All About Sesame Street By Phylis Feinstein


Across the screen sails a square box monogrammed with big S’s. In front of the TV set the preschoolers giggle expectantly. Then, a sprightly seal, sounding ever so slightly like Bert Lahr, springs from the box and starts a silly story of six sailors who sally down the street and split up on a seesaw. With his story unspun, the seal sails off into the sunset inside his S square. Milk dripping into a kitten’s dish appears next. The scene then dissolves into a number of scenes of dairy life. "Hey cow"—a voice sings softly a Simon-and-Garfunkel-inspired tune—"I see you now." The kids then hear a story in song about milk and where milk comes from.

The TV screen bursts into action. Psychedelic numbers from one to ten, then ten to one, pulsate and explode. The number two is zoomed in on: "Two—two—two—let’s talk about two. How many two’s?" Lots of things are seen in pairs—two turtles, two butterflies, two heads. Then the inevitable—two chocolate cream pies come crashing down on the clumsy cook as he trips down the stairs. "And that is the song of two."

In a generously filled bubble bath, a bug-eyed, orange-faced creature in a striped purple polo shirt croons a love tune to his yellow rubber duckie. Then the sinewy physique of Burt Lancaster fills the screen as he does push-ups counting to ten as he goes. His muscular body vanishes and a lesson in shapes flashes across the screen. This time, it’s a cartoon accompanied by bouncy counterpoint animating a square and triangle.

The next scene is a city street. A woman and two children are sitting on the front stoop of an old brownstone, watching a skywriter over Ashbury Park, New Jersey, spell out the letter R. Cartoons illustrating a jingle about robbers, roosters, rakes and rain follow. When a professor asks, "And what did we learn today?" his dog growls. "R-R-R-R."

This in brief is Sesame Street. Educators, parents, and children have never seen anything like it before. All of a sudden, the medium that brought youngsters Mickey Mouse and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate has begun to combine the best of both the television and educational worlds to bring a brand new phenomenon: switched-on nursery school. Fresh, witty, and exciting, Sesame Street, an experimental show, aims to use television as a medium for teaching basic learning skills to preschoolers—particularly those from deprived homes. It also wants to introduce these children to a multitude of people, places and things that are important in the world in which they live.

Can a daily television program that has teaching as its underlying purpose compete with the plentitude of fluff cartoons, emptyheaded hillbillies and shoot-‘em-ups offered by the rest of children’s TV programming? You bet! The impact of Sesame Street is enormous. Its Pow-Now approach has moved educators to take a second look at the creative powers of electronic communication and to realize that education doesn’t have to be dull to be effective. Everywhere children have discovered the joys of counting from one to ten, of knowing A from Z. Parents are big fans, too.

"The two major events of the century," a Conoga, California, mother proclaims, "are a man on the moon and Sesame Street!" "I think," adds a Black mother in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area, "if my son had been able to watch Sesame Street when he was two, he’d be a genius." Sesame Street is far and away the greatest children’s program that has ever been on the air. It’s real merit is that it is good for your child but he won’t know it’s good for him. It is all so much fun that no child watching it feels disadvantaged, advantaged, innered, outered, or even studied. All he feels is the way he should feel—like a person on an adventure.

The story behind Sesame Street is also an adventure. For it was adventurous, courageous people who first recognized an incredible void, and went on to fill it with humor, integrity and intelligence. This book then tells how Sesame Street began, what it has accomplished and where it hopes to go in the future.

"Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?" ask the bright yellow buttons that have sprouted up on the clothing of youngsters and graduate students. Use this book freely as your guide.