Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Out-of-this-World Kids' Show

Outer space is one of many things I know almost nothing about but am wildly interested in. Who doesn't want to know how many degrees it is on Venus? (900 degree F) Or what Mars is made of? (Rust) And since Primo’s second-favorite category of scientific inquiry is outer space (come on, nothing trumps chemistry), I decided to take him to the American Museum of Natural History on Sunday for one of the museum’s education programs called Dr. Nebula’s Planetary Vacation.

It was one of those times I feel supremely lucky to be a New York parent (circling the Upper West Side for 40 minutes beforehand looking for parking and then caving and using the insanely expensive lot, however, was one of the times I felt just the opposite).

The show is really top-notch, with a perky, dynamic woman playing the part of Scooter, Dr. Nebula’s lab assistant, and leading the kids in an hour-long exploration of our galaxy. It’s really interactive which keeps the kids engaged, even though what she’s covering is pretty sophisticated stuff. Or, I should qualify, it was sophisticated for me. To hear the kids respond to her questions, you’d think it was material they’d covered in nursery school. Seriously, kids today are so flipping smart.

Scooter would ask questions like: “Earth, Mars, Mercury and Venus are all made out of the same thing – what do you think it is?” and I’d be like, “Oh man, that’s a hard one. I’ve got nothing. Zip.” And about twenty kids would shout out, “Rock,” which was one hundred percent right.

Then she’d say, “Pluto isn’t made of rock or gas. What do you think it’s made of?” And I’m WRACKING my brain, totally clueless, for real, and this little 4 or 5 year-old goes, “Ice.”

Ice? Really? That wouldn’t have even been my sixth or seventh guess. I would have guessed plastic or polyester first.

“How many moons does Jupiter have? You, in the striped shirt.”

“Sixty three.”

“That’s absolutely correct!”

What are you people TEACHING your children at home?

But I know its not some super-secret science Kumon that’s infiltrating the pre-K crowd but just that kids are so unfettered by their inner critic, it allows them to be totally open to learning and thus, genius. I know this because Primo also knew all this stuff which I’ve never taught him, and which I am fairly certain his school has not even touched upon. He knew for instance that Mars is the planet fourth-farthest from the sun. So he got to be the one to put Mars on the Velcro map that Scooter was building with audience participation. He was thrilled. Big highlight.

After the planetary chart was complete, and Scooter had shared many fascinating facts about our galaxy (did you know that Uranus is comprised, in part, of methane, the gas found in cow’s farts? Don’t you feel just a little superior knowing that?) she set about making a comet. This was my favorite part. But please don’t try it at home kids: Mommy doesn’t want you getting into the ammonia and dry ice.

The show ended with Scooter constructing a planetary model using the audience as planets and asteroids and the sun, fitting these huge paper maiche planet hats on the kids and situating them around the theater. It rocked.

On the ride home, Primo told David all about the sulfuric acid on Venus and how Pluto’s orbit is highly irregular and that there is reason to believe there may be life on Mars.

Even David agreed it was worth forty minutes of looking for parking.