The ABCs of Back to School: A CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall for Families

TV review by
Ashley Moulton, Common Sense Media
The ABCs of Back to School: A CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall for Families TV Poster Image
Sesame Street special tackles 2020 back-to-school season.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Educational Value

This special emphasizes the importance of mask-wearing and social distancing, and touches on other topics like feeling anxious about going back to school. The special's length and number of topics might make it harder for little kids to comprehend.

Positive Messages

Adult experts and Muppets emphasize that even though school will look different this year, it can still be a great year and you can still learn a lot. They also talk about how it's okay to feel worried about school this year, but teachers and parents are doing a lot to make it safe for everyone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Muppets model positive attitudes towards school, mask-wearing, and learning both in-person and remotely. The human kids and adult experts are diverse across race, gender, and geographical location.

Violence & Scariness

COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that has caused over a million deaths worldwide.

Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The ABCs of Back to School: A CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall for Families special was originally aired during the fall back-to-school season of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It helps preschoolers, young elementary school students, and their parents navigate the challenges of going to school during the pandemic. Its positive outlook should calm young viewers and adults alike. Parents should note that the special is fairly long, and there are kid-oriented segments with the Muppets mixed in between expert interviews that will be boring for young kids. This is a great special to watch together so you can pause to talk about topics with your kids, while giving them a break between segments.

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What's the story?

THE ABCS OF BACK TO SCHOOL: A CNN/SESAME STREET TOWN HALL FOR FAMILIES was a live special about how families can prepare to go back-to-school during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was produced by CNN and Sesame Street and hosted by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Erica Hill, along with many of the Sesame Street Muppets. The Muppets do skits about things like wearing masks and how to set up a workspace for distance learning. Real kids and parents from around the United States send in pre-recorded questions via video, asking questions like "Does this mean the germs are gone?" and "When can we have birthday parties again?." Gupta and a panel of experts answer kids' and parents' questions around three main topics: how to go back to school safely, how to have a good school year while distance learning, and how to handle anxiety about school during the pandemic.

Is it any good?

This special does a great job of reinforcing good habits for kids doing both in-person and distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also aims to help kids with the uncertainties surrounding school, reassuring them that grown-ups are working hard to give them a good school year and that everyone's in this together. Kids will likely get a lot out of hearing other real kids' questions and knowing that other kids have the same worries and curiosities as they do. Seeing Muppets doing now-familiar things like wearing masks and showing off their makeshift bedroom desks also helps normalize the pandemic for young kids.

The ABCs of Back to School: A CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall for Families is quite long though, so young kids will probably lose interest if they try to watch it all in one sitting. Parents may ultimately feel unsatisfied by the experts' opinions, as there's still so much uncertainty around the pandemic and school, and experts are only offering their best guesses for how to proceed. Regardless, if parents and kids watch the special together, it can be a great conversation starter to help parents get an insight into kids' feelings during this unusual time.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what questions kids may have about going back to school during the pandemic. What topics did they bring up in The ABCs of Back to School: A CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall for Families? Is there anything your family is especially worried about? Is there anything you're excited about?

  • What are some ways school might be different during the 2020-2021 school year? What are some ways they'll be the same?

  • What's your family's plan for staying safe? If kids are going to school, what are some things we can all do to stay healthy?

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