The popular children’s television show “Sesame Street” recently unveiled a Web-based music education program in which the Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, and other characters help teach young children such concepts as rhythm and melody.
Based on the premise that music promotes social and intellectual development, the three-year “Sesame Street Music Works” initiative encourages children up to five years old to write operas, create their own instruments, and explore music ranging from American bluegrass to Southeast Asian gamelan music. “Sesame Street,” which is aired on Public Broadcasting Service channels, is emphasizing music and the arts during its 2001 and 2002 seasons.
The project includes English- and Spanish-language tool kits with activity guides and videos for parents and teachers. The Sesame Workshop, a New York City-based non-profit educational organization and the Carlsbad, Calif.-based International Music Products Association are providing 50,000 of the kits for free.
Linda Page Neelly, the lead researcher for the initiative and an assistant professor of music education at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, said parents should sing and play instruments with their young children to help their overall development.
She gave an example of singing songs such as “The Farmer in the Dell” with her 20-month-old grandson, who tries to sing and move with the melody. The exercise, Ms. Neelly said, helps him internalize the melody and respond linguistically while starting to make connections in the order and sequence of sounds.
“It’s similar to language acquisition,” she said. “You don’t just give them a book to read without talking to them a lot first. It’s the same with music. And the more powerful the quality of music we have with children, the greater quality of learning they’ll have in other areas.”
The jury’s still out on how much music affects children’s intellectual development, experts say. But some research looks promising.
A 1993 study and subsequent studies found that preschool children significantly improved their spatial-reasoning ability after they had music training.
A 1999 study, published in the journal Neurological Research, found that children who were given piano training with math video- game training scored higher on math tests than other children who were given the video training only.
Besides promoting intellectual development, music helps children communicate, especially those who aren’t able to speak or write, said Marilou Hyson, the associate executive director of professional development for the Washington-based National Association for the Education of Young Children.
The Sesame Workshop music project is promising, she said. It brings music not just to children, but also to teachers and families who aren’t familiar with music, Ms. Hyson said. She cited its value for parents who don’t have the money to attend concerts or pay for music lessons, as well as those who just don’t feel comfortable participating in musical experiences with their children.
“Music is part of life,” she said. “And that is one of the messages of this initiative.”
A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2001 edition of Education Week as Children Write Operas, Design Instruments on Music Web Site