PBS in the Classroom

How Sesame Street Helps Children Learn For Life

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“The number of three, four, and five-year-old children in the United States has been estimated at around 12 million. In the past few years, this population, once the most neglected, educationally speaking, has marched to the center of the stage. The reasons for this new interest among educators in preschool education are several. The most urgent and best known to the general public centers around the academic achievement gap between disadvantage and middle class children that manifests itself during the early school years and increases dramatically in the higher grades.”


The Sesame Effect

These words come from a 1969 landmark study, called The Potential Uses of Television in PreSchool Education, that led to the creation of Sesame Street, 

and are just as relevant today as they were over 47 years ago. Then, the dominant media of the era was television. Today, we have screens of all sizes, shapes and kinds. The author of this study and co-creator of Sesame Street, Mrs. Joan Ganz Cooney, challenged us then as she does now, “How can media help children learn?”

Sesame Street continues to be one of the “largest and least-costly interventions,”according to an Early Childhood Education white paper, 2015. Each show, and in fact each segment of each show is carefully researched with the same rigor used for the very first show. Let’s take a closer look at one of our segments to see how our research-based media engages and teaches by supporting targeted learning objectives. Today, we’ll take a specific look at self-regulation and executive function. But first, some reminders about the power of active engagement. 

Using Media to Engage

As reflective educators, we’re constantly looking for the best and proven practices to engage learners. We know that when children are intrinsically motivated by their interests and needs, curiosity, resilience, and their own agency, they are more likely to want to achieve their own learning goals. Some factors related to children’s achievement are not in our control, but creating a climate of engagement in our classrooms is. Media – from expository to narrative stories – provides us with a flexible learning resource.  Like interactive reading through Big Books or dramatic storytelling, educators share media as co-learners, working alongside children to guide thinking, questioning, and ideas before, during, and after viewing. This type of interactive viewing helps to ensure that key concepts and vocabulary are “pushed into” and “pulled out of” children. 

Using Media to Enhance Self-Regulation & Executive Function  

Self-regulation and executive function skills are the cognitive processes that enable children to focus attention, remember instructions or multiple steps, manage more than one task, and interact with their peers appropriately. Research reveals that self-regulation in childhood is a strong predictor of many important factors including later health, financial stability, and educational attainment (Moffitt et al., 2011). Therefore, it’s important that these foundational skills are developed early in life, particularly given the malleability associated with this stage of development (Flook et al., 2014). Attention, cognitive flexibility, and impulse control all play  key roles in self-regulation. As children are better able to think calmly and put a pause between their impulse and their actions, they are more likely to understand the perspective of others, be more sensitive to other children’s feelings, think flexibly about a situation, and form stronger friendships, all which contribute to academic, personal, and social success.

Through Sesame Street’s engaging and loveable monsters, Muppets, and diverse human cast, we help you to help children become smarter, stronger and kinder, which is the stated mission of Sesame Street. Each of our segments on self-regulation and executive function focus on “how” children learn self-regulation and executive function skills and strategies, which enables them to tackle “what” is being learned. The “what” is the content knowledge across your curriculum, keeping in mind that children learn best through experiences that relate to what is familiar. It is important to focus on children’s lived experiences which are often the spark for and connection to learning.

Self-Regulation & Executive Function: Belly Breathe

So, how does Sesame Street bring these challenging concepts to life? Let’s take a closer look at the depth of curriculum within one of our segments of self-regulation and executive function, “Belly Breathe.”

The Curriculum Walkthrough: Managing big feelings involves learning to identify and cope with strong emotions like frustration, jealousy, and even excitement. We can all use a little help managing our feelings now and again. Young children need to learn to develop intentional control over their big feelings. This is an important self-regulation and executive function skill. In this video, children explore how to manage their feelings by:

  • Attending to physical cues to identify those feelings,
  • Learning the words they need to talk about their feelings, especially big feelings of anger and disappointment, and
  • Trying a physical strategy they can use to calm down.

 Your Teacher/Child Interactions: As you watch this video, think about how the calming-down strategy might affect the behaviors in your classroom. We need to remember that all feelings from the gentle ones to the big ones are a part of growing and learning. A few simple ideas about how to guide children to regain control over big feelings and behaviors:

  • First, remain calm. Your behavior sets the tone for children. Just like Common, you can remind them to simply, breathe.
  • Then help children take a moment to chill their monsters out! Belly Breathing is a great way to soothe children and calm them physically.
  • Finally, acknowledge children’s big feelings.  As Common shares, “the monster that’s inside you… is the monster who feels bad.” This helps children learn to tell the difference between comfortable and uncomfortable feelings.

Try It Out: When we teach children the song, Belly Breathe, we help them understand and learn how to regulate their emotional responses. We do this so that strong feelings don’t inhibit children’s learning or development. Try teaching children how to belly breathe when they are calm. Also, make Belly Breathing a part of your everyday classroom routine. This will help imprint in children good habits that help them understand and regulate their emotional responses. It also reminds them that they are in control! 

Looking for more Sesame Street for your classroom? There are over 600 Sesame Street videos, games, and printable materials currently in PBS LearningMedia. Use these resources to engage preschoolers in everyday learning by teaching core skills in Math, Literacy, STEM, and Social and Emotional Development. Explore our Sesame Street collection and excite even the youngest learners.


Akimi Gibson is Vice President and Education Publisher, and directs the formal education initiatives, partnerships, and business for Sesame Workshop. Gibson is also a children's book author. She previously worked as a teacher of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergartners, and elementary school children and as a program administrator. Gibson earned her graduate degree from Wheelock College, a graduate certificate in School Administration from Cambridge College, and her undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts.

Akimi Gibson

Akimi Gibson Vice President and Education Publisher, Sesame Workshop

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