Television Must Teach

By the late 1960s groups like ACT (Action for Children’s Television) began to question television’s impact on children. New programming, especially public television series like Sesame Street, pioneered new ways to entertain and educate youngsters. Following years of criticism and activism, in 1990 Congress passed the Children’s Television Act, requiring television stations to air a number of hours of educational programming for children. New television programs taught life skills like inclusion and kindness, and some inspired kids to discover science and technology.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, 1966–2001

An early pioneer of educational public television, Fred Rogers used his honest, warm persona to teach children about themselves and their neighborhoods. Episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood featured visits to The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where puppet characters like King Friday and Daniel Tiger faced everyday problems.

Sweater, around 1970s

At the beginning of every episode, Mister Rogers would change into a knit cardigan sweater. Rogers’ mother knit the sweaters.
Gift of Fred Rogers

View object record

A Place of Our Own cassette, 1984

From the show’s miniature model of a town, made to resemble his hometown of Pittsburgh, to interviews with workers, Mister Rogers taught children about their neighborhoods.
Gift of Fred Rogers

Sesame Street, 1969–present

Sesame Street premiered in 1969 and has won accolades for its innovative approach to educational television. The nonprofit Children’s Television Workshop designed Sesame Street for underserved viewers who might not attend preschool. The show’s diverse cast of live actors joined Muppets to teach the basics of reading, writing, math, and life skills.

Oscar the Grouch puppet and trash can, around 1989

Despite his grouchiness, Oscar the Grouch demonstrates the values of inclusion and kindness.
Gift of Muppets, Inc. (through David V. B. Britt and Children's Television Workshop)

View object record
Prairie Dawn puppet, around 1990s 

Prairie Dawn puppet, around 1990s 

Prairie Dawn is a seven-year-old Muppet girl with big dreams. She learns about life while working on pageants and playing piano.
Gift of the Family of Jim Henson: Lisa Henson, Cheryl Henson, Brian Henson, John Henson, and Heather Henson

Somebody Come and Play record, 1974

Music has always been an important part of Sesame Street, and records like this one became best-sellers.
Gift of Stacey Kluck

Bill Nye the Science Guy, 1993–1998

Engineer and comedian Bill Nye developed a fast-paced, humorous science education program for Seattle public television in 1993. Still struggling to meet the educational requirements of the 1990 Children’s Television Act, networks picked up Bill Nye the Science Guy. The show won acclaim for its entertaining approach to science education.

Lab coat and bow tie, around 1990s

Bill Nye, a comedian and engineer, dressed the part of the laboratory scientist with his lab coat and signature bow ties.
Gift of Bill Nye

Daytime Emmy Award, 1998

Bill Nye the Science Guy won nineteen Emmy Awards during its five-season run.
Gift of Bill Nye

Way Cool Game O’ Science, around 1990s

By the 1990s children’s television merchandise was more popular than ever, but many tie-ins, like this science game, were educational.
Gift of Bill Nye

Clifford the Big Red Dog, 2000–2003

Adapted from the popular series of children’s books by Norman Bridwell, Clifford the Big Red Dog aired on PBS. Clifford is caring, helpful, and loyal to his owner, Emily Elizabeth, but he sometimes runs into trouble due to his large size. The program taught viewers how to deal with everyday problems and to build relationships.

Clifford Learning Activities CD-Rom, 2001

Clifford Learning Activities CD-Rom, 2001

By the 2000s interactive media like this Clifford CD-Rom helped reinforce children’s television’s educational messages.
Gift of Norma E. H. Bridwell