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Help Your Military Kid by Hanging Out With Elmo

Explaining military life to little children – that Daddy is going to leave (and come back!), that we are going to move (again), that even though all of this seems crazy you are still safe and loved – is really hard. Are they even listening? Are you really getting through?

Sometimes I think the only “person” whose every word my 4-year-old hears is red, furry and refers to himself in the third person.

Yes, Elmo.

Which is why when the Sesame Street USO tour comes to town we are the first people in line for tickets. We saw the currently touring production, which takes PCSing heads-on, right before we moved. When we switched houses I was able to reference his red buddy. And somehow it made things better.

At five years the Sesame Street USO experience is the longest running USO entertainment tour in history. The Sesame Street USO tour 2o13 is hitting up some more remote or less visited bases overseas. You can see a full list of the tour locations and dates here.

When the creative types at the Sesame Workshop sit down to think through a project, like their Talk, Listen, Connect DVD series for children with deploying parents, their recent tool kit for children whose parents are incarcerated or their USO shows, they sit down with experts. They sit down with people who have been there.

And they come up with fun, entertaining and not-so-slyly informative productions that speak exactly in a way little kids need to hear.

“We know Muppets … we know kids and we know media. But when you look at specific topics we don’t know that,” said Lynn Chwatsky, vice president of outreach initiatives and partners for Sesame Workshop. “What we do is we get experts to guide us through the project from the second the project is conceived all through the project.”

Full disclosure: I grew-up on Sesame Street. My pretend friend was named “Cookie Monster.” My first sentence was repeating something Oscar said. In my book the Muppets are about as awesome as they come. In fact, without Elmo’s potty time app I’m pretty sure my 4-year-old would still be in diapers.

I didn’t know it when I was a toddler, but I appreciate things that are based on research. According to a recent review of 170 family readiness programs at the Defense Department, only 31 percent of them are research based. Huh?

But when Sesame Street pulls together a team of people to come up with just what a show for kids who are dealing with a PCS should include, they are gathering evidence, information and research. They are doing it right. And when the USO is involved we know that it will hit the support target right on the bulls-eye.

For the USO tour they even created a new Muppet military kid character – Katie – who is dealing with the same stuff the audience is. Here’s a video of some of the same show we attended at Fort Campbell last year.

About 375,000 people – kids, parents, family – have attended one of the Sesame Street USO shows since they started touring five years ago, Chwatsky told me. They’ve preformed 631 shows on 145 military installations in 33 states and 11 countries. It’s a singing, dancing, great messaging and an on-your-feet audience experience.

If you have a chance to go, do not miss this great production.

Photo credit: The USO

About Amy Bushatz

Amy is the managing editor of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is an Associate Editor. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on NPR and in the New York Times. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.