Smile Politely

Come on, Solar System Safari with me…

The old homestead can be a prison if you don’t venture out into the world once in a while, and this winter has proven an unpredictable one. When the harsh, sloppy, grey weather hits, I just want to lie on the couch all night and watch TV. That is, until I don’t. Then it’s time for Action. It’s time for Adventure! It’s time for … wow, Anything. Just get me out of this freakin’ house and into the company of good friends.

Oh. Did I mention my friends have kids? Also, not one of us in my social circle is a millionaire. Nobody. Lame. So I’ve gotten used to looking for activities that are affordable and kid friendly (or at least not so debauched that my parent-y friends beg off). Going to lunch/dinner is fine; going shopping is fine; and getting coffee is fine. I enjoy all of those things, but I have a feeling my tiny friends aren’t as entertained as I generally am with a foamy mug or a new pair of stylish work trousers.

Once I got to thinking, I realized there aren’t a ton of obvious options. Apple picking, playgrounds, and swimming are seasonal and generally require parents to be free during the day. Ice cream and French fries are a quick fix, but there should be a suitable family activity, somewhere in America, that doesn’t involve eating. Of course there’s always the movie theater, but that can get expensive fast.

It seems like, if you’re a non-wealthy type looking for something that won’t rot your kids’ brains or turn yours to mush, it’s slim pickings.

Staerkal Planetarium is one of those places that has been in town for years (25 to be exact) that only a few people seem to take advantage of. When I saw Dawn of the Space Age there recently, I looked at Staerkal’s full calendar and noticed a show specifically for children. I was thrilled. The Space Age show was appropriate for a child, I suppose, especially if she is especially interested in the moon or space travel. Otherwise, it could be a strain on the 12-and-under attention span.

However, Solar System Safari, my most recent experience at Staerkal, is definitely meant for kids. Right out of the gate, the show operator tells us that this is like a movie, and what happens to the lights at the beginning of a movie? That’s right; they turn off. We are reminded to stay in our seats because it’s going to be dark, and we could trip on something if we try to walk around. Parents are assured they can take tots with full bladders or loud objections out through the unlocked exit door that leads to the lobby. We are reminded to use our “whisper voices” during the show (because, let’s face it, telling a crowd of children to be completely silent is just stupid). The lights dim and the show starts.

The Safari Guide is our narrator. I’m going to be straight with you: the narrator of this thing has a terrible Australian accent. It’s like listening to the Outback Steakhouse guy talk about asteroid belts for 45 minutes. It’s hilarious.

In Solar System Safari, we see, among other things, the planets in our solar system. Each planet has a voice and personality that is suited to its features. (Mercury speaks quickly, in a high voice. Jupiter is the “king of the planets” and has a snooty accent. You get the idea.) The narrator asks questions, the planet informs or corrects him, the narrator repeats the information back, and the planet confirms. It’s straight out of an elementary textbook. But fun.

Other objects like moons, asteroids, and comets are “hunted for” on this safari. We learn why Pluto is no longer a planet and that he may be again someday. The phases of our moon are explained by the moon herself, in clear terms. There is an explanation of the sun’s journey through the sky and the objects that orbit him. Misconceptions are addressed, and complicated processes are simplified.

The safari, as a whole, is engaging and educational. The information is repeated for clarity, but the pace of the show, overall, is enjoyably brisk. I saw several kids under four years old in the crowd, and, with only a couple of exceptions, everyone seemed happy and entertained.

Should anyone care to partake, adults pay just $5 for themselves and $4 for the kids. The best part: The running time is under an hour, so the little ones who nod off can be tucked in just after 8 o’clock.

Solar System Safari will show again on March 16. Grab the kids and have fun learning together!

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