If you were a star student and also happened to watch “Sesame Street” as a kid, then it was no coincidence. There has been a study recently published in the American Economic Journal that shows kids who watch the classic children’s show before the age of 7 have a higher elementary school performance.
“Early Childhood Education by Television: Lessons from ‘Sesame Street’,” was first written in 2015, and studied American counties that had access to the show in 1969. Using census data in order to identify children from those counties, it when on to determine whether they watched the show by the strength of the television signal in their county.
Researchers Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine made the assumption that kids in the areas that had access to “Sesame Street” probably watched it at some point. The researchers studied three groupings of children by using the census data from 1980, 1990 and 2000.
“You can think about this as kids potentially having access as opposed to watching the show,” Kearney said, explaining to the American Economic Association. “We don’t know who actually watched the show. We know that you probably could get it in your house or you probably couldn’t. And we also know that at the time, most of the kids who probably could get it were probably watching it.”
From there the researchers assessed academic and career success based off the following factors: what proportion of children were enrolled in the appropriate grade for their age; whether they attended college, dropped out or graduated; and their employment, wage and poverty status.
The greatest effects of the show were among younger, school-aged children. From there, they waned as the kids entered adolescence and beyond. For example, children who could watch the show were more likely to be in the right grade level for their age, however there was little to no effect on college attendance and/or graduation rates, nor was there much effect on long-term career prospects.
In addition to these findings, researchers also have seemed to have determined that access to the show might also have a link that was particularly strong among African American children, as well as boys who grew up in poor counties.
These days, it would be hard to find a single program that has the same influence that “Sesame Street” once had, since children’s entertainment has become a cornucopia of variety.
“It’s still a possibility that these sorts of interventions can have an impact,” Levine said to Quartz. “I think it’s harder, because there is more stimulus for children these days than in the 1960s. But it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible and that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be effective.”
Kearney then went on to explain that “Sesame Street” was a product of its time when it debuted back in 1969.
“‘Sesame Street’ came into existence at the same time as the Head Start program and the Perry Preschool program, and that was not an accident,” Kearney said. “These programs all were born out of that same new movement in the ’60s recognizing that early childhood was actually an opportunity to help kids grow and learn.”
In 2019, “Sesame Street” will celebrating its 50th anniversary. Even though it has been on the air for so long, its prime focus remains the same: to “use television to level the playing field and help prepare less advantaged children for school.”
Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop’s Chief Executive Officer said to a press release, “Our mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder knows no geographic boundaries. We’re everywhere families are and we never stop innovating and growing. That’s what keeps us timeless.”
Here’s to another 50 years for the show.