Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
It might seem a little strange to see a post about a TV show on a blog about children, nature and community, but please hear me out.
For over 40 years, Sesame Street has been, in my humble opinion, the best children’s program on television. In-depth educational and psychological research has gone into the development of this show. The unique combination of humour, education, and entertainment never fails to capture the imagination and the attention of children (and, to be perfectly honest, me).
Where am I going with this? Sesame Street was designed to appeal and look familiar to children living in inner city, low-income homes. At the same time, the way the Street functions is a beautiful example of a “community,” and teaches children about the concepts necessary to develop one.
Here are ten ways that Sesame Street embodies the ideal community:
It doesn’t matter if you are a giant bird or a grouch, an adult, a child or a talking vegetable, if you have skin or fur, if you have a disability or if you are black, white, blue, purple or orange. There is a place for you on Sesame Street. You are a friend, and you are important.
2. “Family” can mean many different things
Sesame Street wants children to understand that families can mean many different things. Over the years, they have addressed issues such as adoption, divorce and death. They deal with these issues carefully, and demonstrate how community can become like an extended family. Sesame Street creators have made it clear that they do not address issues of sexuality, even though there have been many discussions about the relationship status of Bert and Ernie over the years. While I’d personally love to see the couple defined as married, I understand the company’s desire to tread lightly on the subject.
3. Mixed-use planning is valuable.
One of the fundamental principles taught in planning is the importance of mixed-use design. Having places to live, work and play, all in a short distance helps to build community and improve walkability and accessibility. Perhaps this is just a function of limited set design, but Sesame Street combines all of the necessities within short distance.
4. Talk to everyone. Friends can be found anywhere!
On Sesame Street, there are no cliques. Monsters don’t only hang out with other monsters. People, monsters, fairies, birds, talking numbers and worms are all seen talking, playing and working together on a regular basis. Diverse interaction in a community is healthy.
5. Cooperation makes things happen!
Have I put the song in your head now? Sorry about that. It’s a good lesson though. Why don’t we work together anymore? Working with neighbours can help solve problems efficiently and quickly. It also builds community.
6. Who are the people in your neighbourhood?
A neighbourhood where the children know the adults, the children know the children, and the adults know the adults is much safer. People know where to go for help. When Elmo was scared after a fire, Maria was there to make him feel better. On Sesame Street, everyone knows all the people in their neighbourhood.
7. Sad things sometimes happen, but your community is there to support you.
When the actor that played Mr. Hooper passed away, Sesame Street made the bold decision to have Big Bird actually deal with the death of the beloved storekeeper. At this time, the adults on Sesame Street helped him deal with his emotions, and demonstrate how important community can be in supporting someone in difficult times.
8. Have fun together!
If there’s one thing that the cast of Sesame Street knows how to do, it’s to have fun. They play, sing and dance together constantly. While I do recognize that having your neighbourhood burst into song and dance is an unlikely event, there’s something to be said for the “play” part. Parties, playdates, barbecues, festivals and contests are all feasible activities for a community.
9. Ask for help when you need it.
One of the best ways to build community is to ask for help from your neighbours. Asking someone for help validates their sense of self-worth, and recognizes their special gifts or abilities. On Sesame Street, people recognize the different abilities of the people in their neighbourhoods, and celebrate them. They always ask each other for help. When Big Bird’s nest was destroyed in a storm, his community was there to help rebuild
10. More eyes on the street make for a safer community.
Another important community planning principle, coined by Jane Jacobs, is “Eyes on the Street.” The more people present and active in street life, the safer the community will be. Sesame Street is typically teeming with activity. If we can build communities where people want to be outside interacting, playing games, talking and walking, we will have safer and stronger neighbourhoods.
So, there you have it. Sesame Street is a stellar example of children’s educational programming, and at the same time, a beautiful demonstration of community.
Now, I will turn off the TV and go outside!
Are there other children’s programs that demonstrate community?
What are your favourites?
If community building is a topic that interests you, check out some of my other posts: