Teaching My Baby To Read

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My Beef With Sesame Street

I Capture the Rowhouse had a great post recently lamenting the replacement of shows like Reading Rainbow with Super Why on PBS. I’ve thought about this issue for days, which is 1) proof that I’m crazy, and 2) proof that I spend way too much time analyzing children’s television. But the part of my brain that is a Kindergarten teacher won’t let the issue go.

I think this programing change represents the pedagogy pendulum shifting from Whole Language to Phonics. When Whole Language was in power we had shows like Reading Rainbow, Wishbone, and Between the Lions. Now that Phonics is back in fashion we have Super Why and the new Electric Company (both of which I think are brilliant). But we also have Word World, which I’m not too keen on.

I’m a Balanced Literary Instruction teacher which means that I think we should take the best aspects of both Whole Language and Phonics to help get children reading. So in my ideal world, Reading Rainbow would be back on television right next to Super Why.

The one PBS show that really bugs me is the sacred cow of them all: Sesame Street. (shock! gasp! horror!) I only let my daughter watch Sesame Street if I need electronic daycare. On hold with the phone company? Canning peaches? Mommy’s got a migraine? Sure, let’s watch Elmo.

What’s my beef with Sesame Street? One measly paragraph would not do this justice, so here’s a full list:

  1. Sesame Street devotes a whole hour to only teaching one letter and one number.
  2. It’s a one hour advertisement that makes children want to buy Elmo products.
  3. The editing has sped up over the years from 4 to 8 cuts per minute meaning that children don’t have to pay attention as long.
  4. A little bit of Social Emotional Learning takes place, but nothing that could beat fifteen minutes spent at the park.
  5. The rate of language and spoken words had declined over the years from 175 to 139 words per minute.
  6. There is way too much “filler”, like the intro to Elmo’s World, the intro to Abby’s Flying Fairy School, the intro to the Murray segment, etc.
  7. Abby Caddaby. She deserves to be her own line item!

If you compare the learning that results from one hour of Sesame Street to one half hour of Leap Frog Letter Factory, you will be shocked. Why put your kid in front of the television for a whole hour for them to learn one letter, when then could learn the whole alphabet in thirty minutes?

It also really bugs me how Sesame Street spends so much energy trying to incorporate adult jokes and actors that kids don’t know about. How does a two year old say “Big whoop?”

I don’t know, but I sure as heck know how a kid says “Buy me Elmo diapers! Buy me Elmo pajamas! Buy me Elmo blah, blah, blah…”

No thank you. But then next time I see a book with the Reading Rainbow stamp on it, I’ll whip out my credit card.


  1. Mrs. Warde says:

    I completely agree with you about Sesame Street. My kids have never seen it and never will. I do love Super Why, although they way they change the stories to have a completely different meaning does bother me.

  2. Caroline says:

    I agree with you about Sesame Street! Baby Bear’s speech impediment was on my list of problems.

    I love Super Why but, like Mrs. Warde, I don’t like that they alter classic stories–especially when they did a take on The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

  3. Kristen says:

    Oh thank goodness. I HATE Sesame Street. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one with strong feelings on that front. My girls have seen it less than a handful of times and that was only when I accidentally left PBS on from a different show.

    I would like to hear your thoughts on Word World though?

    • jenbrdsly says:

      I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with Word World. But I wish they were using lower case letters instead of upper case. Also, the sheep’s voice is really annoying.

  4. Jenn @ Home is Where You Start From says:

    yeah, I had a problem with Sesame Street, too. My oldest two watched it without too much problems- they are ages 17 and 15 now, there was sometimes a bit of political stuff thrown in that I thought had no business being there, but whatever…I gritted my teeth and ignored it. But, I noticed when my 3rd child was old enough for the show, that Sesame Street had changed. I was totally put-off by the faster screen-changes, the way the camera jumped and moved around a lot, the extra flashing animation they had going on in the margins of the screen- it was like they were trying to induce A.D.D. into kids who didn’t have it or make it much worse for kids who did. I thought it would make my child not want to pay attention to anything not as flashy or as fast moving…say like a teacher reading a picture book in front of a class. Sure way to set a child up for school failure. The show went off forever in my home. We began checking out Between the Lions from the library, which was a much kinder, slower pace.

    • jenbrdsly says:


      I just wanted to be clear in case any Baby Boomers were reading this, that when I was little I think Sesame Street was great. but like Jenn from Home is Where You Start From mentioned, Sesame Street has really changed.

      I understand that Sesame Street is the cash cow for PBS Kids, and all of the licensing agreements are probably paying for the rest of the programing, but that doesn’t mean that the show itself could be of higher quality, especially since there is federal funding involved.

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