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Sesame Street: 40 Years Later, Still Makes Me Smile

sesame streetYou’d really have to be hiding under a rock not to know that Sesame Street has hit the big 4-0.  The media blitz has been quite impressive, with the Muppets taking over game shows, talk shows (did you see them on The Doctors?), even being honored with their own Google logo.  Naturally this required the release of a 2-DVD set Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days.  Heck, JavaDad turned 40 in the same year and even he had a DVD — albeit made by his brother.

When the PR folks behind the blitz asked if I’d like to review the DVD set, it took me half a second to give a resounding YES, and I apologize that it has taken me this long to write to tell you about it, because it is terrific.  In fact, it is going to become my favorite gift to give in 2010 for children and adults alike.

Let me back up a little bit — it just so happens that the set arrived late in the day after a very bad day.  I was in a terrible mood and really did not want to interact with anyone, including my family.  I waited until the kids were in bed and sat down to watch the first DVD.  Not long into it, my mood started to brighten and I actually called JavaDad over to watch the DVD with me, and we soon found ourselves laughing over favorite segments and saying things like, “Oh my gosh, I absolutely REMEMBER this.  I mean I remember everything about this.  It’s like I am a little kid again.”  It wasn’t the same experience as watching a rerun of a Law & Order episode where you can recite some familiar lines —  it was an almost indescribable full sensory recall for both of us, over and over again with several of the segments.  For example, for me, I completely remember the stop-action animation of the Queen of Six, which I know I have not seen in decades. 

Watching these segments reminded us of the positive feelings Sesame Street made us feel, as well as how much we actually learned while watching the show (do you remember who taught you the word “cooperation?”)  We may not have realized it as children, but now as parents, we recognize just how important Sesame Street was to us.  It was more than a show, it was a parenting tool.  My husband and I dissected the show and realized that it did so many things – yes, it helped us learn our ABCs and 1, 2, 3s.  It also made us feel special, and fostered a sense of kindness and respect for others.  However, I realized in a very short clip that showed a steel extrusion factory, that it opened up a world for so many children — I learned about so many different places via Sesame Street and while I grew up in multi-cultural Miami and had the benefit of many field trips, not all children do.  For some children, their only opportunities in the early 70′s to learn about something other than the businesses and people immediately out their front door may have only been through the camera lens of Sesame Street.  

Today children have so many choices of shows, some of them are of terrific quality and are descendants of sorts of Sesame Street, and of course there are many shows that are merely bubblegum for the brain.  But when our generation was growing up, Sesame Street was groundbreaking, and of course we didn’t have cable, so there were far fewer shows to choose from.  I found the comments from Jon Stone, Executive Producer (1969-1975), Director (1969-1994) of Sesame Street (you can find these interviews as part of the Bonus features) both humorous and insightful as to to just how unique Sesame Street was at its inception. 

“When we first began and they told us we had to incorporate all this education into this format I was convinced that it would be impossible to do.  I’d never written anything like this before, but nobody had written anything like this before.  But we tried it anyway… And I almost immediately did a 180 degree turn in my attitude about it.  The educational content, the curriculum, instead of being a millstone around our neck was really a backbone, a spinal column that we could build the show around.  No longer as a comedy writer were you starting with that terrible blank piece of paper in the typewriter, you were staring out with something that you could build a comedy bit around and it was a tremendous help.   I’ll never again do another  television show that doesn’t have some informational content in it.  Because I’m lazy!”  said Stone.

Today many television producers don’t find the concept of educational shows so odd, they see it as the next potential goldmine.

Of course the clips progress beyond the years JavaDad and I watched Sesame Street and it’s interesting to watch the changes of styles and characters (and to read about the reasons for changes in some of the pop-ups and also in the accompanying small book) right up to modern day, which is the Sesame Street my child watch.  My kids, however, have been fascinated with the concept of the “Sesame Street from when you were a little girl, Mommy” and like to watch those clips over and over again.

The Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days set includes more than 4.5 hours of clips from all 40 years as well as pop-ups and interviews and a 24-page hardcover book.  You may not want to let the kids see the book if you don’t want them to see the behind-the-scenes workings of how the Muppets work.  My husband and I enjoyed learning things like the fact that Oscar the Grouch was originally orange and about the struggles the producers had in figuring out how to explain the death of Mr. Hooper.  I never realized what a singing sensation Bob McGrath was in the US and Japan, nor how popular Roosevelt Franklin was and that he released his own record!

My one complaint about this set?  I want MORE!  I wanted more clips, more information (why did Jim Henson tear apart the original orange Oscar?).  But isn’t that the old adage, “always leave them wanting more?” 

I highly recommend this gift not only for children, but also for adults — anyone who grew up with Sesame Street will find something to love about this, but it will also make a great 40th birthday gift.   I really think my husband and I enjoyed this DVD as much if not more than our kids because we could appreciate the full retrospective context.

Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days seems to be available at most major stores that sell DVDs and lists anywhere from 29.99 to 19.99.

Bonus for my readers:  Here’s a downloadable Sesame Street coloring page!

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Disclosure:  I was provided a complimentary DVD set to review, this did not affect the outcome of my review.  This blog is a member of the Amazon Associates program, which means Amazon purchases made immediately after visiting this site may give a small percentage of the sale to this site.  This helps offset the cost of running this blog.

Super Why! Activities Day 4: Whyatt and Post-Assessment

This is the final Super Why!  post and the last chance to enter the giveaway for a DVD from PBS by posting a comment in any of the posts in this series!2009-05-22_super-why_0008

For today’s activities you will need:

For the final assessment you will need the post-assessment questions and your worksheets from throughout the week. 

My observations:   JavaBoy once again whizzed through the worksheets.  However, the extension exercise reminded me of a pad of paper I had bought him earlier in the year that allows you to draw a picture and write a sentence under it (apparently they are called “picture story pads.”)  This ended up leading into a lesson on punctuation rather than word switching as he had recently learned about commas and had gotten mixed up about how they were used so we… “looked in a book!” to see how commas and periods were used (he didn’t believe me that periods were used at the end of sentences, so I showed him in some of his favorite books).

JavaGirl knows the story of the Three Little Pigsquite well, but upon seeing one of her favorite animals, decided she wanted to have a big bad TURTLE instead.  Then she wanted to draw the turtle.  Then she wanted to know the turtle’s name.  And so on.  On the second page worksheet we ran into an issue because of her seeing the multiple pigs and to her, a large quantity of anything is “10.”  So we got into a debate about that.  Not that she’s stubborn or anything. She clearly delineated between the three pigs of the story and the ones on the lefthand side of the page, but she wanted to debate about how many were on the lefthand side of the page.

As for the assessment, I can’t say that I felt like there was much change between the pre- and post-assessments.  HOWEVER, I feel like that didn’t measure the changes we saw/experienced during the week.  We were all more engaged as a family in the total process by having the activities and the kids and I have been singing the songs together in the car and other places (yes, you tend to lose an inhibitions as a parent) since we’ve embarked on this journey.  I have come to learn that although I tend to like worksheets, that my daughter doesn’t.  And that we all enjoy the more full-experience type of activities like the games, dances, etc.

But best of all was when my daughter picked up JavaDad’s copy of  Bruce Catton’s Civil War and flipping through it after dinner tonight.  After listening closely, I realized that she was retelling the story of the Three Little Pigs while thumbing through the book, as if she were reading it from Daddy’s big hardcover book.  Look in a book, indeed!

Don’t forget to post a comment after this post or any in the series to put your name in the running for the giveaway!

Super WHY! Activities: Day 3 Princess Presto!

I apologize for careening back and forth between the PBS track and the recession track — I’ve had certain deadlines to meet with the recession stories — however, both discussion threads are germane to raising children, so hopefully it hasn’t been too jarring.

Back to the wonders of Super Why!  For today’s activities, you will need:

If your child does not want to watch the same episode again, that’s fine, just watch another episode of Super WHY! and pay special attention to Princess Presto’s role.  Frankly, at this point my kids were pretty fed up with the masks as well.  They were, however, quite interested in having wands, pretend or prop.

My observations: JavaBoy once again whizzed through the first worksheet, matching the correct letter to name of the object.  JavaGirl wanted to color the objects first, then do the letters.  In her artist’s mind, I guess, it was important that things looked “pretty” before they were appropriately labeled.  Then she was fine with picking out the letters of them — much more compliant than in the previous day’s exercise.

But the real fun was when we were able to put the letters on objects in the room.  The kids had so much fun with this (although I’ll admit that “G” stumped even Mom and Dad for a while).  Both kids thoroughly enjoyed this activity and we still have letters up now, some of which keep getting relocated.  They did a very good job of finding homes for the letters.

The “wands up” game was not really a hit because my son knows how to spell his name, and it is really long and hard to spell on paper much less in the air, and my daughter does not yet know how to spell her name.  But we changed it around to just spelling random letters and short words and that was more fun for them at this point.  JavaBoy is already an accomplished reader for someone not yet in K and JavaGirl is just barely 3 so there’s a bit of a gap between their abilities.

I think this might have been their favorite day!

Super WHY! Activities Day 2: Wonder Red

2009-05-15_0001Ready to roll with Word Power?  Today’s Super WHY! activities are focused on using auditory or visual discrimination to create and decipher between all words.

For today’s activities, you will need:

If you want to do the additional activities, you may want to have a music CD handy.

My observations:  JavaGirl had a harder time with these worksheets.  It’s not so much that she didn’t understand the concepts overall, as she found the worksheets themselves limiting.  I pointed to the ball and said, “what’s that?”  And she would say, “A soccer ball.”  So I’d say, “well, yes, but let’s try just ball, what letter does BALL start with?  Find the letter that BALL starts with.”  And she got mad and said, “No, Mommy, not BALL, that’s a SOCCER BALL, S, SOCCER ball.”  I went through the same thing with the “BRICK wall” and so on.  Does this mean something about JavaGirl?  I have no idea.  Teachers, can you tell me?

JavaBoy whizzed through his sheets.

I couldn’t find my Super Why! music CD, but JavaBoy knew WonderRed’s rhyming word’s tune so we sang along to that for a while.  Then we just put on some music while I called out various -ALL words (for which they would FREEZE) and the episode-specific non-ALL words (red, pig, wolf), for which they’d keep dancing.  They had a great time!

Overall I’d say JavaBoy likes the worksheets and either JavaGirl is just not a worksheets kind of a girl, or these worksheets in particular aren’t for her.  I really haven’t done a lot of worksheets with her, partially because she seems more interested in coloring them than doing them, whereas JavaBoy has ALWAYS loved doing them even from a younger age.

Tell me about your experiences and remember — posting gets your name into the drawing for a DVD from PBS!

Super WHY! Activities – Day 1

A, B, C, D… sing with me!  Yep, it’s time to break out the Super WHY! pre-assessment and Alpha Pig activities today!

If you have no clue what I’m talking about, jump back a post and catch up — we’re going on an interactive journey with the characters of Super WHY! this week. AND… if you comment on the PBS-related posts this week, I will put your name into a drawing for a DVD (I’m awaiting its arrival, so I don’t have the title yet) from PBS.  Yes, if you comment on more than one post, I will put your name in more than once. 

So, let’s get started!

First, you will need the pre-assessment questions.  You will also want to go ahead and save and print all the worksheets– you will need these both for the pre-assessment and for the corresponding days of the week.

The pre-assessment, of course, allows you to see where your child is in his or her literacy journey before you begin this whole process.  Please try to remember that this is not a pass/fail kind of a test — there is no winning or losing, this is just to gauge where your child is in his or her development.  At the end of the week, you will do the same exercises with your child again.

My observations:I did these separately with JavaGirl (turned 3 the week we did this) and JavaBoy (5).  JavaBoy already reads, so he basically whizzed through this pre-assessment.  JavaGirl was familiar with the story of  The Three Little Pigs, could point to the letters W-O-L-F,  couldn’t read “wall” but once I read it, could read “fall” and “ball” because she knows her letters, didn’t know how to spell “big” and “pig,” knew the opposite of the word “big” and knew the opposite of the word “bad” and figured out that “good” was the word that started with the “g.”  The problem for me, as a non-teacher, was that I didn’t really know what this meant in terms of where she was in her literacy skills — I just knew that she knew how to do some things and not others — I wished the pre-assessment had a little more info for a novice like myself!

Who Let The Pigs Out?

alpha-pig-day2I have a really terrific photo of  JavaDad wearing the Alpha Pig mask playing Bingo with JavaBoy, while shirtless, but he has threatened to yank my high-speed Internet connection if I post it, so instead you will only see partially obscured photos of JavaBoy.  Yes, he is wearing Christmas pajamas in May.  That’s how we roll here in the Java household. 

Print out and cut out the Alpha Pig mask (this file prints out all the masks or just select one) — color is ideal.  I made a small hole on each side and ran ribbon through, Teach Mama apparently finally put hers on kiddie sunglasses — do whatever works!  By the way, she is a much better mother than I am because she had her children cut theirs out as a bonus activity and I, always short on time, cut the masks out myself while the children were busy with something else.  You will also need the Alpha Pig Day instruction sheet, and the bingo instruction sheet, the bingo cards, and the bingo markers (or if you already have bingo markers, save yourself the trouble, and use those).  Incidentally, the bingo instruction sheet refers to some 17×11 sign — this was never in my kit and I have no idea what they are referring to, but apparently you don’t need it.  I just wrote down the letters I saw on the bingo cards and made my own letters to call out.  Nor do you need 20 bingo cards — just as many cards as you have players.  You will also need the Alpha Pig worksheets, which you have already printed out for the assessment.

Okay — so you’ve printed out a zillion things, now watch the show!  It’s available either in podcast or quicktime format — and today you will pay special attention to Alpha Pig.  After watching the show, follow the instructions on the Alpha Pig Day instruction sheet — transform into Alpha Pig, do the worksheets, and if you have time, sing the song and play bingo!

My observations:We’ve seen this episode before, but the kids enjoyed having something interactive to do afterward.  JavaBoy already knows how to spell his name and was more interested in practicing coloring neatly inside the lines (as this is a challenge he’s working on) as he colored in the letters.  JavaGirl does not yet know how to spell her name (it’s a bit complex even for grown-ups) and she’s still learning how to write letters, but she happily circled the letters when I told them which ones they were and was happy to color them in.  Then we ended up having a little bit of a handwriting lesson, which I was actually glad to have because I only recently grasped the fact that one of the reasons she and I have had some challenges in that area is because I’ve been to dim-witted to realize she’s a leftie!  (By the way, if anyone has tips for a right-handed mother with a left-handed kid, I’d love to hear them — I never realized all the challenges that could present.)  They both enjoyed hunting for letters in Storybook Village, although I think I was the only one who noticed the correlation between the letter and the location (i.e. L was on the library, W on the windmill…)  I missed out on playing bingo because I had to take a phone call, but JavaDad said they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Oh, and yes, you will be humming the Alpha Pig version of the alphabet song all week.  Seriously.  I find myself singing it under my breath at the oddest moments now.