A good example of pioneering  TV programming for children’s brain development is the popular PBS show “Sesame Street,” particularly its role in stimulating language development. In fact, the “Sesame Street” producers smartly surmised that effective children’s TV programing that focused on the areas of the brain responsible for language development could advance children’s expressive language.

Studies show that children who watch “Sesame Street” at age two score higher on school readiness tests in kindergarten than those who do not. Another study found that frequent “Sesame Street” viewing in preschool is associated with higher grade point averages in high school or almost 16% higher than those children who didn’t grow up watching the program. Further, children who watch “Sesame Street” episodes that had positive social messages showed much higher levels of positive social behavior than those children who did not watch the shows

Other TV programing suggests similar improvements with children’s language development.

For example, at 30 months of age, watching “Dora the Explorer,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Arthur,” “Clifford,” or “Dragon Tales” resulted in greater vocabularies and higher expressive language scores; watching “Teletubbies” was related to fewer vocabulary words and smaller expressive language scores; and viewing Barney & Friends was related to fewer vocabulary words and more expressive language (American Behavioral Scientist, January 2005).

One area of the brain crucial to language and reading development has to do with working memory.

During a reading exercise, working memory is the amount of time the child’s brain processes the visual and auditory representations of letters and words. When the child’s visual brain processes faster than the auditory or visa versa is when learning to read becomes a challenge.

Fortunately, as the child’s brain matures so does his ability to coordinate these two critical language areas and reading seizesto become a chore. Working memory was probably one of the major areas that “Sesame Street” had in mind when their programing was created. Further, it was no coincidence that “Sesame Street” was based on the popular adult TV shows “Laugh In.”  “Laugh In” like “Sesame Street” presented short bursts of information, which is how working memory effectively operates. With “Laugh In” it was with short jokes. With “Sesame Street” it was with letters and words laced with phonics, etc.

Moreover, another important area of language development is how important the child’s kinesthetic intelligence  is utilized in the “Sesame Street” format, especially how it is related to reading and the child’s cerebellum.

At one time, the cerebellum, located in the lower area of the brain, was believed to be solely responsible for motor skills or movement. However, brain scientists and astute reading specialists now realize that the cerebellum is critical for reading mastery because it connects the occipital (visual), the auditory (temporal) with the sensory motor (somatosensory cortex) with intelligence  or the executive center of the brain.

Further, addressing the cerebellum was one reason why :Sesame Street” uses song, dance, and children framing the letters of the alphabet or phonics with their bodies as an effective strategy to teach language development as well as reading. In addition, how “Sesame Street” used puppets to teach language development while interacting with humans is a thing of beauty. This approach further stimulated the magical child’s brain (2 to 6 year old), which is linked to the child’s emotional brain or limbic system.

Once the child’s brain formed a relationship to the emotional aspects of learning greater language development could become a foundation for greater language development as well higher reading potential.

The question needs to be asked is why successful children’s TV programs is still only a blimp on the radar of TV programming and children’s brain development? Why do some parents (still) allow their children’s brains to be exposed to long periods of commercial TV programing when the success of commercial TV shows has been documented not to improve children’s brain development. Maybe this is why Oscar became a grouch?

Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents and students.

To contact Dr. Sortino, email davidsortino@comcast.net or call 707-829-8315, or go to his blog: Santa Rosa Press Democrat – Dr. David Sortino.




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