Puppets to reflect Syrian refugees

Children’s program Sesame Street and The International Rescue Committee are trying to provide education to children who are refugees of the Syrian conflict. The goal of the initiative is to ease stress on refugee children by providing educational and support resources.

The program is funded by a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation according to the New York Times. It is a five year grant, and supports the creation and production of a version of Sesame Street specific to the region.

Because the program is being designed for refugee children in another part of the world, the Muppet characters will have lives reflecting those of refugee children: families split apart, fleeing their homes, rebuilding lives and witnessing violence.

“You could envision a Muppet with a storyline where they have to leave their home, or lives in a tent, or becomes best friends with a neighbor,” said Sesame Street’s executive vice president for global impact Sherrie Westin in The New York Times.

Creating Muppet characters that children can relate to is critical to reaching them and making a positive impact.

“I think that (sometimes) when people ‘try to help kids,’ they come in all brazen, they don’t take the time to figure out the context of the learner, and that can denigrate the intent of trying to help them,” said Professor of Education Studies David Hildreth. “They’re (this program) trying to be mindful of the kids by creating Muppets that are more like the kids, and I think that’s really good.”

According to the New York Times, the program will teach children reading and math skills as well as assisting with building social skills. The Smithsonian Magazine notes that they will also provide resources for children and their caretakers, such as books, games, digital and video education and activity sheets at community centers, reaching up to 9 million young children made vulnerable by the war.

Education is critical, and a lack of, or interruptions in it can have major ramifications.

“If children fall behind, it’s that much harder to catch up,” said Hildreth.

Providing quality education for kids can make an impact in their growth and development.

“I think if children get the appropriate nurturing- emotionally, physically, intellectually, artistically etc., are made to feel safe and accepted, are recognized for their gifts and have help taking their next steps, then that healthy start will serve as a strong foundation for healthy learning more abstract and commercial skills at an appropriate developmental time,” said Associate Professor of Education Studies Julie Burke.

Though Burke expressed caution regarding educational approaches and the corporate nature of Sesame Street in general, she noted a hopeful curiosity about the initiative.

“I like the idea of helping children achieve some stability and normalcy in their lives,” said Burke. “I like the idea that they will have something constructive to focus on in groups with adults who can provide the structure and stability.”

That structure and stability could create hope for children in a difficult situation.

“The main thing for me is that it’s a spark, a hope, an opportunity that could lead to success,” Said Hildreth.