'Sesame Street' teaches military kids about resilience
May 8, 2014
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md (May, 2014) -- The library technician at the Post Library Annex greeted mothers and their children as they came into the main room.
Chairs were pushed against the wall for parents to sit on while children played on a brightly colored area rug as they waited for a special edition of Storytime.
Garrison Commander Col. Brian P. Foley joined the children for Storytime on April 17 and read two books to the enthusiastic audience. The children laughed and counted along during Foley's reading of "Count the Monkeys" while their mothers looked on.
Families were invited to a special screening of Sesame Workshop's "Little Children, Big Challenges," after the readings. The video is meant to teach children and their parents resilience techniques, and is part of a complete tool kit, which includes a guidebook for parents, and access to a resilience app, "Breathe. Think. Do," for smartphones and tablets.
"Our motto here is when the parent deploys, the whole family deploys," said Lynn Chwatsky, vice president of community and family engagement at Sesame Workshop. "We believe that there is a service member, but the whole family serves."
On May 16, the "Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families" will perform two free showings at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. at McGill Training Center, 8452 Zimborski Ave.
Anja Young, a former military child and actress who lived on Fort Meade, plays Katie.
Doors will open 30 minutes prior to each performance.
Chwatsky is in charge of overseeing Sesame Workshop's military family initiative project and community engagement, identifying a community and addressing its unmet needs with media and other resources starring "Sesame Street" muppets.
The purpose of the LCBC tool kit is to encourage children to talk about or express their feelings, and show how parents can engage in a dialogue with their children during difficult times, like during a long separation, Chwatsky said.
"We realize that when we are talking to young children and school-aged children, we know that you can't just talk to these children, you have to talk to the adults in their lives," she said.
The video, starring Elmo, shows children how to react to the possibility of a long separation, how to deal with frustration, sibling rivalry, and learning and persistence.
The accompanying booklet for parents and caregivers outlines ways for adults to introduce new strategies for difficult situations, adding to the video with topics like dealing with aggressive behavior and moving.
These basic tenets of resilience help teach children self-regulation, Chwatsky said.
"We are giving them those skills and tools to get through those moments, and then hopefully the skills that they develop to get through those moments will then help them through life, through some of life's easier [and] more difficult challenges," she added.
Emily Tower, married to Maj. Daniel Tower, thought the video was especially appropriate because her husband is leaving for school in a few weeks. Their 3-year-old daughter Allison liked the video.
"We learned a good word - 'strategy' - didn't we?" Tower asked her daughter after the video. "We can come up with some strategies to survive the summer."
Tower said this is Allison's second long separation from her father, but the youngster doesn't quite understand what will happen when her dad leaves. The video encourages families to come up with funny ways of saying goodbye and emphasizes that the caregiver will return, which will be one of Tower's summer strategies.
Chwatsky said it's not just children who benefit from the program.
"We're seeing these adults benefiting from this because you, as an adult, are empowered with tools you help to build resiliency in your child," she said. "It's actually building your resilience too, knowing you have the tools to help children."
Danette Simmons, who attended with her son Conner, 5, was reminded of how to help her children during difficult times.
"Instead of just saying 'bye' and then out the door, you know, take time and then spend a little more time talking about [the situation]," Simmons said.
Conner, whose dad is Sgt. 1st Class Robert Simmons, said the video was good before growing too shy to say anything else.
One of the eldest children at the event, Jameson Holyoak, enjoyed the video as well. He believes what he learned will enable him to help his mother Rebecca with his younger brother when their dad leaves for work.
Calvin gets sad when his father Senior Airman Michael Holyoak leaves for the night shift.
"These kids are serving, too," Chwatsky said. "These resilience skills are going to help them through everything. It's going to help them through these little everyday things that we were talking about, but it is also going to help with the bigger things like when a parent deploys."
Chwatsky emphasized that the tool kit is available across multimedia platforms, and resilience videos are posted on the Sesame Workshop website and YouTube. The program is also available in Spanish.
"Our children are our future. Our Soldiers' children are our future leaders of our military and our Army, and we want to help them and get them as prepared for life as possible," she said.