Wanderlust, Sesame Street Style

The song that sparked decades of wanderlust.

The song that sparked decades of wanderlust.

We humans never are too young to experience wanderlust. Which means it’s perfectly understandable that Sesame Street incorporated “Travel Tips” segments into its shows from the 1980s and 1990s. And that it’s perfectly reasonable for a modern-day family travel blogger to play them for his kids.

This, of course, is what led me this week to share with the girls “Antarctica,” a classic Sesame Street jingle off the “We Are All Earthlings” record from 1990.

I admit it, I’m a HUGE fan of old-school (Jim) Henson stuff. So when the girls expressed interest in them after we got back from London, I hit the archives to find some of the best bits I remembered from my childhood. “Earthlings” was No. 1 on the list. A close No. 2: The tune about the continent at the South Pole, a ditty that originally was advertised as part of the “Sesame Street Travel Tips” series.

Think of the song as a kid-oriented advertisement for a trip to Antarctica. In it, two Anything Muppets team up with a group of penguins to sing about the snowy, icy, and chilly destination where people “dine on blubber spread on toast” and “nights…are six months long.”

All the while, Wolfgang the Seal provides background trumpet music.

In the end, after the warning to not “be left out OF the cold,” all of the characters are blown away by cold arctic winds.

While this may not be a perfect picture of what life on Antarctica is really like, it certainly teaches kids about the destination, and certainly will pique their interest. Just like all age-appropriate travel stories should.

In any event, my girls have heard the song and they love it. Here (embedded) is the video. And below that, in all of their glory, are the lyrics.

If you’re sick of being hot,
Why not try a place that’s not: Antarctica.
Where all you see is snow and ice
The new vacation paradise: Antarctica.
Let seals and penguins be your hosts
And dine on blubber spread on toast
You’ll love the icy barren coasts of Antarctica
 
Don’t get much sun, it doesn’t matter,
You’ll love the way your teeth will chatter in Antarctica
Nightlife’s great, you can’t go wrong
‘Cause nights down here are six months long in Antarctica
If you like it when it’s snowing
And the icy winds are blowing
Just head south and keep on going to Antarctica
 
Well there’s no hotel here, hey, just bring a tent
It’s really swell here on the frozen continent.
Want to shudder, shake, and shiver
Come to us, ‘cause we deliver…Antarctica
 
Put your summer plans on hold
Don’t be left out of the cold of Antarctica
You say the kids are out of school
Forget the beach, forget the pool
It’s really, really, really cool in Antarctica!

When Free Is Best

Looking down on the (family-friendly) trout count.

Looking down on the (family-friendly) trout count.

Here in the heart of California’s Wine Country, we locals have plenty of options to spend big bucks on a family-friendly day out and about. We can take the tour at the Safari West animal park in Santa Rosa. We can rent a cabine near the day-use pool at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. Heck, we even can hop over the Mayacamas Mountains and pay to see the inside of the castle at Castello di Amorosa winery in Calistoga.

Again, all of these activities kick ass for families. They also all require at least a few hours’ worth of cash.

Sometimes, however, the best options for those of us with young kids are the options that cost nothing at all. Case in point: Our family’s experience earlier today at the Milt Brandt Visitors’ Center and Fish Hatchery near Lake Sonoma in our hometown of Healdsburg.

We went for the trout; despite our drought-like conditions here, the Steelhead are running and I figured at the very least we might spot some of those buggers as they swam up the fish ladder toward the hatchery itself. What we encountered, however, was far more incredible—and something (at least) L will remember for the rest of her life.

If you who don’t know much about fisheries, hatcheries like this one breed fish and release a certain number back into the wild every year in an attempt to control (read: stabilize) population growth. As part of this process, scientists keep tabs of the fish that return to see how many are repeat customers.

This means every year researchers tap a small sample of returning fish to a) check and see if they’ve been tagged previously, and b) keep track of what percentage of them are females.

At Lake Sonoma, they open this process to the public. And we managed to luck into seeing it first-hand.

To a large part, our good fortune was attributable to being in the right place at the right time; when we arrived at the hatchery catwalks (most people look down from here), a group was witnessing the count down on the laboratory floor. When they left, I ignorantly yelled down and asked the biologists if we could be next.

Technically, the answer should have been a resounding no. But because we were just four, and because our littler two found the process fascinating, the researchers let us down.

There on the floor, face-to-face with trout the size of their torsos, the girls were terrified and enthralled at the same time. R kept pointing to the creatures, yelling, “Big fishy!” and “Why isn’t that fishy swimming in the ocean?” L observed intently with her mouth agape, occasionally requesting to move back when she thought a flailing fish might splash her (she does NOT like to get splashed).

We watched as the biologists did their jobs, using a standard-issue hole-puncher to punch holes in the tails of first-time visitors, measuring the specimens, then separating the fish by sex and launching each sex down a different chute (the chutes fed two different holding pens).

The four of us stayed inside the hatchery for the better part of an hour. The girls likely could have stayed longer. But the researchers had to go on lunch.

We spent the rest of our visit walking up and down the fish ladder, ogling fish as they swam upstream and listening to chirping birds in the unseasonably warm morning air. Later, we walked across the street to an often-deserted playground, where, after the girls ran around like maniacs, the four of us had a picnic lunch.

All told, the experience set us back $16—the price for two stuffed birds in the Visitor Center gift shop. Considering how much we all learned about trout, considering how much the girls have talked about the day all afternoon, I’d say it was a great way to spend a day in Wine Country.

What are some of your favorite free (or budget) family activities near your home?

Learning about Learning on the Road

Who needs classrooms when you have this?

Who needs school when you have this?

Nothing embodies my perspective on education quite like the line from Springsteen’s “No Surrender” (off Born in the U.S.A., of course): “We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, then we ever learned in school.”

I certainly held this philosophy in journalism school; even then, I knew my parents were paying to hook me up with an alumni network, and that the real education would come on internships along the way.

Now, as a parent, my wife and I embrace the same sentiment with regard to family travel.

Yes, we regret pulling our kids out of their respective schools (click here for some tips). Yes, we recognize that, in terms of our nation’s standards-based curriculum, these absences create additional challenges (both for our girls and for the teachers). We even acknowledge that there are some social ramifications of our girls being “those girls” who jet off to Yosemite or New York or the Cotswolds.

Despite all of these issues, we still think exploring through travel is the best way to teach our kids about their world.

I’ve been pondering this subject a lot lately.

My wife and I are moving the girls to London for four months this fall, and, this week, we signed a lease on a fabulous two-story flat (it’s in Maida Vale, for those of you scoring at home).

Then, earlier this week, my buddy, Rainer Jenss, wrote this thought-provoking story for AFAR magazine about his experiences on a one-year round-the-world journey with his wife and sons (who were 8 and 11, respectively, at the time).

In the story, Rainer explains his rationale for pulling his kids out of school for the trip like this: “One of the primary reasons we chose to take a yearlong sabbatical with our kids was to enhance their education; to help them learn things no [school] could ever teach them.” Then, he offers this:

    “We all want our children to excel academically. One surefire way to improve their chances for success is to get them more engaged and interested in what they’re being taught. Science: Check out the glaciers at Yellowstone, hike a volcano in Hawaii, or snorkel in the Caribbean or the Great Barrier Reef. History: Visit Colonial Williamsburg, vacation in Rome, or tour Egypt. Social Studies: How about China, India, or, of course, Washington, D.C.”

To be clear: Turning family vacations into learning experiences takes hard work.

You can’t just sloth by the pool all day; you need to be engaged with your kids for pretty much all of their waking hours. You also often need to be engaged well after they’ve gone to bed. The day before I introduced L to Muir Woods National Monument near our home, I was up until 2 a.m. studying stuff to tell her about redwoods. I’m sure I wasn’t the first dad to play that game.

All of this effort usually pays huge dividends. My older daughter still talks about the Sequoia sempervirens she saw that day at Muir Woods. Rainer writes about how one of his sons fell in love with photography after being exposed to it on their year-long trip.

Heck, I think even The Boss would agree (that first record led to a few others).

So get out there. And embrace that learning can happen in any place, at any time, about any subject. Recognizing these truths arguably is the most important education your kids ever will get. It’s also not a lesson they’ll ever learn in the traditional classroom environment.

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