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Sesame Street in Communities

How a Pediatrician Connects with Sesame Street in Communities

September 22, 2021
Photo of Amy Shriver

When I was 5 years old, “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book” provided explicit reassurance that not all monsters are scary. In fact, the fuzzy, friendly Muppets on Sesame Street were working hard to make sure I optimized my cognitive and social development! I was hooked on the warm and caring messages from the Muppets of Sesame Street from an early age. So, it’s no wonder that I jumped at the chance to become one of Des Moines’ Abby’s Ambassadors for Sesame Street in Communities.

Sesame Street has spent the past 50+ years inviting children to their TV neighborhood to experience fun, fuzzy ways to enhance their cognitive, social, and emotional health. But recently, Sesame Street has traveled to “my” neighborhood—the greater Des Moines area—to get the word out about a web-based tool for caregivers and children called sesamestreetincommunities.org.  The Iowa Alliance for Healthy Kids, a cross-sector collaboration of Iowa’s early childhood champions, has facilitated training sessions, communications, town halls, and distribution of SSIC.org materials across central Iowa with a focus on improving young children’s social-emotional well-being.

As a pediatrician, I’m always on the lookout for resources that can support the needs of my patients and families. Focusing on a patient’s whole health leads to better outcomes for their physical health. I was delighted to participate in the “train-the-trainer” workshops that helped me understand the online resources and how to use them. Now, as an Abby’s Ambassador, I’m charged with teaching others about the resources available for providers, caregivers, and kids.

So far, I’ve been able to teach pediatric providers in my clinic, members of the Iowa Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, residents at the Blank Pediatric Residency Program, and Physician Assistants across the state. It’s terrific to teach my colleagues about the resources on SSIC.org, which can help them talk with caregivers about how to support children’s healthy development; however, it’s even better to show the resources to my patients and families in my clinic.

Time is limited during a pediatric visit, so at first, I limited my efforts to providing a brief summary of available resources and giving families a handout with the website’s URL. I quickly realized that this strategy wasn’t having the desired impact, so I decided to show my families instead of just telling them. I began discussing “big feelings” in toddlerhood and showing families the video “Belly Breathe” featuring Elmo, Colby Caillat, and Common. The toddler’s adored the music and Elmo. The parents appreciated the messaging. The brief educational session and video impelled many of my patients’ families to use the resources at home.

Every time I visit the website, I find new useful tools for my family. I’ve referred families to the amazing resources on divorce, grief, moving our bodies, and healthy eating. But the content that has really blown my socks off is the recently developed racial justice toolkit. I’ve never seen such helpful kid-facing content about healthy racial socialization and racial literacy. I often find these tools useful with acknowledging the struggles of my patients of color and showing my willingness to be an ally for them.

Another significant facet to ssic.org is that the resources are all available in English and in Spanish. I love seeing the look on the faces of families in my clinic when I show them videos of Elmo speaking Spanish! It’s such an important addition to my pediatric practice to be able to provide these resources to my Spanish-speaking families.

In the future, I can see myself utilizing more and more of the professional development resources to better support my community through workshops and other teaching sessions for caregivers and childcare providers in my neighborhood. I look forward to continuing to explore the topics and resources on SSIC.org so I can help promote early relational health and support the developmental needs of my patients.  Even after all these years, I still can’t get enough of those Muppets!