Throughout the pandemic, children faced a number of struggles, but it wasn't only in traditional school subjects where kids fell behind. Emotional development lagged since they couldn't meet up with peers.
"If you think about the pandemic, there were a few pretty obvious implications for families and for children depending where in the world, and where in the country, they lived," said Neal Shenoy, CEO and co-founder of early learning programmer BEGiN. "A lot of children were isolated. Many children have not had the traditional experience of going to a physical school and interacting with other children or another teacher."
Now Sesame Workshop and BEGiN are teaming up on an app that will help children catch up. Learn with Sesame, which features characters from Sesame Street, has academic lessons and emotional experiences to help children develop critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities. About two dozen social-emotional activities let young kids explore the in-app neighborhoods. They can address kindness and empathy at the Playground, explore different cultural foods at Hooper's Store, and learn about solving problems at the Community Center.
"Social-emotional learning is a lot about a child's exploration of feelings and friendships," Shenoy said. "Apps can be a very powerful mechanism to learn that."
According to the CDC, before the pandemic one out of six children between the ages of 2 and 8 in the U.S. had been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. During the pandemic, global levels of child and adolescent depression and anxiety spiked to 25.2 percent and 20.5 percent according to a study published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal.
The Learn with Sesame experiences are aimed at children between 2 and 5, which are critical ages for development.
"These years set the foundations for a child's mental health, and interruptions to the developmental process can have devastating effects," said Akimi Gibson, Sesame Workshop vice president and education publisher. "With the impact of the pandemic being felt in families and communities around the world, we are deepening our focus on children's emotional health and well-being in order to help ensure that every child can grow up smarter, stronger, and kinder."
The non-profit Sesame Workshop has always focused on emotional education, points out Gibson.
"As a research-driven nonprofit that is always evolving to take on the most relevant and important issues facing kids, we know that mental health is top of mind for families today and that there is an important role for the Workshop to play," she said. "As we address mental health and emotional wellbeing in a more direct manner with this app and future resources, families can continue to find support for social-emotional health reflected in our resources and content, whether on the show or interactive apps, in formal learning curricula, or any of the myriad of ways kids and families are accessing Sesame Street today."