The One Question That Changed Children’s Television Forever

Did you know that the beloved TV show, Sesame Street, was first conceived way back in 1966?

That’s when Lloyd Morrisett, Jr., a Carnegie Corporation executive responsible for funding educational research, attended a dinner party along with his friend, Joan Ganz Cooney, a producer at New York City’s public TV station.

During that dinner, Lloyd posed a question to Joan:
“Do you think television could be used to teach young children?”

Her reply?
“I don’t know, but I’d like to talk about it.”

The two friends then began doing extensive research on whether or not young children could in fact learn from watching a screen.

Even after Sesame Street debuted on November 10th, 1969, the research continued. It’s been said that Sesame Street is the most highly researched television show on the planet. Ms. Cooney herself stated, “Without research, there would be no Sesame Street.”

And the research consistently reports that, yes, children can and do learn from watching stories, characters and situations presented on a screen.

Today, Sesame Street aires in over 140 countries. Nearly 80 million Americans watched the series as children.

As of 2014, Sesame Street has received 159 Emmy Awards, more than any other television series ever.

So what does this have to do with Learning with Puppets? Everything!

To be sure, Learning with Puppets is NOT Sesame Street.

But it does have some features in common with Sesame Street.

As with Sesame Street, Learning with Puppets relies on a screen to bring puppet personalities to your children.

And, as with Sesame Street, your children can learn from the stories, characters and situations Learning with Puppets brings to your screen.

The major difference (aside from the fact that the brilliant Sesame Street employs professional writers, designers and puppeteers and its puppets, props and sets are specially constructed for the show) is that Sesame Street relies on “incidental instruction” to teach nursery and pre-school-aged children, whereas Learning with Puppets depends  on a “directed instruction” approach to teach children ages 4-8.

Incidental VS Directed Instruction

With incidental instruction, a viewing experience (in this case, the Sesame Street producers and education experts via a TV screen) sets out learning invitations for children.

If children take up the incidental invitation and want to further explore the skills or concepts presented in the show, fine; if not, that’s fine, too.

With directed learning, you the teacher have a particular skill or concept you want your children to explore, practice and ultimately master.

With the help of the Learning with Puppets videos, you present the skill or concept to your children.

You set the stage for viewing the video, then follow up with additional viewings and/or companion printables designed to help the children remember, explore, practice, learn and apply what the video presented.

Like education pioneers, Lloyd Morrisett, Jr. and Joan Ganz Cooney, I suggest you begin asking important research questions that can only be answered by you and your own close and careful observations:

  • “Are my kids engaged when watching the Learning with Puppets videos? Do their eyes continually watch the screen when a video is playing?
  • Do my kids find the videos funny and entertaining?”
  • “Does establishing a ‘reason for watching’ the videos help aid my students’ comprehension of the videos’ content?” (Suggestion: I usually suggest that they watch and listen for the problem in the video.)
  • “Are my kids drawn to characters in the videos?”
  • “Do my kids seem eager to watch the videos more than once?”
  • “Are my kids able to effectively comprehend, recall and discuss the videos’ content?”
  • “Do the videos serve as an effective springboard for completing and using the companion printables?”

These are some of the same questions I asked myself when I tested my resources with real kids in real school settings and at home. I found that children were drawn, not only to the puppets, but to the people that star alongside the puppets in some of the videos.

The children easily comprehended the stories and situations presented in the videos and were eager to watch more.

I encourage you to conduct your own ongoing research with your children to see if the Learning with Puppets materials make a difference in their learning and in their lives.

Email me your findings at

Mary Beth

PS I can’t wait to learn all about your research efforts and outcomes. I look forward to sharing research findings in future blogposts!

  • Calendar icon November 14, 2016
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