The domestic educational research group here at Sesame Workshop gets to have really fun conversations. We talk to experts. By experts, we mean the 3- to 9-year-old children for whom we create content. We explain to them that we’re grown ups and don’t remember what it was like to be their age and that they’re experts about what they like and what they think and know about the things they read, watch and play. We also talk to their parents and teachers when we can to gain a fuller picture of a children’s learning environment. What the children and their caregivers tell us in terms of what is liked, what is understood and what is learned goes back to the production teams throughout Sesame Workshop. Children’s comments, suggestions and our interpretations of what the children understood (or didn’t) helps the production team make adjustments to content where possible and provides guidance for future productions.
Over the next year, you will hear from our group: David Cohen, Mindy Brooks, & I who spend our time out in the field along with our fabulous groups of interns and freelancers who help us talk to the little experts with big ideas. We will focus particularly around work we have done on The Electric Company given that the target audience for the Cooney Center skews slightly older (ages 6-12) than our Sesame Street viewers and users.
Throughout the evolution of The Electric Company, we have spoken to children all around the country as there were originally concerns that the show and its accompanying Website, games and outreach materials skewed too urban and specifically too “New York.” But it doesn’t seem to be so. What we found during travels to the Midwest, Southwest, and Mid-Atlantic states was that the biggest regional differences were in which basketball and football teams the children were rooting for. The kinds of digital games and television shows and things they wished to do everyday (go to the mall, the park, fast food restaurants), were surprisingly similar. Television, for better or worse, appears to be the great equalizer. Almost all children watch television and have established favorites, and they are often getting the same messages from TV about what is cool, hip, and fun. Because of this, we have to be very careful about the messages we are sending them.
Working for an educational media organization, then, makes the part about sending positive and helpful messages easier. With The Electric Company our goal has been to encourage children to become excited about literacy and to learn vocabulary and phonics skills. Through spending time with children as they view the show, experience the games and activities, we have learned a lot about the early elementary school years, as well as about the media and technology that motivates youth during these very exciting times. Stay tuned as we bring you more tales from our experiences in the field.
Jennifer Kotler is the Assistant Vice President of Domestic Research at Sesame Workshop. She holds a Ph.D. in Child Development from the University of Texas at Austin.