national kindness survey Sesame Workshop commissioned a few years ago in the U.S., three quarters of parents, teachers, and caregivers believed that kindness is even more important to children’s futures than academic achievement. The harmful effects of intolerance can be felt in neighbourhoods all over the world, even by their littlest residents. 

Preschoolers are not colour-blind – they use visual cues to categorise everything in their world, people included – and the reluctance of parents and teachers to discuss race and culture sends the message that it’s an unspeakable topic, which can lead to negative feelings and associations (Bronson, 2009). Sesame Street has always been proud to help kids and families navigate these conversations, with a diverse human cast and lovable monsters in every shape, size, and color of the rainbow living in an inclusive neighborhood.

For young children, becoming culturally competent means learning to value others by recognising similarities between themselves and their peers while also appreciating the differences. At this age, most kids are also developing the cognitive flexibility to see situations from others’ points of view – a key component of empathy – which this curriculum supports and reinforces. 

Cultural competency also means learning to value the self; our characters model positive self-esteem as they take pride in their unique talents, characteristics, and their racial/ethnic/cultural backgrounds. Difference is something to embrace and celebrate. In a special four-episode event, Sesame Street Muppet girls from the show’s co-productions in India, China, and South Africa are integrated into storylines that share their unique cultures with Elmo, Cookie Monster, and all their friends.

“This year’s curriculum provides kids with age-appropriate strategies for self-regulation, mindfulness, and conflict resolution to help them overcome a variety of challenges,” explains Truglio. “By modeling the value of respecting others and recognising their points of view, we hope to guide both kids and caregivers toward building a more empathetic, compassionate, and kind world.”

“In future seasons of Sesame Street, we will address racism – and model how children can stand up to it. Sesame Street has the ability to entertain children while explaining complex issues like no other program and equips families and caregivers with the support they need to have empathetic conversations. We believe that this moment calls for a direct discussion about racism to help children grasp the issues and teach them that they are never too young to be “upstanders” for themselves, one another, and their communities.”

Sesame Street will return to New Zealand screens with a brand new season, Season 48, on Monday 14th December on TVNZ OnDemand at 8am, as well as on TVNZ 2 on 19th January, 2021 with a kindness curriculum focusing on respect and understanding and featuring celebrity guests Kate McKinnon, John Legend, Lucy Liu, and Josh Groban.

The Not Too Late Show with Elmo will also premiere on Friday 8th January on TVNZ OnDemand.

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