Disney confession: I am one of those moms that will pull my child out of school for few days for a Walt Disney World vacation. For me it’s almost a necessity as it keeps package costs and flights down and I can go during a time where I don’t need to worry about big crowds or bad weather. But in doing so, you are taking your little ones away from their school lessons. This means, it’s very likely that you’ll need to work with your son/daughter’s school to come up with a way to make your trip to the Mouse an educational holiday and therefore an excusable absence. But when you actually think about it, there’s a lot of things that can be very educational about a trip to Disney World. Here are 8 ways that you can make your child’s next trip to Disney a learning experience.
1) Create a Travel Journal- This is a great general starting point for kids of all ages. It worked really well for me when my daughter was in Pre-K. I bought her a few disposable cameras and encouraged her to take pictures of the interesting things she got to see, do and explore while at the parks. I tried to make it less about being on Splash Mountain and more about trying new foods, seeing new animals, etc. We printed the photos and I helped her write a sentence about each one and Voila!- not only was it a perfect little project to present to her class but also a fantastic keepsake.
2)A Lesson in American History -Whether it’s a walk through the Colonial-themed Liberty Square, a trip on the 3-tiered steam-powered riverboat the Liberty Belle or learning about the way American lives have evolved over the years at the Carousel of Progress, Disney World is brimming with American history and patriotic tales of days gone by. Follow the history of the 50 states as retold by America’s 43 Presidents at the Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents. Let Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain take you through their patriotic narrative of America’s short but rich history during the 30-minute The American Adventure at Epcot’s World Showcase. Or, explore 400 years of a moving and vivid history told through African-American art and artifacts at the American Heritage Gallery. Each one of these amazing Disney attractions would lend itself well to reports, journals, class presentations or a civics lesson.
Though these offerings might be better suited to slightly older students, a new Muppets show will fill in the gap when it makes its début this Fall: “The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History”. Learn about pivotal moments in America’s past like the midnight ride of Paul Revere or the signing of the Declaration of Independence as retold by Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, the Great Gonzo and other much-loved Muppet friends.
3. Become Wilderness Explorers – Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers many unique opportunities to learn about animals, cultures, and conservation. For an educational way to approach the parks, look no further than the Wilderness Explorers experience. Pick up your Wilderness Explorer Handbook at Discovery Island and take your little ones on 30 different challenges that will teach them about the animals and the park’s culturally rich environment. Each challenge is led by a Cast Member (aka troop leaders) that will hand out a badges as each task is completed. Kids will learn fantastic little facts that they can share with their classmates upon their return. My daughter to this day likes to tell people why flamingos are pink (something she learned by doing Wilderness Explorers a few years ago.) The handbook also makes a nice souvenir and can be a a great talking point for class presentations.
4. Grab Your Passport and Travel the World – The World Showcase provides a fantastic opportunity for your child to learn about and explore different countries and cultures. A great starting point is to grab a World Showcase Passport from one of the local merchants. Then plan a stop to each of the 11 World Showcase countries where kids can have the pages of their passports stamped. Not only will your child love collecting the different stamps but while doing so, they’ll also get to interact with Cast Members from the different countries. These cultural ambassadors teach them about their native countries, lead them in a culturally themed arts and crafts projects and even teach them how to say a few words in their native language. Again the passports make a great show-and-tell item and can even serve as a fantastic starting point for picking a country to write about for a school project.
5. Explore The Land and The Seas at Epcot- The Land Pavilion at Epcot is a perfect starting point if your little one has an interest in Science. Though headlining attraction Soarin’ draws in the crowds, subtle attractions like the Circle of Life will teach them about taking care of the environment with some help from their favorite Lion King friends. The Living with the Land boat ride may not be as captivating as Test Track but its journey through climates such as rain forests, a desert, sandstorm and family farm is a great Science lesson highlighting the challenges faced when trying to farm. And with both Sunshine Seasons and Garden Grill serving up dishes using ingredients from the Living With the Land greenhouses- there may be a fun project in discussing the journey it took to get to your plate!
With the popularity of Finding Dory, Kids are more interested than ever in what goes on under the sea. With this in mind, The Seas with Nemo and Friends might lend itself to a nice educational project about marine life. Though a great starting point is the Finding Nemo ride, its the 5.7 million-gallon saltwater aquarium with an amazing array of sea life that provides lots of scope for educational projects with an under water focus. The aquarium is filled with lots of hands-on activities teaching kids the basics of marine biology, sharks, underwater safety and much more.
6. Disney for Book Lovers – If your children are avid readers then encourage them to pick up one of these literary classics before heading to the parks. Spend time reading Wyss’s classic Swiss Family Robinson. Then head over to the Magic Kingdom where guests can explore the family’s home in the sky at Adventureland’s Swiss Family Treehouse. The rooms of this treetop home come alive with intricate details from the book and movie. From the clam shell kitchen sink to a Crow’s Nest providing a refuge for the kids- its a great way to gather ideas for a book report! Or pick up a copy of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where they’ll learn about life on the Mississippi before heading over to The Magic Kingdom’s Tom Sawyer Island. From the moment they board the log-raft over to the island they’ll be surrounding by details taken from the pages of Mark Twain’s much-loved novels. From Injun Joe’s Cave to the early frontier settlement Fort Longhorn, its a captivating journey through America’s literary past.
Please Note: Swiss Family Treehouse at Magic Kingdom is currently closed for refurbishment.
7. Learn Problem Solving with a Scavenger Hunt- Disney Word has several scavenger hunt experiences that I’ve been lucky enough to do with my 6 year old. Not only are they a great way to slow down and savor those rich Disney details but they are also fantastic at giving little ones a chance to go on adventures, solve problems and interact with their environment.
A Pirate’s Adventures: Treasures of the Seven Seas – is a FREE at-your-own pace Pirate adventure through some of the back roads and overlooked spaces of Adventureland. Participants are given one of 5 quests and are handed a map that will lead them to interactive way-points that tell a treacherous Pirate Tale.
Disney Family Magic Tour- is a great way to learn about team work as you join a group tour to hunt and collect clues around the different lands of the Magic Kingdom- leading to a lot of very special surprises. From puzzling riddles to hunting for clues- it is a great way to teach your little ones the importance of working together to solve a problem. The tour is $39.00 per person and is best suited for kids between 4 and 10.
Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure– Guests start this FREE quest by picking up a cell phone (or now you can eve use your own) before choosing one of 7 quests each focused on a different pavilion in the World Showcase. Follow the clues and use your phones to interact with you environments in amazing ways. Make a baby pop up in an Asian market- an exhibition change in the Mexican Pavilion or a a motor boat come flying across a quiet moat. Its imaginative, immersive and allows little ones to really stop and take notice of the beautiful details found in each country that makes up the showcase.
8. Teach Them Life Skills– Need a small school project for your little one to sink their teeth into? Then why not focus on some of the life skills learned on a Disney vacation? Driving? Then why not let your little on help you plan your route. Stop at the different state crossings and take photos of the signs for a photo journal. Ask you little ones to hold the map while at the theme parks and work with them to plot out where you are and where you’ll be heading next. Or teach them the value of a budget when it comes to things like Dole Whips and souvenirs. There’s a lot of little skills and adventures happening in each Disney moment that are perfect for pint sized projects.
These are just a few of the many ways you can work with your kids to make their next Disney trip educational. Keep them at the ready in case their school asks you to come up with an idea for a project before heading to the parks. Happy Planning!
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