Watch, Play, Learn: Educational media and the future of early learning

The makers of Sesame Street are launching a library of globally tested educational videos designed to bring playful early learning opportunities to children everywhere, especially those affected by conflict and crisis. These animated videos feature beloved Sesame Muppets like Elmo along with new friends like Ameera who learn together through play.

March 28, 2022 by Neha Bhatia, Sesame Workshop, Deborah Marie Rodríguez García, Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Sexton, Sesame Workshop
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6 minutes read
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Watch, Play, Learn is a set of 140 early learning videos developed in consultation with a Global Advisory of experts
Watch, Play, Learn is a set of 140 early learning videos developed in consultation with a Global Advisory of experts representing eight countries and tested with children and caregivers from both displaced and host communities in nine countries. These videos are designed to promote skills in the four curricular domains of math; science; social-emotional learning; and child protection, health, and safety.

Early education lays the foundation for lifelong learning. Yet millions of children – especially those affected by conflict and crisis – have little to no access to early learning opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this challenge, exposing the urgent need to develop innovative solutions that can broaden access to early education for all children.

Educational media offers one such solution – a pathway to expand the reach of early learning through myriad channels, whether broadcast, digital distribution, or through integration with local service delivery partners around the world.

That’s why Sesame Workshop is launching a first-of-its-kind library of globally tested educational content – Watch, Play, Learn: Early Learning Videos – designed to bring playful early learning to children everywhere, with particular attention to the unique needs and experiences of children affected by crises such as conflict or displacement.

This new global learning resource is part of Sesame’s broader initiative to support families affected by crises around the world, and it builds on our long history of harnessing the power of educational media and Muppets to deliver early learning to children in more than 150 countries.

Created as part of the Play to Learn project funded by the LEGO Foundation, Watch, Play, Learn is a set of 140 five-minute animated video segments designed for children ages 3-8.

These videos feature Sesame’s beloved Muppet characters engaging in learning through play to promote skills in the four curricular domains of math; science; social-emotional learning; and child protection, health, and safety.

This focus on playful learning is grounded in substantial evidence of how play supports children’s development across a wide range of outcomes, from physical health to cognitive and social-emotional skills.

Learning through play is especially important for children in crisis contexts, as playful experiences offer a positive outlet for anxiety, reduce stress, and promote resilience, enabling children to overcome adversity and build the foundational skills they need to succeed in school and life.

The development of the Watch, Play, Learn curriculum was rooted in rigorous formative research and consultation with a global advisory council of early childhood development (ECD) experts from around the world, including the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, NYU Global TIES for Children, the LEGO Foundation, UNICEF, and other direct service providers, to ensure quality and relevance to local contexts.

The videos’ curricular outcomes also align with the Nurturing Care Framework and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies Strategic Framework.

ogether, Basma and Jad learn to identify these big feelings and practice strategies to manage these emotions.
In the social-emotional learning videos, Jad and Basma (left and center) are “Big Feelings Explorers” who look through a special telescope to see (and hear) when their friends are experiencing big feelings like anger, fear, or excitement. Together, Basma and Jad learn to identify these big feelings and practice strategies to manage these emotions.

In creating Watch, Play, Learn, Sesame Workshop conducted extensive testing with children and caregivers across nine countries, including respondents from both displaced and host communities, to assess what topics, themes, messages, and visuals were globally appealing and relevant to bring learning to life through the eyes of a child.

The result of this extensive research, consultation, and testing is a ready-made library of content that children around the world can relate to and learn from. This global learning resource can also be paired with complementary video segments, storybooks, and other educational materials to extend, reinforce, and contextualize key messaging for specific communities.

In addition to featuring beloved Sesame Muppets like Elmo and Cookie Monster, WPL will also introduce a new Muppet named Ameera. She’s an 8-year-old girl who is deeply inquisitive and loves Science.

Ameera has a spinal cord injury, and she gets around using forearm crutches or her wheelchair. She was designed and developed with the guidance of inclusion experts, who advised on her identity, movement, gear, and more.

Ameera continues Sesame Workshop’s long history of creating diverse characters who children around the world can relate to, and she calls attention to the over 12 million refugees and over 240 million children worldwide who live with a disability, while also modeling girls’ interest in STEM.

WPL was designed to reach children through a range of sectors that provide early childhood development (ECD) support in crisis contexts – not only education, but also protection, health, nutrition, and more. We know this multi-sector approach is critical to reach families in their daily lives and offer more frequent, consistent, and uninterrupted access to early learning opportunities.

With a multi-sector approach, WPL has the potential to help increase equitable access to early education and support learning continuity during periods of disruption and beyond.

To test this potential, Sesame Workshop is preparing to integrate WPL into pilot partnerships that will reach displaced populations as part of in-person early childhood services in Bangladesh, Colombia, and Kenya, as well as broadcast in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

These pilots are intended to test and learn about how child-focused media content can improve the quality and resilience of ECD programs.

In addition, our external evaluation partner, NYU Global TIES for Children, will run an impact evaluation of WPL videos in Colombia with Venezuelan migrants and Colombian host community members to test the effectiveness of the math and SEL content on 4-year-old children’s learning of these foundational skills.

The math videos feature characters like Grover, Cookie Monster, and newcomer Turtle.
The math videos feature characters like Grover, Cookie Monster, and newcomer Turtle as they discover topics related to relational concepts, spatial awareness, geometry, and measurement.

The pilots are also intended to address the connectivity and technology limitations that can pose challenges for media distribution in crisis contexts. As a first step, Sesame Workshop partnered with DAI to develop a Decision Roadmap that guides users through the decision-making process to identify contextually appropriate technology solutions.

The Roadmap puts children and their communities at the center of the process to select the technologies that are most likely to address their specific barriers to and opportunities for digital inclusion. Sesame Workshop will test this Roadmap with implementing partners to extend the reach of early education into some of the least connected places.

As we launch the WPL content and embark on these pilots, Sesame Workshop is extending an open invitation to the range of stakeholders serving children and families, particularly those in crisis contexts, to explore new partnerships to test additional delivery models for educational media – and generate evidence of what works along the way.

Together, we can leverage WPL to test and learn about the potential of educational media to advance the shared goal of increasing access to early education for all young children, wherever they may be.

Sesame Workshop is preparing to integrate Watch, Play, Learn into pilot direct service partnerships that will reach displaced populations in South Asia, East Africa, and Latin America.
Sesame Workshop is preparing to integrate Watch, Play, Learn into pilot direct service partnerships that will reach displaced populations in South Asia, East Africa, and Latin America. As we embark on these pilots, we are inviting additional partners to join us in testing and learning about the potential of educational media to expand access to early education for all young children.
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It's very significant to the world , especially here in my country Kenya we needs such imperative actions

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