Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, has announced a new organization-wide focus on the emotional well-being of young children and their families. Responding to the growing mental health crisis for young children and building on decades of experience developing social-emotional learning content for families, the Workshop will address this critical need through a wide range of activities and engaging content designed for the whole family and available on multiple platforms to reach children and families wherever they are.
Sesame Workshop’s approach will offer strategies to support all families – from celebrating joyful everyday moments and helping children learn the essential skills they need to understand and manage their feelings to supporting parents and community providers in understanding the importance of recognizing signs of possible emotional distress.
“We at Sesame hold a vision of a world in which all children can flourish and feel the joyfulness of life and do so with appreciation for their own mental health and well-being,” said Sherrie Westin, President, Sesame Workshop. “Through the power of our beloved characters and proven resources, we’re raising awareness about the importance of nurturing children’s emotional well-being and lessening the stigma associated with seeking support for children’s mental health.”
The youngest children are often overlooked in discussions about mental health — but there’s growing evidence that young children are struggling, now more than ever. Last year, several groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, took the unprecedented step of declaring a mental health emergency among the nation’s children. The crisis has only deepened during the pandemic, indicating that young children especially need support and resources to build their long-term emotional health and well-being. In response to this, Sesame Workshop has committed to a deeper, stronger role in addressing the emotional well-being of young children and their families.
“Children who are healthy in both mind and body tend to be happier, show greater motivation to learn, and have a more positive attitude about themselves and the world,” said Jeanette Betancourt Ed.D., Senior Vice President, U.S. Social Impact, Sesame Workshop. “Together with the caring adults in children’s lives, we’re helping children develop a foundation for emotional well-being for years to come.”
Beginning with Mental Health Awareness month, Sesame Workshop launches this initiative on May 3 with Elmo’s Mindfulness Spectacular, a 45-minute Sesame Street and YouTube health and wellness special. When Elmo is feeling some big feelings about playing a song in front of everyone for the YouTube Talent Show, he asks Abby to cast a magic spell that will get rid of his big feelings. The spell goes haywire, sending Elmo and Abby on a mindfulness adventure to find her wand pieces and learn techniques to deal with big feelings from favorite stars, including Juanpa Zurita, Jenny Slate, Fitness Marshall, Lauren Riihimaki (LaurDIY), and Marques Brownlee. Original music from the special will be available from Arts Music, a division of Warner Music Group.
Fostering nurturing relationships is a key component to the emotional well-being of children. Sesame Workshop has partnered with the Ad Council’s Sound It Out campaign to distribute a new PSA with an original song, “Me & My Grown-Up.” In the video, Elmo and his dad, Louie; Wes and his dad, Elijah; Big Bird with Granny Bird; and Abby and her mom, Maggie, sing about the important role grown-ups play in supporting the emotional well-being of the children in their lives.
New bilingual resources highlighting the benefits of nurturing relationships will be released throughout May at Sesame.org/MentalHealth, Sesame Workshop’s newly launched resource hub for parents, caregivers, and providers. In the video I Notice, I Feel, I Can, Elmo and Louie practice three steps to manage big feelings when a DIY project goes wrong; in The Feelings Garden, Elmo, Louie, Abby, and Maggie learn it’s possible to experience several different feelings at once. The new suite of resources also includes a digital storybook, printable activity sheets, articles, and forthcoming webinars for providers. Families will also be able to stream the video resources on PBS KIDS.
A special episode of The Happiness Lab podcast premieres this spring, featuring host Dr. Laurie Santos, Sesame Workshop CEO Steve Youngwood, and Kay Wilson Stallings, Executive Vice President, Chief Production and Creative Development Officer, sharing strategies that parents and caregivers can use to help themselves and their children feel happier, with an appearance from Elmo. And this fall, a three-episode series on The Happiness Lab will revisit the main happiness strategies, helping parents and their children feel better with the beloved characters and songs of Sesame Street. You can listen to The Happiness Lab on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.
Sesame Workshop’s podcast with Headspace, Goodnight, World!, will return this summer with a second season. Developed by a team of early childhood and meditation experts, Goodnight, World! reimagines the popular sleepcast format to help children practice transitioning from their active days to naptime or bedtime. Sesame Workshop also collaborated with Headspace and Penguin Random House on a six-book series based on the highly successful “Monster Meditation” videos on Sesame Street’s YouTube channel.
Sesame Workshop has also announced a new publishing partnership with Mayo Clinic Press Kids, an imprint of Mayo Clinic Press, to create content focused on emotional well-being for families. Launching in Fall 2024, books will celebrate the whole-body approach to health, provide tips for what to do during anxious times, normalize having the wiggles, and more!
Sesame Workshop’s commitment extends worldwide with South Africa’s Takalani Sesame premiering The Big Feelings Special, a new primetime episode focused on big feelings for the whole family to enjoy together on May 20. Globally, Sesame’s Welcome Sesame initiative delivers comfort and learning to young children and their caregivers affected by crisis and conflict. New content recently launched in Ukraine is designed to help families cope with the trauma of forced displacement and communicate and process what they are experiencing.
Leadership support for Sesame Workshop’s emotional well-being initiative has been provided by the Joan Ganz Cooney Fund for Vulnerable Children and UnitedHealthcare. Generous support has also been provided by Just Play, Kenneth Cole, and Kohl’s.
For more great content, check out new episodes of Sesame Street on HBO Max.