Area students participate in update of ‘Shalom Sesame’
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Area students participate in update of ‘Shalom Sesame’

Children's reactions will guide program-planners

Children really do learn from well-produced educational television programs, says Teaneck resident Shalom Fisch, who has done research in the field for more than 25 years.

Fisch, president and founder of MediaKidz Research & Consulting, is working with three area schools to gauge the effectiveness of the TV program “Shalom Sesame.”

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Shalom Fisch

His company, which is doing research both in Israel and the United States, will provide the information needed to update that program and its Israeli counterpart, “Rehov Sumsum.”

The former vice president for program research at Sesame Workshop, Fisch was in charge of educational content and “kid testing” for television shows, websites, and magazines. Based on that work, he wrote “‘G’ Is for Growing: Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street” (co-edited with Rosemarie Truglio, 2001) and “Children’s Learning from Educational Television: Sesame Street and Beyond” (2004).

The Sesame Workshop has now asked the Teaneck resident to do a set of studies “to find out what kids in Israel are learning from ‘Rehov Sumsum’ and what kids in the U.S. are learning from ‘Shalom Sesame.’ The old videos did a great job,” he said, “but it’s time to refresh them and bring them up to date.”

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Gerrard Berman Day School student Idan, age 5, plays a computer game as part of a research project gauging his knowledge about Israel. COURTESY GBDSSS

As part of his research, Fisch is working with two area preschools – the Shirley and Paul Pintel Nursery School of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/CBI and the nursery school at the Glen Rock Jewish Center. He is also doing research at the early childhood department of the Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey, in Oakland.

“We’re using a set of 12 DVDs and some games on a related website,” said the researcher. “The intent behind the project is to help enrich the children’s understanding of various aspects of Jewish culture and Israel,” looking at such topics as holidays, Hebrew, places in Israel, and mitzvot.

Targeting children ages 3 to 6, MediaKidz is providing DVDs and games for children to watch and play over a six-week period. The students will be interviewed at the beginning and end of the project.

“All three schools have been enormously warm and welcoming,” said Fisch, explaining that, “from their standpoint, they see it as a valuable set of enrichment tools.” He, in turn, “sees this as a terrific opportunity to really find out what kids do learn from this.”

The take-away for the children, he hopes, “is knowledge and understanding, but also an attitudinal thing … to try to help the kids feel pride in their heritage and become more excited about it.” In addition, since the DVDs are available for home use, he sees the programs as a resource for parents as well as schools.

“We’re trying to find out what works,” he said. “And the kids and teachers all seem to be enjoying it.”

Susan Scher, director of Gerrard Berman’s early childhood department, said that researchers are working with both 3-year-olds and kindergarteners at the school.

While some toddlers have been “a bit reticent,” she said, most have been highly enthusiastic about participating in the project.

“Five-year-old Molly said she likes the beginning of the DVD because the song is so much fun to listen to, while Gali, also 5, said he had fun seeing Grover fly to Israel. Brandon, 3, told me he just likes everything,” she said.

“They interviewed the kids on [March 29],” she added. “It was adorable. They asked them questions like, ‘Do you think any of these people are Jewish?’ and showed them pictures. Or they said something like, ‘Pretend you’re flying on an airplane to Israel. What would you see there?'”

“The kids are thrilled,” she said. “We prepared them, telling them we would have special visitors and they had their parents’ permission to talk to them. We also told them [this was about] a Jewish Sesame Street.” Parents of participating children are excited about the project as well, she added.

Scher noted that the school’s regular curriculum focuses heavily on Israel and that every class has at least one Hebrew speaker. All of the teachers are fluent in the language, she said.

The early childhood director said she hopes participation in the project will help the children understand more about Israel.

“Some are not familiar with it,” she said. This will help “build a little bridge to enhance what they’re being taught. Hearing an Israeli child talk takes them to the country. It’s very exciting. It will enhance the curriculum.”

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