Sesame Street makes national park videos inviting kids outside

It's summer. What would Elmo do to pass the time? Take a stroll outside. Sesame Street's beloved character, his pal Murray, and the National Park Service are releasing six short videos about our national parks to switch on kids' natural curiosity. 

AP
Sesame Street characters Murray (l.) and Elmo dress as park rangers for a segment about national parks to encourage children aged 3 through 5 to experience the great outdoors.

"Sesame Street" wants kids to take a break from parking it indoors, and head out to a park instead.

A new project has recruited Muppet monsters Elmo and Murray to visit national parks in six short videos that encourage children ages 3-5 to experience the great outdoors, wherever it might be, and to apply scientific skills of inquiry to learn about these natural settings.

The product of a partnership between Sesame Workshop, the US National Park Service and its philanthropic offshoot, the National Park Foundation, "Sesame Street Explores National Parks" aims to promote science learning by kids through their experiences in national parks as well as local parks and their own backyards.

"This is very child-focused, stimulating children's natural curiosity and bringing that exploration to the natural environment," said Rosemarie T. Truglio, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president of education and research.

Beginning Tuesday, the videos can be streamed on partner organizations' websites and social media channels, and will be made available to all national parks for use in their visitor centers, along with related materials for parents, caregivers and educators that propose activities to share with children.

Each video features Elmo and Murray (in ranger regalia) as they meet with a park ranger from Grand Canyon National Park or Gateway National Recreation Area, which is located in New York City and northern New Jersey.

In one video, the furry twosome are greeted by Ranger Shalini Gopie, who introduces them to the term "migrate."

"Migrate!" Murray echoes proudly. "That's when you get a really bad headache!"

He and Elmo soon learn otherwise from Gopie as she shows them migrating animals at Gateway such as tree swallows, redwing blackbirds and butterflies.

"Children are natural scientists," said Truglio, "and we want to encourage them to get outside and to explore the world around them using all their senses — to explore and investigate and learn."

While the videos portray a visit to a national park, they also aim to help kids make the connection between a national park and nature in their own neighborhood.

"We have a concern that children are losing their connection to the outdoors," said National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. "As you show kids the habitats at Gateway National Park and the Grand Canyon, you're showing them that there are similar habitats near them. We want to get these kids thinking, 'Let's move, let's get outside, and learn something at the same time.'"

The choice of the Grand Canyon as a setting may seem like a magnificent no-brainer, but there's a good reason, too, for spotlighting the less-familiar Gateway.

"We have a very strong interest in emphasizing our urban national parks," said Jarvis, "because of their proximity to large populations."

Beside those two, there are 399 more parks in the National Parks system, and Jarvis voiced hope that the Sesame Workshop project would be expanded to highlight more of them.

"We would love to build a long-term relationship with 'Sesame Street,'" he said.

In the meantime, kids will be reminded by these initial videos that there are countless local parks, yards, and lawns where nature is happening constantly, just waiting to be discovered.

"Be like a ranger!" urges Murray, bringing it home. "Get outside and observe all the animals in their habitats."

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