Sesame Street is 40 years old and struggling (ratings-wise) against Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.  What little bit of Spanish Dora teaches my little daughter is not the same as the impact Sesame Street has had on the world.

Newsweek has a retrospective new article that talks about the importance of Sesame Street.  I can corroborate the facts stated in the article:

“Before Sesame Street, kindergartens taught very little,” says [Joan Ganz Cooney, Sesame Street co-founder and TV producer], “and suddenly masses of children were coming in knowing letters and numbers.” Independent research found that children who regularly watch Sesame Street gained more than nonviewers on tests of letter and number recognition, vocabulary and early math skills.

My daughter isn’t 4 yet, but she’s reading her bedtime books to us now. She turns 4 next month, and for this past month she’s taken over all nighttime reading. I simply help with the hard words and encourage her to sound out the rest.

We’re doing math now, too.  We incorporate fun little games into daily activities that demonstrate addition and subtraction.  For example, we’ll ask her how many strawberries she’ll have left in her bowl if she eats 3 of them.  She gets it.  She understands addition and subtraction.  It’s time to start with multiplication and division.  Maybe I’ll show her how to separate her blocks into groups of 3 and ask her how many groups she has.  It doesn’t matter how I introduce the concepts, so long as it’s fun.

Maria Montessori was right in her approach to learning and her new pedagogical style, but researchers today find there is almost no age requirement to early education.  Maria Montessori originally developed her curriculum for young children aged 3-6, but there are now programs for younger children, too.

My daughter learned sign language as a baby.  The benefits are amazing.  Toddlers can communicate with us long before they can speak.  Knowing their needs are being heard gives them confidence and makes for an easier child.  My daughter once signed “cold” to me in a gas station parking lot during a road trip.  She was only old enough to say a couple of words (”dada”, “mama”, “dog”, and “duck” come to mind), but she knew dozens of signs and this was the first time she used “cold” on her own.  I was stoked! She very clearly communicated her need to me. She wanted to be back in the car!

I read that 18 month old toddlers can only speak 8-10 words but can know up to 75 signs.  We counted my daughter’s vocabulary and the math was spot on.  She knew 8 words and 65 signs, many of which were genuinely useful (others were just fun):  up/down, hot/cold, hungry, sleepy, more, milk, apple, diaper, dog, cat, and many more.

Kids are natural sponges.  They want to learn.  They just need the right environment and encouragement.