Sesame Street's newest muppet Lily teaches kids about homelessness
The children's show wants to offer help to the growing number of young children who are experiencing homelessness.
The longest-running children's TV show teaches much more than just letters and numbers. It pioneered the idea that short snippets of information fused with humor and fun was the best way for preschool children to enjoy learning and studies have shown children who watch Sesame Street do better in school.
The show has been watched by 95 percent of all US preschoolers and with syndication in 140 countries. Sesame Street is the perfect venue to introduce tough emotional and societal issues in a way that is not threatening to young children.
Sesame Street has always had a mix of intergenerational racially diverse male and female characters who taught children that people and Muppets could be all the colors of the rainbow. And they all can get along on Sesame Street.
The show dealt with the sensitive concept of death when Will Lee who played Mr. Hooper passed away in 1982, and blended families when Rudy was introduced as Abby's new stepbrother. Julia (a friend of Elmo's) gently explained autism, and in 2011 the Muppet Lily arrived on Sesame Street who'd family didn't have enough to eat and that they sometimes have to go to a food bank.
Now, 7-year old Lily is helping children understand another reality that 2.5 million kids in the US are experiencing, homelessness. In the storyline, Lily is staying with friends on Sesame Street because her family has lost her home. Abby, Sofia, and Elmo are helping her to understand that being homeless is not her fault. In the first episode, Sofia tells Lily that, “home is more than a house or an apartment. Home is really where the love is.”
The show will not actually use the word homeless because of the negative connotations associated with the word. The letter H will signify hope, healing, and home.
By featuring Lily, the Sesame Street is showing homelessness form a child's perspective. With Lily and her friends promoting optimism, resiliency, and understanding they are modeling coping strategies for the children who are experiencing this in their own lives.
Lily and her friends are featured in videos, storybooks and interactive materials for families with preschool children according to a press release from Sesame Workshop the nonprofit educational organization that produces Sesame Street.
Free, bilingual materials are also being provided for teachers. Social workers, and healthcare professionals to help lessen the trauma and stigma that results from homelessness. The resources were created in a partnership with experts on the family homelessness and tested with parents and professionals.
In New York City, where Sesame Street is produced, one out of every ten school-aged children experienced homelessness last year, so the storyline of Lily sleeping in shelters, staying with relatives and staying with Sofia is their reality.
“We know children experiencing homelessness are often caught up in a devastating cycle of trauma—the lack of affordable housing, poverty, domestic violence, or other trauma that caused them to lose their home, the trauma of actually losing their home, and the daily trauma of the uncertainty and insecurity of being homeless,” Sherrie Westin, President of Global Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop said.
“We want to help disrupt that cycle by comforting children, empowering them, and giving them hope for the future. We want them to know that they are not alone, and home is more than a house or an apartment—home is wherever the love lives," said Westin.
“Sesame Street’s new initiative on homelessness is nothing short of transformative for those of us working to create a sense of stability and hope for families experiencing homelessness,” according to Barbara Duffield, member of Sesame Workshop’s advisory committee and Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, a national non-profit organization working to overcome homelessness through education.
Duffield stressed that SchoolHouse Connection would use the new materials to increase the identification of homeless children in educational settings and to increase support for children in homeless services and housing programs. Schoolhouse plans to increase the visibility of family homelessness to policymakers at all levels.
For Lily and all the homeless children, hopefully, this increased visibility of the children that suffer from homelessness will make H truly stand for home.