Sesame Street seems to get a little hipper and a little cooler every year. Full of A-list guests stars, fun parodies (Upside Downtown Abbey and True Mud, anyone?), and lessons covering everything from letters to lettuce, numbers to nanotechnology, I know that I didn’t fully appreciate the show until my kids were too old to watch.
That being said, as we roll through the first month of summer break, many of us may have reached our limit when it comes to screen time and plugged-in fun. Personally, we adopted a “technology” binge approach to the first week or so of vacation, it’s time to see more actual sunlight, and less “Minecraft” created sunlight.
Sesame Street and the National Park Service have recently teamed up to film and produce six short videos about the national parks. In the videos, available online, fan favorites Elmo and Murray the Monster set out to visit some national parks and explore the wildlife they find there.
The videos encourage curious preschoolers to apply some basic scientific principles to their adventures, and while originally designed for preschoolers, the concepts and programs can be adapted for any age and any outdoor green space.
According to the researchers at Sesame Workshop, the educational and curriculum development department of Sesame Street, nature and scientific-related videos previously produced and aired by Sesame Street have been an effective method to getting kids as young as three to use and comprehend complex scientific vocabulary and principles, like metamorphous and hypothesis. By using the videos as a jumping off point, and then incorporating some of the teachable moments into arts and crafts, free play, and daily discussions, preschoolers develop an understanding of and a respect for plants, animals, flowers, and environmental stewardship. Activities like scavenger hunts, can be adapted for older kids so they can explore the great outdoors as well.
Three of the six videos chronicle Elmo and Murray’s adventures in the Grand Canyon, and three highlight Gateway National Recreational area, an urban park in New York City. While we aren’t close to a national park here along the Emerald Coast, there are a number of fantastic state parks that offer plenty of opportunity to explore and engage with the natural world. Both Henderson Beach State Park and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park provide plenty of room for walking, biking, beaching, and picnicking. Designed to be family friendly, they serve as the perfect backdrop for you and your kids undergo your own park adventure.
Additionally, both parks have a couple of special events on the calendar for later in the summer. On July 5, The Northwest Florida Astronomy Association is hosting a free Public Sky View event at Topsail. A number of differently sized and designed telescopes will be available for use, and local astronomy experts and aficionados will be on hand to answer questions and point you in the right direction.
What you see is largely decided by the seasons, and the clarity of the sky, but viewings often expose bright galaxies, nebulae, planets, and star clusters. Visitors are welcome to bring both their own telescopes and children, but please keep a close eye on both.
If your interest in nature is more terrestrial, you won’t want to miss the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge’s presentation at Henderson Beach State Park on July 11. Alex and Harper have seen this a number of times, and are equal parts enthralled by and frightened of Trike, the three-legged squirrel. During the presentation, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge volunteers and staff introduce the audience to some of their favorite rescued animals, share the animal’s rescue story, and underline the importance of taking care of nature and the environment. During the presentation, brave viewers can get up close and personal with a number of the animals.
Both the astronomy program and the Wildlife Refuge program are free, and open to the public, although state beach fees apply. Since Topsail closes at dusk, you’ll want to make sure you are there well before, so you don’t get left out of the stargazing. I’ll be looking forward to both these events, and while I send the kids outside to play or off to camp this week, I might just have to watch Birdwalk Empire and RSI: Rhyme Scene Investigators on YouTube.
Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at www.emeraldcoasttreasurebox.com.