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Watching 'Sesame Street' Helps Kids in School, Study Says

The Short of It

New research finds that children who regularly watched "Sesame Street" performed better in school, suggesting that TV could be used to increase school readiness.

The Lowdown

A new study co-authored by economists from Wellesley College and the University of Maryland examined the educational outcomes of preschool children who watched "Sesame Street" when it first debuted in 1969. The researchers found that children who regularly watched the program saw a positive impact on test scores and academic performance in elementary school compared to kids who did not have access to the show. Additionally, those who watched the show were more likely to stay on track academically, and the largest benefits were seen in children from economically disadvantaged communities. Boys and black, non-Hispanic children experienced the biggest improvements in school performance.

When the show first aired in 1969, 5 million children watched a typical episode—the preschool equivalent of a Super Bowl every day.

"Our analysis suggests that 'Sesame Street' may be the biggest and most affordable early childhood intervention out there, at a cost of a just few dollars per child per year, with benefits that can last several years," said Phillip B. Levine, one of the study's authors, in a press release.

Levine and co-author Melissa Kearney suggest that educational TV and electronic media could be leveraged to address income and racial gaps in children's readiness for school.

The Upshot

While the AAP's guidelines and many experts suggest that parents should limit screen time—and discourage it entirely for kids under the age of 2—there are a lot of great TV programs for kids. This study shows 'Sesame Street' especially had positive benefits for a generation of kids, so starting a conversation about how we could pair educational programs like it with preschool education could be useful in improving the learning potential of our kids.

"The results of this study provide a confirmation of the value of the show's groundbreaking programming," says Craig Bach, vice president of education and a member of the Educational Advisory Board for The Goddard School, an early education provider with more than 400 preschools. "Of course, television programs, no matter how good they are, can never replace the benefits of children interacting with other children and exploring the world under the guidance of a caring and creative teacher or family member."

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