"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
July 15, 2013
Street Wise
by Melissa Howell

“Mom, you are exquisite!” said my son to me one recent afternoon. He was in the midst of playing, probably driving some cars or trucks around, when for some reason he paused his play long enough to dish out this flattering compliment.

Did I mention this child just turned three years old?

I asked him where he heard this word.

No hesitation.

“From ‘Sesame Street’!” he answered. (Although it came out sounding more like, “Fwom ‘Sesame Stweet’!”)

More than a year ago, as I was getting this same child dressed one day shortly before his second birthday, he looked down at his shirt that read, “Little Brother,” and started pointing to the letters and identifying them. Correctly.

Well, clearly my months and months of hard work teaching him his letters had paid off.


All I really did was let him watch “Sesame Street” each morning.

Similarly, when my friend was dropping off my daughter (who was four at the time) after a play date a few years ago, she commented on what a great reader my daughter was.

“What phonics program do you use with Isabel?” my friend asked.

“Uh, ‘Sesame Street,’” I answered, a wee bit sheepishly.

When it comes to teaching kids phonics and putting sounds together, as well as developing excellent vocabulary skills, no one has topped “Sesame Street.” Since its debut on November 10, 1969, “Sesame Street” has spent the past nearly 44 years mastering the art of keeping children entertained while educating them, something the show’s creators initially set out to accomplish.

Entertain millions of children around the world while teaching them their ABCs and big words like “exquisite”? Check!

I watched the show as a child, and still remember vividly how certain episodes affected me, or how much I was mesmerized by different segments. Growing up in the woods of northern Minnesota, cable was merely a pattern on the sweaters or tights that kept us warm in the winter, but unheard of in terms of channeling a large number of stations into our home. But we had PBS, and therefore we had our “Sesame Street.”

It is well known how critical early language development and letter recognition and sounds are in laying a strong foundation for reading and writing in children; I dare say they form an educational foundation they will build upon throughout their lives.

Shortly after I graduated from college, I devoted a large amount of time to several volunteer positions. In one role, I served as an adult literacy tutor; there I was, a 23-year-old recent college grad, teaching a 32-year-old father of five and factory worker whose reading skills were more limited than those of my six-year-old. For a year and a half I worked with my “student,” getting an inside look at the pain and challenge of illiteracy, and the joy, broadening perspective and confidence that grow from even the most basic emerging literacy skills.

Establishing a strong reading and writing foundation for my kids is a top goal as a mom. I strive to create an atmosphere that promotes love of reading, words, education and literacy. Some things that can foster this include:

  • Reading to our children from a young age. Newborns are not too young to enjoy the sound of words and rhythms.

  • Demonstrating proper and correct language in our homes. If my 10-year-old wants to get a good reaction from me, he know all his has to do is drop “the A word” – as in ain’t.

  • Refraining from using baby words with our children. Although they might be unable to enunciate all words and sounds, we can repeat back to them correctly. Sometimes it is so tempting to adopt their language; my 3-year-old might be the cutest little speaker that ever has existed, and I fight against the urge to sometimes ask him if he “wikes” something or what he “finks” about something for it’s so darn adorable.

  • Exposing them to educational programs, including “Sesame Street.” We know excessive television exposure is not healthy for children, but as with most things the key is moderation. I like to maximize that exposure by allowing educational programs as much as possible, and reducing (or in the case of really young children, eradicating) the time spent watching mindless shows.

The brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised just as any other muscle. The more we can help our children exercise their minds now, the more poised they will be to embrace education throughout their lives.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to give “Sesame Street” a role in this. You might even be called “exquisite” by a very small and cute person.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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