There’s a large group of kids in this country who aren’t discussed very often. They’re the 2.7 million children whose parents are incarcerated. That works out to 1 in 28 children–or roughly one child per classroom. Did you have any idea so many kids are experiencing the fear and confusion and embarrassment and sadness that come with having a parent in jail or prison? I didn’t.
When our friends at Sesame Street learned about them, they took action. “We started to realize how many children are impacted and no one is talking about it,” says Jeanette Betancourt, Ed.D., vice president of Outreach and Educational Practices, Sesame Workshop. “No one is representing the needs of children and caregivers and the parents themselves.” So this became the focus of Sesame’s newest installment in its resiliency initiative, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration. Launching today, it’s an entire set of resources in English and Spanish including a DVD and video series, storybook, activity pages, tip sheets for parents and caregivers, as well as an app (available on IOS and Android platforms).
The goal of the initiative is twofold. One is to help caregivers–parents, grandparents, extended family members, foster parents–realize they’re not alone and that it’s important to talk to children about their situation. The tip sheet mentioned above provides caregivers with the best language to use with young kids and how to help them manage their emotions. The other aim is to help the incarcerated parent connect with his or her child. In the video, which includes the stories of real children, we meet a young boy who, with his father and sister, draws pictures for his imprisoned mom (that’s them in the photo above). She then colors them and mails them back, and this simple ritual has become very meaningful.
Watching the videos, you can’t help but wonder how to help these children. But it’s less about help and more about support, explains Dr. Betancourt. “This is a very isolated community–many families don’t necessarily want to talk about it. But if they do open up, the best thing you can do is simply support that family. It’s not even doing something ‘special’–it’s just being friends, just as you would with any other family.”
As always, Sesame will work hard to make sure their materials get into the right hands, giving them directly to prisons, family courts, and national and local organizations that help affected children. What’s so amazing about all of Sesame’s toolkits–and there are more than 20, on topics including divorce, healthy eating, and preparing for an emergency–is that the contents are completely free. They’re not on the actual “Sesame Street” TV show, but everything’s available online and can be downloaded here. If you know one of the millions of children who have an incarcerated parent, please encourage her caregiver or teacher to take a look.
Image by Gil Vaknin, courtesy of Sesame Workshop, 2013
When I was growing up, afterschool was for Skittles, Doritos, and 25-cent juices. When my daughter gets home from school, she pulls the bag of baby carrots out of the fridge and chomps away happily. Times have definitely changed.
If my mother offered carrots as an after school snack, I would have thought that I was being punished. Maybe that’s because she didn’t have as much support as I do. Lucky for me, our First Lady launched the Let’s Move initiative on February 9, 2010, when my daughter was only two years old. That means that I haven’t been the only one introducing her to healthy foods and exercise.
Over the past three years, Let’s Move has inspired schools, childcare providers, and business leaders to improve the health of our nation’s children.
As of January of 2013, more than 10,000 child-care professionals and organizations have registered to implement new criteria for nutrition, physical activity, and limited screen time.
Through Chefs Move to School, 2,400 chefs and nearly 4,000 schools have signed up to work together, teaching kids about healthy eating and helping cafeteria staff prepare healthier meals.
The American Beverage Association has also stepped up and fulfilled their commitment to put clear calorie labels on the front of their products to give consumers better information.
Now, in celebration of Let’s Move’s 3rd anniversary, Michelle Obama has teamed up with Sesame Street’s Big Bird to film two public service announcements encouraging kids to eat healthy and get active.
The new PSAs feature Mrs. Obama and Big Bird in the White House showing kids how easy and delicious it is to eat healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables and demonstrating fun ways to get active like dancing and jumping. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, will distribute these PSAs to 320 PBS Stations, Sesame Workshop’s partner channels as part of their Healthy Habits for Life Initiative. The PSAs are also posted on the Sesame Street and Let’s Move! websites.
You can also check out our new story, “Active Learners,” which explains just how physical education classes—which are in danger of being cut from many schools—help children perform better academically.
This week I attended an event put on by Sesame Street designed to spread the word about their newest goal, to help children affected by divorce. (That translates to 40 percent of all children, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.) This project, called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce” includes an impressive collection of resources, all of which are available to parents, caregivers, and educators, and of course the children themselves at sesamestreet.org/divorce. This includes:
A book called Two-Hug Day, which is the very sweet way of helping a child frame the difficult transition that comes on the day he or she goes from one parent’s home to the other
A series of Sesame Street videos primarily starring Abby Cadabby, whose parents are getting divorced
A coloring book, including a page that illustrates all of the adults in Abby’s life who are there to support her
Tips for friends and family on how to help children who are going through the challenges of separation and divorce (this is available in Spanish, too)
At this week’s event, a discussion with divorced parents (some as recently as months ago, some who’ve been divorced for 6 years), moms and dads very honestly shared their painful experiences. It hurt to hear one mom of three say, “Nothing could have prepared me for the road I’ve taken,” though she also pointed out that her family has come a long way since those hardest days. A dad of two children talked about how hard pickup and dropoff has been for his 5 1/2-year-old son: “He’d have an extremely wide and conflicting range of emotions,” he said. “He simply did not know what to do with himself.” My closest friend has recently gone through a divorce and her two children are trying very hard to navigate their way through their new family life, so this hit home for me. What was encouraging, though, was that most of the parents said that things really do get better; that they and their children have made real strides. They also agreed that a toolkit like the one Sesame Street has assembled is invaluable. If you’re going through a separation or divorce and want to find ways to help your child through it, please do check out sesamestreet.org/divorce.
You’ll see and hear the show’s familiar opening credits (except everything is, of course, upside down) before two Muppets appear (Carson, the butler, and the Dowager Countess). Hilarity ensues as the Dowager Countess tries to have afternoon tea…but nothing will stay put long enough! This parody will officially air on PBS on Monday, Februrary 4.
U.S. Students Still Lag Globally in Math and Science, Tests Show
Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the United States continue to lag behind students in several East Asian countries and some European nations in math and science, although American fourth graders are closer to the top performers in reading, according to test results released on Tuesday. (via New York Times)
Obesity in Young Is Seen as Falling in Several Cities
After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines. The trend has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students. (via New York Times)
Vermont Tops Lists of Healthiest States
The annual America’s Health Rankings list is out, pitting U.S. states against each other in a no-holds-barred contest of health. For the fourth year in a row, Vermont takes the top spot as healthiest state. How did your state fare? (via ABC Health)
Overeating in Children may be Linked to Drug Use
Do bad nutrition habits like overeating or binge eating lead to smoking pot? Some health experts think they might, according to a study published Monday. (via CNN Health)
D Is for Divorce: Sesame Street Tackles Another Touchy Topic
In early 1992, a census report predicted that 40% of children would soon live in divorced homes. As one of the most famous children’s-television programs in the world, Sesame Street was determined to take on a topic most kids shows wouldn’t touch. (via Time)
There are just over 50 days left until the start of the London Olympics and we couldn’t be more excited! While all of the athletes are undeniably talented, we’ll be cheering a little louder for all of the parents who will be competing. Raising kids and preparing to win gold? That deserves a medal in and of itself.
But there’s one other person (well, more like a monster) we’ll be pulling for: Elmo!
To show the International Olympic Committee (IOC) how serious he is about his quest, Elmo has made a video where he tries a few sports. Yes, he struggles with the hurdles and has some difficulty with weight-lifting, but we admire Elmo’s determination. Those of you with toddlers know how difficult it can be to teach them to persevere.
Have you ever been to Sesame Street Live? I’ve been three times over the years, and as much as my girls adore the whole Sesame gang, I’d been thinking we’d gotten this particular show out of our system. But in lots of cities, the creators have found a fun way to freshen up the experience: the new Play Zone. This weekend I checked it out with my 3-year-old, Lila, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where shows are running through this Sunday, February 26.
Play Zone is free with your ticket, and it works like this: One hour before show time, kids can run wild through a version of the actual Sesame Street, staged in the lobby. For us parents, it amounts to a massive photo op–you can get a shot of your child in Big Bird’s nest, in Zoe’s dance studio, in Elmo’s World, in a trash can next to Oscar (the photo on top is of Lila doing just that, looking quite skeptical, as she often does). Your kid can pose on the famous steps of Sesame Street (now that put a smile on my girl’s face!), or with cutouts of Grover or Count or Abby Cadabby, among others. And then you’re treated to an “impromptu” performance from any number of the actual characters–some of the ones we saw were Murray, Bert & Ernie, and Zoe. They sang, danced, and hugged the kids in the crowd (unless your child, like mine, backed away in fear).
And then it was time for the actual 90-minute show, “1-2-3 Imagine! With Elmo & Friends,” which was all about the places we can go using our imaginations. It was very sweet, of course, and every kid I saw was mesmerized.
So if you’re considering checking out Sesame Street Live, see if your city is one of the many offering the Play Zone. Even if it isn’t, your child is nearly guaranteed to have a blast.