Musical Insight from Sesame Street

If you watched Sesame Street as a child, you know a big part of the show is music.

Sesame Street has been producing songs for the past 50 years.  It first aired in 1969.  The television show went on to redefine how you could use TV and music to teach kids. 

Sesame Street's strategy of using music to teach kids proved a success.  How did they do it?  They wrapped educational learning with catchy songs.

With Sesame Street's musical success came a long list of stars that made guest appearances.  Stevie Wonder with Grover.  Loretta Lynn with the Count.  Smokey Robinson with the letter U. Chance the Rapper with Elmo.  The list goes on and on.

Sesame Street has proven that music can be lots of fun, while teaching children at the same time.  The show has brought the musical and educational worlds together. 

The writers and producers at Sesame Street also understand how today's kids are wired

"Little kids have short attention spans.  If it's too talky, you're going to lose them.  Christine Ferraro, Sesame Street writer."

Amen to that.  If only churches could understand this concept, you'd have a lot more kids excited about coming to church, rather than staring at the clock, waiting to break free.

The song writers of Sesame Street write songs that are "catchy."  The goal is to hear kids humming the song that week.

Once a song is written for Sesame Street, it must pass the kid test.  Sherman, who is one of the song producers for the show, takes the demo tape home and has his two daughters, 6 and 8 years old, listen to it.  Sherman watches their response and listens to see if they are humming or singing the tune after the show is over.  If the kids aren't singing or humming the song afterwards, then he will usually throw it away and start over.

There are several things we can learn from Sesame Street in the area of music for children at church.

Let's look at a few ideas and strategies and see what we can use for our ministries.
  • Music is powerful.  It can shape the future of kids.  Never underestimate how important it is to engage kids in worship.
  • Music can be used to teach kids God's Word and truth.  Be intentional when you choose your songs.
  • Music can be fun and worshipful at the same time.  If the kids in your ministry (especially 5th grade boys) aren't singing, it may be time to look for some different songs. 
  • We need to stop trying to get kids to sing "adult" songs.  One trend I have noticed over the past 5 years is worship leaders trying to lead kids to sing worship songs that were written for adults.  Choosing songs that are "too long" and "boring" for kids.  The result?  Kids just stand there because many of the songs are over their head.  Whatever happened to fun songs that engaged kids?  Songs like "Every Move I Make" and "I Get Down and He Lifts Me Up" and "Jesus Be the Center."  Yes, these songs are older ones, but at least kids will sing them instead of standing there trying to decipher songs that are not composed or written with them in mind. 
  • Who is leading the worship matters.  Many children's ministries make the mistake of having all girls leading worship.  That won't cut it, if you are trying to get 4-5 grade boys to sing.  They need to see some high school and young adult men helping lead.
  • We need to judge success by one simple test.  Look at the kids during the time of worship.  Are the kids singing?  Are they just standing there?  Are they engaged or zoned out?   
  • Our goal should be for the music to be "catchy."  It stays with the kids all week.  Are they humming it on the way to school?  Are they singing it while they are doing their chores?
  • Are we honoring kids' attention spans.  Sesame Street's programming is made up of short segments that play one after another.  The brevity of the segments keeps the kids engaged.
If Big Bird and the Grouch and Elmo can use music to impact kids with earthly knowledge, then how much more should we be commited to impacting kids with songs that bring glory and honor to our eternal Father.

Your turn.  What are your thoughts about today's worship for kids?  Is it working?  Does it need to be changed?  Is it fine the way it is?  Share your insight in the comment section below.