PRE-SCHOOL MONTH: Elmo helping toddlers with early maths skills

The importance of meaningful characters for toddlers' early learning underlined by new research.
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New research in the US has found that using characters, such as Sesame Street's Elmo, helps toddlers pick up simple tasks quicker.

Researchers from the Children's Digital Media Center at Georgetown University found that toddlers performed a sequencing task better when an Elmo toy puppet demonstrated it than when an unfamiliar puppet performed the same task.

The findings suggest that studies of infant and toddler learning from videos, which often rely on using unfamiliar adults, may be underestimating what children can learn from onscreen characters who matter to them.

The 21 month old toddlers in the study were divided into three groups. One group watched a video of an Elmo toy puppet placing nesting cups inside each other, another group viewed a video of an unfamiliar puppet doing the same task, while the third group did not watch a video.

Both the videos with the puppets were the same in every other way - each was four minutes long with identical actions, verbal instructions and the same Elmo-like voice.

The toddlers who watched the Elmo puppet were able to sequence the nesting cups significantly better than those who observed the other puppet or who didn't see a demonstration. Nesting the cups is a way of organising information by size.

Those that saw the Elmo puppet were also more likely to smile and say the character's name than those who saw the unfamiliar puppet.

Dr Lewis Bernstein, EVP, education, research and outreach at Sesame Workshop, said: "For over 40 years we have used our Muppet characters as joyful and predictable models of learning, exploration and curiosity. Children and adults alike have developed strong relationships with them, providing Sesame Street with the opporunity to convey strong educational and entertaining messages."



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