Sesame Launches New Resources for Military Families
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va., Nov. 5, 2011 With hundreds of military families gathered here, Sesame Workshop today unveiled a new collection of resources designed to help children stay connected with military loved ones.
Vicki Diesing and her daughter try out Sesame Workshop’s new Military Families Near and Far website during an event at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Nov. 5, 2011. The site will enable Diesing’s daughters to stay in touch with their father, who is deployed in Iraq. DOD photo by Elaine Sanchez
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The “Military Families Near and Far” products, which include a bilingual website and mobile application, encourage elementary school-aged children to express their emotions and to communicate as they undergo challenging military transitions. The resources are a team effort by the iconic kids’ TV programs, Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and are provided in cooperation with the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
“Our families serve and make tremendous sacrifices every day,” said Charles Milam, the Defense Department’s principal director of military community and family policy. Just as President Barack Obama has made the support and care of military families a top priority, “we at the department are committed to increasing opportunities for military children and their families,” he said.
The new products include Military Families Near and Far, a bilingual website where kids can create networks, draw pictures, create songs and write letters to a deployed parent; Free Electric!, a mobile application that encourages children to explore and express their emotions; an Electric Company magazine for military families; and the Electric Company Extended Learning Program, which is packed with literacy and math-based lesson plans, games, activities and tips.
Sesame’s previous efforts to help military children have been aimed at preschoolers. These new products will enable them to reach older children in an age-appropriate and entertaining way, H. Melvin Ming, Sesame Workshop president and CEO, said at the event. “One size does not fit all,” he noted. “Children learn best when the message is age-appropriate.”
The resources will be distributed mid-November through multiple channels including the Department of Defense Education Activity Educational Partnership Program, Boys and Girls Clubs of America-affiliated youth centers and other military-support programs.
Navy Capt. Paul S. Hammer, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, cited the importance of joint efforts aimed at helping military families such as this one.
“This is a partnership,” he said. “We bring our understanding about emotion, stress, psychological health, and Sesame Workshop brings the expertise of really understanding how to reach kids and get kids to talk about [their emotions]. I think that’s a good partnership to really help military families.
“There are a lot of programs out there, but this is a significant one in terms of really reaching kids and reaching families in a way that’s really constructive,” he added.
Along with the launch, the children who attended the event learned the importance of expressing their emotions, whether happy or sad, with a song and a dance and the help of some familiar friends from Sesame Street and The Electric Company.
Sesame’s Gordon and Abby Cadabby entertained the kids with a song, Near and Far, and then kids of all ages enjoyed dancing and “beat-boxing” with Electric Company’s Jessica and Shock. They also unveiled the Let it Out music video, which encouraged emotional expression and featured military members and children from across the nation.
After the event, the children dispersed to various play stations to play, snack or try out Sesame’s new Near and Far site and app on computers and iPads set up throughout the hall.
Air Force spouse Vicki Diesing’s two tech-savvy children, ages 4 and 9, were drawn to the computer station. Her younger daughter drew pictures for her deployed dad online as her mom gave her a hand.
“I like the idea they can communicate with their deployed family member through this site,” Diesing said. “I think it’s a good resource. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to express their feelings, and to have characters they can relate to helps them.
“My older daughter is just getting out of Sesame Street phase,” she added, “so the Electric Company really appealed to her.”
Josselyn Velasquez, whose husband is in the Air Force, also was busy navigating Sesame’s new website with her 4-year-old daughter, Tatiana. “I think it’s awesome,” she said of the site. “It’s letting military kids know they’re not alone, feeling the way they do with their families being gone.”
Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon’s office of family policy, children and youth, praised Sesame’s efforts for military children. “Sesame is just the best when it comes to creating innovative products,” she said.
The event was well-timed for November, she noted, which the president designated as Military Family Month. “We know that children also serve; they’re a part of our military family,” she said.