‘Sesame Street’ launches a podcast to help educate kids

What has more letters than the alphabet? That’s easy: The post office. That joke — sponsored by the letter A — is a highlight of the first original podcast from “Sesame Street,” featuring music, interactive games and Muppets galore.

“The Sesame Street Podcast with Foley & Friends” is an offering on Audible that gives some screen-free educational entertainment to kids who may be having spotty school lessons during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We think it’s so important to have this other medium besides screens for playful, fun, engaging episodes that are also curriculum driven and really address the important educational needs for young children,” said Jennifer Schiffman Sanders, the director of content, education and research for Sesame Workshop.

The podcast is led by 6-year-old, exuberant Foley, “the sound-maker monster.” She’s joined by her sidekick, Mikee the Microphone, a microphone with googly eyes. Together they tell jokes, sing songs and host familiar guests from the neighborhood, like Elmo, Big Bird and Cookie Monster.

“Each podcast really focuses on school readiness skills,” said Schiffman Sanders. “It also addresses really critical social emotional skills like resilience and kindness, which is something we could all use a little more of these days.”

Each 15-minute episode will revolve around a different preschool-friendly topic, from vehicles and animals to birthdays and learning the alphabet. There are recurring moments, like “Elmo’s Joke of the Day,” songs and a game show.

“Today on the podcast we’re going to be talking all about the alphabet,” Foley says in the first episode. “I love those A, B, Cs,” replies Mikee.

The first guest is someone who especially likes the letter B — Big Bird. The letters A, B and C also join (“we don’t have room from D-Z,” they argue) For the A, we hear alligator sounds and for B there are balloon sounds.

Schiffman Sanders previously taught pre-school and helped “Sesame Street” transition from a visually vibrant TV show to an aural experience.

“I kept remembering, ‘OK, but if they can’t see it, how can we bring it to life? What do we need to do to keep children engaged?'” she said.

Foley, a new character, is voiced by Lindsey “Z” Briggs, a professional puppeteer since 2004 who, with her puppeteer husband, Chad Williams, created the company WonderSpark Puppets. She previously gave life to the Muppet Dalia for Sesame Workshop.

“I’ve always loved making different voices,” she said by phone from her family’s home in Springville, New York. “My whole life, I was always making funny sounds.”

Since her new gig is just voice work, Briggs doesn’t have to worry about manipulating puppets, lip synching or coordinating with a TV monitor. “For me, it’s super freeing,” she said. “Not having to think about almost half of that stuff is awesome.”

Briggs, as well as her husband and their two boys, 7, and 5, fled New York City during the lockdown to western New York. They’ve found an unusual place to create the podcast — their town’s fallout shelter. But they’ve made it work.

The podcast kicked off last week and there are 15 episodes, released Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sesame Workshop hopes families will listen together, whether in the car, making dinner or before bedtime.

“It’s been an absolute bright spot in the midst of everything that’s been happening. It’s been this one thing that I can look at and say, ‘But you know what? We did this amazing thing,'” Briggs said.