The Awesomeness of Sesame Street

sesamestreet sign

I loved it. Our boy loves it.  But is it a good programme for your kid/s to watch?

Surprisingly there is a fair amount of literature out there on it…

sesame street

It has been shown to:

  • Help augment traditional interventional approaches for speech pathologists – eg. The Word on the Street segment;
  • Be a reliable indicator of an alternate measure of television exposure among children (eg. Alam Simsim is the Egyptian version of Sesame Street (who knew!) and the study found that children’s recognition of the programmes primary characters was as effective as a more elaborate child and parent reported measure);

“Alam Simsim” (Egyptian Sesame Street). The big green dude is “Nimnim” – described as “very young, almost 2 metres tall, and sweet-natured and gentle”. The Egyptian Big Bird I guess…


  • Help children with specific learning abilities – eg. Compared with children not exposed to Sesame Street, children using drawings of Sesame Street characters were able to exhibit learning of verbs;
  • Help a child’s overall learning ability – eg. Sesame Street has been shown to result in a clear, immediate increase in educational test scores among preschool-aged viewers. It results in improved school-readiness and grade-for-age progress in primary school years;
  • Help benefit not just children, but also adults like neuroscientists, trying to gain insights into brain development. It’s been shown that the degree to which children show adult-like brain responses while watching Sesame Street predicted their performance on maths and verbal IQ tests and hence real-world academic performance;
  • Support strategies for health intervention for issues such as cardiovascular disease. It’s known that early behaviours persist during childhood and are perpetuated in the adult. Lifelong-acquired behaviour is unlikely to change, therefore acquisition of health behaviours should begin as early in life as possible. Sesame Street is being used as a strategy in school-based programmes which aim to promote cardiovascular health;
  • Help tackle the uncertainty and stigma around other health conditions such as HIV/AIDS/HSV2. Takalani Sesame (the South African version of Sesame Street) has introduced a character with HIV to the cast – she is a 5 year-old orphan girl with high self-esteem to encourage a positive self-image among children. This aims to support the 250,000 South African children under age 15 years infected with HIV, and the 100,000 babies born HIV-positive each year – who inevitably face isolation, rejection, the grief of losing one/both parents to the disease, as well as dealing with the debilitating symptoms of the disease. It also instructs children in public health precautions – eg. What to do when I cut my finger, etc.

Kami, the HIV+ muppet on Takalani Sesame (Sesame Street in South Africa)


If you’ve watched Sesame Street recently, it may seem as if the pace of the show is much faster… Indeed it is. Researchers in the Netherlands analysed nearly 50 Dutch episodes of Sesame Street between 1977 and 2003 and found that the pace of editing has increased, however overall the mean speech rate has decreased from 175 to 139 words per minute.

But isn’t TV viewing bad for children? Indeed major guidelines recommend that children are not exposed to TV before age 2 years, and thereafter their viewing times should be limited. Well, not so for Sesame Street apparently… Specialists from the American Academy of Pediatrics advise that “you can’t overdose on Sesame Street”.

lovesesame street

Larson AL, Rahn NL. Vocabulary Instruction on Sesame Street: A Content Analysis of the Word on the Street Initiative. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch. 2015 Mar 24. doi: 10.1044/2015_LSHSS-14-0079. [Epub ahead of print]
Rimal RN, Figueroa ME, Storey JD. Character recognition as an alternate measure of television exposure among children: findings from the Alam Simsim program in Egypt. J Health Commun. 2013;18(5):594-609. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2012.743625. Epub 2013 Feb 12.
Weaver J. Sesame street provides lessons about natural brain development in children. PLoS Biol. 2013;11(1):e1001463. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001463. Epub 2013 Jan 3.
Cantlon JF, Li R. Neural activity during natural viewing of Sesame Street statistically predicts test scores in early childhood. PLoS Biol. 2013;11(1):e1001462. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001462. Epub 2013 Jan 3.
Peñalvo JL, Céspedes J, Fuster V. Sesame street: changing cardiovascular risks for a lifetime. Semin Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2012 Winter;24(4):238-40. doi: 10.1053/j.semtcvs.2012.11.004.
Koolstra CM, van Zanten J, Lucassen N, Ishaak N. The formal pace of Sesame Street over 26 years. Percept Mot Skills. 2004 Aug;99(1):354-60.
Lim M. A-B-C, 1-2-3, h-I-v: sesame street tackles AIDS. Virtual Mentor. 2002 Sep 1;4(9). pii: virtualmentor.2002.4.9.ebyt1-0209. doi: 10.1001/virtualmentor.2002.4.9.ebyt1-0209.
Golinkoff RM, Jacquet RC, Hirsh-Pasek K, Nandakumar R. Lexical principles may underlie the learning of verbs. Child Dev. 1996 Dec;67(6):3101-19.
Kearney MS, Levine BP. TV restriction for young children- what about Sesame Street? Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper No. 21229 2015 June.

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