Sesame Streetand the USO have now partnered for five years to support military families around the world. As they celebrate this milestone, Rachel Tischler (Vice President of USO Entertainment) and Lynn Chwatsky (Vice President of Sesame Street’s Outreach Initiatives and Partners) offer this guest blog post to announce the new world tour of The Sesame Street/US Experience for Military Families.
The children of US service members scream and wave at the start of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families at USAG Humphreys in South Korea February 9, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)
Imagine you are five years old and you haven’t seen your mommy or daddy’s face, touched their hand or received their hug in six months because they’re deployed overseas. Now, imagine two years have passed and your mommy or daddy is back home, you have lots of friends at school, and you’re told the family is moving to a new base far away for the third time. How do you feel? And as a parent, what do you do?
These are just two of the many unique and challenging issues our nation’s military families face everyday. It’s also THE reason Sesame Street and the USO partnered and are celebrating five years of working together to take The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families around the world. Over the past five years our two organizations have brought the messages from Sesame Street’s military families initiative, Talk, Listen, Connect, to life for more than 368,000 U.S. troops and military families. We’ve performed 631 shows on 145 military installations in 33 states and 11 countries.
We are kicking off our new world tour at a special USO Care Package Service Project event with help from Cookie Monster and our supporters on Capitol Hill. Next, we’ll head to Alaska to begin performing for and meeting even more military families this year as our journey takes us to 41 bases in 8 European and Pacific countries over the next six months.
For those unfamiliar with our adventure, the tour’s first phase focused on deployment. Kids and parents related when Elmo said, “Elmo’s Daddy had to go away on a very important trip for lots and lots of days. Elmo sure misses Daddy when he’s away, and sometimes Elmo feels sad.” Elmo and friends got those same families singing, dancing, and there was even the occasional Muppet mosh pit.
As the military transitioned away from long deployments, The USO and Sesame Street created a brand new show tailored towards another challenge, military family relocation. The new show introduced a new character named Katie. Katie is a military kid, and her experiences really echo those faced by military kids. The show is designed to help other military kids like Katie with issues related to relocation – letting kids know they can stay in touch with old friends and even make new ones when they move.
Kids perk up in surprise as Katie identifies with them, telling audience members, “I’m moving AGAIN.” And it’s thanks to Katie and her Sesame Street pals Elmo, Rosita, and Cookie Monster, who help her realize that while moving can be scary, she can still rely on her friends to help her through life’s transitions.
The USO and Sesame Street know that families everywhere can relate to the anxiety of moving to a new place, and having to go to a new school and make new friends. But for military families around the world, it’s a way of life. According to our friends at the Military Child Education Coalition, kids with parents in the military move six to nine times during their pre-school through high school education.
That’s why it’s important our military families know that Sesame Street and the USO are there. We know it’s hard to be away from a loved one and that some days are harder than others. Whether you’re a child, a military spouse, a service member or a nonmilitary member, nothing can change the fact our troops and their families are serving this country every day. And in the words of Elmo and his pals, “We’re gonna be there for [them].”
As we celebrate the fifth birthday of The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families, we ask that you join in the celebration by offering your own support of military families. We’ve come up with five things that everyone can do and we hope they will prompt and inspire you:
1. Volunteer at one of the more than 160 USO locations around the world and discover ways you can take action locally.
2. Offer to help a military family on the home front who live on or off base. Whether you see that their lawn needs to be mowed or garbage cans taken in, helping with simple household chores and errands can really relieve some of the stress a family may be feeling.
4. Lend an ear to listen to a military spouse as sometimes just having someone there to vent to or talk to when you may feel all alone can be the greatest support of all.
5. Say thank you to a military member and their family for their service, sacrifice and strength. Our troops and their families make sacrifices so we don’t have to and those two simple words say so much.
Whether on the frontlines, with their loved ones, in recovery or in remembrance, the USO and Sesame Street are adapting to meet the needs of those who need us most. The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families is one of the ways we can help them navigate life’s challenges. To learn more and to see where the tour is headed next visit USO.org/Sesame.
Sesame Street characters pose for a photo with service members and their children following a performance of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families at Atsugi Naval Air Field in Japan, January 19, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)
We always hear that we need to limit the amount of TV toddler’s watch. That’s true. But a new study suggests that even without reducing viewing time, changing the content can have beneficial effects on social development.
The study was straightforward. One group of parents was trained to replace shows that have violent content with shows that model “prosocial” behavior (like Sesame Street). Another group of parents received no instructions. Nothing was done about the amount of TV watched by the kids.
The results were also straightforward. The kids who watched more prosocial content had less aggression and better social behavior, even one year later. And this result was independent of the amount of TV watched – which didn’t seem to matter.
So, here’s a simple thing parents can do to help prevent aggression and promote prosocial behavior in their toddlers – control the content. Common sense? Sure. But it’s common sense supported by research, which is the best combination of all. And all it takes is parental control of the remote.
Coping with divorce is a challenge for kids at any age, but especially so when they are very young. To this end, the Sesame Workshop has launched a comprehensive multimedia kit, called Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce, which offers a variety of extremely helpful tools to help young kids (the target being between 2 and 8 years of age) and parents navigate the challenges. A focal point is one of the Sesame Street characters – Abby Cadabby – who shares with her friends that her parents have been divorced for some time. This perspective allows Abby to share her experiences and ways in which she has learned to cope with divorce in a very specific manner (see the image of her showing pictures of the two houses she lives in) that will resonate with youngsters.
Jeanette Betancourt, Ed.D. (Vice President, Outreach and Educational Practices) shared with me via phone a number of the key points that inspired this important initiative at the Sesame Workshop. Most importantly, the multimedia kit will help kids who have gone through divorce (as well as kids who are just experiencing it now) understand that they are not alone (which is a typical feeling for very young kids). Based on the research done at the Sesame Workshop, Dr. Betancourt explained that the goal is to help kids with their biggest concerns they have – especially in terms of what’s really going on in their heads even if they don’t typically say it. The tools will help kids understand big issues like:
divorce is a grown-up problem that the parents tried to fix, but couldn’t
kids don’t cause parents to divorce (for example, it’s not because a kid didn’t pick up their clothes)
the parents still do love their children (even if they aren’t living with them all the time)
why some things – like where everyone lives – will change and how to handle that
Parents will also find very helpful and supportive tips, including:
the need for kids to maintain a routine (including bedtime, basics like when they brush their teeth, etc) across multiple houses
the importance of being truthful (including saying that the parents will not be getting back together)
why it’s essential for both parents to maintain good communication in terms of consistent parenting (with respect to things like praise and discipline practices)
The power of the approach taken by the Sesame Workshop is that they are promoting coping strategies that will help kids feel safe, secure, and loved, despite the enormous challenges that divorce can pose for families. Dr. Betancourt emphasized that this developmental foundation, set in the early years, will help young kids now and later in life as well. So I would strongly encourage any family who is dealing with divorce to put all of the tools from this initiative to good use – especially given the engaging way in which the Sesame Workshop can promote coping skills in toddlers and young children.
On November 5, Sesame Street hosted an event for military families at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, VA, to introduce new resources they have developed. I had an opportunity to cover this event for this blog (note: all of my expenses for this trip were out-of-pocket, so I was there strictly as part of the group of media invited to the base). The event combined entertainment by Abby Cadabby, Gordon, and members of the Electric Company with the delivery of a very important message: Sesame Street has expanded their focus on supporting military families by developing new tools for school-aged children available at their new military Families Near and Far website.
As most of you know, Sesame Street is pitched at preschool kids. However, they recognize that school-aged kids also can use support in handling the challenges of being part of a military family, including the stresses that accompany parental deployment. These older kids have lots of thoughts and feelings that need expression – so the new tools include ways to customize a profile, do all kinds of messaging, record moods, and create art and music. And this is why the Electric Company has joined the effort to give older kids ways to express themselves.
At the event, I had an opportunity to speak with H. Melvin Ming, President and CEO of the Sesame Workshop. Mr. Ming explained that much thought and effort has gone into developing these new tools to support the resiliency displayed by elementary school-kids in military families. As Mr. Ming suggested, having resources that are tailored to different age groups – preschoolers as well as elementary school-aged kids – serves the very important function of allowing the whole family to now come together to stay connected and keep the lines of communication open.
In this warm and engaging conversation, it quickly became clear that Mr. Gibson has a passion for military families and their children. He shared a number of insights to me that are relevant for military families as well as all of us who wish to support them. He informed me that the tour’s overarching themes and messages include:
Offering a thank you to military families from the American people
Recognizing the sacrifices that military personnel and their families make
Doing something nice and fun for children in military families
Letting military families know that they are not alone in dealing with issues surrounding deployment
As Mr. Gibson pointed out, the USO is constantly adapting to meet the needs of today’s military personnel – and partnered with Sesame Workshop to develop and launch a tour addressing the growing concerns of the vast number of children who are affected by having a deployed parent (many of whom endure repeated deployments). Over the past 3 years the tour has provided an engaging and fun 30 minute show featuring the Sesame Street characters we all know (including Elmo and Cookie Monster) who gently raise issues facing children in military families. The kids are also treated to a number of gifts including twirly lights, bandanas, magnets and post cards. Parents also have access to a number of outreach materials focused on navigating the significant challenges of dealing with deployment.
This year, the show was revamped with new music, a new set design, and the introduction of a new Sesame Street character named Katie (see close-up). Katie is a military child experiencing the difficulty of relocation who was designed exclusively for the show. The Sesame Street characters help Katie talk about her fears – and excitement – elicited by the changes in her life.
Between the launch last April and the expected conclusion in November, the tour is expected to deliver approximately 147 shows on 59 bases around the world. Of course, we all can’t travel to bases to support military families. But we can take pride that the Sesame Street/USO Experience is doing this for us. Here’s a snippet from one of the shows that will certainly make you feel good: The Sesame Street/USO Experience