Monday, May 4, 2015

Jim Henson : Why I Love Him More Now That I'm An Adult

If you follow my instagram, you've seen my love for Mr. Jim Henson posted a couple of times.  I voice my admiration for him during discussions with friends and family.  But this isn't some childhood love of the man who created the infamous characters on Sesame Street that has followed me throughout my entire life. This admiration is fairly recent.  I didn't fully appreciate Jim or his creations until I had my son.

My son was never a calm child.  He was a fussy baby.  He can have difficult moments even for a toddler. Don't get me wrong - hes a very sweet, happy, bright, friendly, extremely energetic kid that lights up any room he enters.  But that vibrance that's present during his joyous times, is also present during his times of frustration.  My son doesn't do anything half way. So if he's going to express his frustration or agitation, he's going to express it fully.

When my son was an infant, I would do anything to stop his crying.  He had GI issues and was in pain often.  This is horrible for any parent to experience.  Sometimes, as much as I tried to comfort him, his crying would persist. He was inconsolable more times than any mom would have liked. That is, until the first time I turned on Sesame Street for him.  For the next several months, during those periods of pain and discomfort, Sesame Street was the only thing that stopped his crying. And it was immediate. He could be screaming his head off but as soon as Sesame Street came on, he was silently watching with wide eyes and interest. THIS was the first time I silently thanked Jim Henson.  I felt truly grateful for this man, his company, and his muppets.

Because my son was so into Sesame Street, I started to research the show.  I knew it was educational and meant for babies and young children, but I was still interested in learning more about it since there is such a stigma attached to kids watching T.V.   I felt much better after completing my research. I also realized I had a couple more people to be thankful for: Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett.

 Fun, encouraging facts from my research are below:

- Sesame Street was originally created to "master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them"

- It was the first television show to include a detailed educational curriculum with measurable outcomes

- Each character, each episode is tested and researched before being released to make sure it effectively educates children, the intended message is being communicated effectively to children, and that there are no ill effects or messages it may send to young children.  Child psychologists and early childhood education experts are a big part of this process.  

- They take their research seriously. Sesame Street is known for tackling tough life situations in their books and T.V. episodes- including death, divorce, and even...parent incarceration.  But if the research comes back that the episode/book isn't effective in positively addressing the issue at hand with children, they scrap it.  For example, there was an episode filmed where Snuffy's parents got divorced.  Research came back that it would negatively affect its young viewers and not get the intended message across. So the episode was scrapped and never aired.

- Sesame Street focuses not only on teaching kids "reading, writing, and arithmetic," but also social skills- how to handle different social situations and conflicts. 

- The show also features children and adults with different disabilities (or who are differently abled) in both their set filmed scenes and street scenes.  This exposes children to people who may be different than them. It also allows children who are differently abled to view others "like them" on T.V.  This is a great educational tool for promoting acceptance of others, self acceptance, and reducing the fear of something or someone different (that unfortunately seems to be apart of human nature.)

- While you may be annoyed by Elmo and his antics, his character is supposed to represent love.  This is why the character expresses his love for others often.  One of his many catch phrases is "Elmo loves you."

- Though many adults joke about Bert and Ernie's friendship being much more,  the characters are meant to illustrate that you can be friends (or even "best friends")  with someone who is different than you. (If you pay attention you'll notice Bert and Ernie are pretty much opposites personality wise and have many different interests.)

While Cooney and Morrisett are to thank for the educational format of Sesame Street, I very much doubt the show would be as captivating without the imagination of Jim Henson.  My son recently graduated from Sesame Street (though he still enjoys it) to Kermit the Frog and the original Muppet Movie (he's not fond of the sequels.) The Muppet Movie has such a positive message of following your dreams and believing in yourself.  It focuses on the journey and remaining positive throughout the bumps in the road.  It has become one of my favorite family movies to watch.  Again, I feel grateful for Jim Henson, his outlook, and his mission to bring happiness and positivity to others.

So, while I certainly paid zero attention to who Jim Henson was when I was a child, I now see how much of an innovator he was.  Even though he is gone, I still find him and his work inspiring and I'm thankful that this man had decided to take a chance, be different, and enrich the lives of those around him while doing what he loved.

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