J u d i t h   A n n e   R i c e
My Sesame Street Adventure

Judith and Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, Senior Vice President,
Content and Research at Sesame Workshop

June 15, 2016

Last year around this time, I received an unexpected phone call from Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, Senior Vice President, Content and Research at Sesame Workshop.

Dr. Truglio explained that Sesame Street was currently developing its 47th season (to air during late 2016 or early 2017) and was focusing on teaching kindness to preschool children. She had come across my activity book published by Redleaf titled The Kindness Curriculum and invited me to participate in a four person advisory panel that would meet at Sesame’s New York headquarters for a daylong session in June. She told me that the production team was looking for some ideas on practical ways to teach kindness. Naturally, I informed her that I would get back to her with my decision in a couple of months. Oh, did I just say “months?” I meant to say I took a couple of seconds to agree to embark on my Sesame Street adventure which was then scheduled for June 23, 2015.

After clearing security, I entered Sesame headquarters which was very white and modern with punches of brilliant colors. The portraits of favorite characters were showcased in guilded picture frames. When you approached the picture it became animated and would speak. Several glass display cases were overflowing with the many awards that Sesame has received since it first started in 1969. My favorite spot was a break room with a beautiful view of the city and a giant barrel light fixture covered in large, bright yellow Big Bird feathers shining down on a round conference table.

Everyone I met was warm, highly professional, and of course kind. The three other panel members were Fretta Reitzes, Director of 92Y’s Goldman Center for Youth & Family, Laura Pinger, Senior Outreach Specialist, and Lisa Flook, Scientist, both from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Each of us gave a 20 minute presentation about our work which was followed by questions and answers. We discussed what it means to be a kind and mindful preschooler today. Sesame looked to us for a better understanding of current research and best teaching practices so that they could review their show content and focus their efforts on curriculum goals for future content development across media platforms.

After lunch, the Q&A continued with the staff asking questions like:
• What is an operational definition of kindness?
• How does mindfulness help build kindness? How are the two connected?
• What are the key components/competencies of kindness?
• How do we promote these social-emotional competencies?
• What are typical conflicts among preschoolers in and out of school?
• How are these conflicts solved in prosocial /peaceful ways?

It was very gratifying when a couple of people from the production staff later approached me and said, “You will see some of your activities on the 47th season.” Everything that Sesame does is backed up by thorough research, not just from one point of view but from many sources so it is balanced. But here is the key: They wanted to know if the activity or approach to learning actually works in a real preschool setting? That told me that Sesame is committed to improving children’s lives through its programming and not simply interested in building an audience and entertaining young children.

This fall when I return to my job as an Early Childhood Family Education Teacher for St. Paul Public Schools, my classes will focus on the topic of kindness. We are planning a trip to a nursing home to engage the children, their parents, and residents in activities designed to build an appreciation for one another. Our field trip to Como Park in St. Paul will encourage families to participate in what we call “Coins for Como,” making a small donation as we enter the park’s zoo to practice generosity and becoming part of the community.

Parent and child homework will include an assignment to commit random acts of kindness and then share those experiences at school. Other assignments will deal with creating calm, love, feelings and empathy, gentleness, respect, self-control, friendship, conflict resolution, and more. Those activities will be reinforced by repetition of concrete experiences in the classroom. For example, when we have snacks and the child cleans up after themselves, we say, “Thank you for being responsible.”

Later In the year, the child will proudly say, “I am responsible.” At that point, they have internalized the lesson that cleaning up after themselves is an example of being responsible! Sounds like a big word for a preschooler, but they understand what “being responsible” means after doing it many times and they then apply it to other positive behavior. We will focus on one rule: Be kind.

I am excited that Sesame Street has dedicated this next season to Kindness and hope that you, too, will join in, helping young children learn kindness which is so critical to developing their full human potential.

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Judith Anne Rice