The Sesame Street Generation

 Curio & Co. looks at classic children's program Sesame Street. Photo of plush Ernie and Elmo. Curio and Co.

“Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?”

How to get to Sesame Street? Easy, just head straight back into your childhood.

There is little that’s warmer and cozier than memories of Sesame Street. That is, if you were one of the kids who grew up watching the show. (With Sesame Street running continuously for over forty years – and in over 120 countries – there’s a good chance that you did.)

When the program was first conceived in 1966, creators were looking to see if television could be used as an education tool. With educators, researchers, artists and producers all working together, the Children’s Television Workshop received an $8 million grant from the Carnegie Foundation to put together a show that would give kids a head start for school, all while supporting social competence, tolerance and non-aggressive conflict resolution. Creators also tried to encourage “co-viewing” with parents and older siblings by including sophisticated humor, cultural references and celebrities.

For the first episode in 1969, just under 2 million households tuned in. By the show’s 40th anniversary, it was estimated that 77 million Americans had watched the series as kids.

The Children’s Television Workshop became “Sesame Workshop” in 2000, but the emphasis is still on the “workshop.” The team behind Sesame Street has continued to research and refine the program to better meet the needs of children. Originally, producers thought that young children didn’t have long enough attention spans, and the character-driven “street scenes” weren’t written as ongoing stories. By season 20, however, research had shown that children were able to follow a story, and the street scenes, still interspersed with other segments, became evolving storylines.

Watching the show today – well into its 42nd year (that’s over 4000 episodes!) – it’s still a great show. But take a look at clips from the past and a flood of memories come back. The Muppets are just as magical as they ever were, and the “people in the neighborhood” – Bob, Susan, Gordon, and Maria! – seem like family.

Though they were trying hard not to “raise children” in the place of parents or teachers, Sesame Street has had an impact on millions of children. Are we more confident, more tolerant because of the show? Did we succeed in school because of Sesame Street’s head start? That’s tough to say (though certainly Sesame Workshop has research on that). But Sesame Street’s influence is unquestionable. Today’s adults were formed, in part, by their experiences on Sesame Street.