"Sesame Street" may have paved the way for generations of smarter children.
A study released Monday by Wellesley College and the University of Maryland found that access to watching the popular children’s program has led to improved early education, similar to a preschool prep program.
Researchers Phillip B. Levine from Wellesley College and Melissa Kearney from University of Maryland first looked into the possible effects children underwent when the show first aired in 1969.
In the early days of "Sesame Street," TV technology was split into UHF and VHF channels. Children who received access to the VHF channels were able to watch the show. Levine and Kearney looked back at elementary school performance in those areas after the program launched in 1969, finding access to the show provided a jump start to early education: children who lived in areas with access to "Sesame Street" were significantly more likely to be on track for their age in school.
“[The study] may give skeptics pause," Kearney said. "I have colleagues who don't let their children watch television and maybe now they will."
Kearney and Levine found those most profoundly affected were boys and African American children, as well as those who lived in lower-income areas. Children in those groups who had access to the show were less likely to fall behind in school than their peers, the study found. The authors noted in their study this is a similar result as being enrolled in the preschool program Head Start, which aims to help low-income students get on track academically.
However, Kearney insists the TV show is not a replacement for preschool and instead a tool to help students.
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"It should be thought as complimentary," she said. "There are lots of kids who don't have access to quality preschool and this can help by watching 'Sesame Street.'"
This newly released study echoes the results of one conducted by the Educational Testing Services in the 1970s, which also found exposure to the PBS program increased preschoolers’ test scores.
While the show has been around for decades, the authors suggested that a similar approach using more modern technology could also have educational benefits for kids.
“This is encouraging that if designed well, TV and other electronics can be used [to aid learning] if the content is produced," Kearney said.
She also added she hopes the study will change up the negative stereotype typically associated with letting young children watch too much television.
"Maybe now when people do have their children watch television, they can turn it into something positive," she said.