BTN LiveBIG: UW professor, Sesame Workshop help kids

Julie Poehlmann

“Lots of families didn’t know how to talk about it. Does a 3-year-old really understand when one of their parents in is jail?”

Helping children process their parent’s incarceration is an issue University of Wisconsin Professor Julie Poehlmann has been grappling with for more than 15 years. And for the last few years, she has been developing a unique way of communicating with children about some tough life questions.

Three years ago, Poehlmann was approached by developers at the Sesame Workshop to help produce a resiliency program for young kids. Using some familiar characters from the television program “Sesame Street” and a new Muppet named Alex, they created a kit that helps parents and caregivers explain unfortunate circumstances.

The kits, which became available this summer, are free and can be found on the program’s website. The project recently received a government grant to help fund additional research into the success of these materials.

“There’s a Muppet video and an animated video about a kid’s visit to a correctional facility on the accompanying DVD,” Poehlmann said.

In the coming months, Poehlmann will study how interactions between kids and incarcerated parents are impacted by the materials. She noted that Wisconsin is one of 10 pilot states that will distribute the materials at correctional facilities.

Poehlmann shared they’re already seeing exciting results.

“Seeing kids watch the DVD and light up thinking ‘I’m not alone. There’s a Muppet that has this in their life,’” Poehlmann said. “Kids see Muppets as other kids. Seeing their experience change is really exciting.”

The Sesame Workshop has produced materials dealing with a number of life situations, and they’re all available for free through their website. To see their incredible work, go to: http://www.sesameworkshop.org.

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