You Can Take the Teacher Out of the Classroom…Educational Integration at WDW
I have, on a few occasions, had children in my classroom take trips to Walt Disney World during the school year. I will assign them the homework they missed, and then wish that I was going too!
In October, I’m going to be going to Walt Disney World myself during a short fall break, and I know I am going to feel excited to leave schoolwork behind for a couple of days. However, I also know that when I get into the theme parks, I am going to find myself reverting to Teacher Mode as I walk around.
How can families go into the Disney Parks and have some educational experiences mixed in with their magical vacation? It doesn’t take much, and it can be a lot of fun! If your child comes back to the classroom with a bunch of educational information from their trip, I guarantee their teacher will be thrilled. (I know I would!)
Here are some great ways to integrate education at the Disney Parks:
Take a trip to The Seas (with Nemo and Friends)
While many of the original EPCOT Center “edutainment” ideas have been replaced or renovated, the aquarium area of The Seas with Nemo and Friends in Epcot still is one of the largest around, with a huge amount of marine life on display. Families can watch scientists perform experiments and view videos on the sea creatures they are watching. Make sure to view all the exhibits to get the most out of this area that most people tend to walk past or just glance at while they go to the next attraction.
School Subject Integration: Science, Biology
Enjoy Conservation Station
Something that most people decide to skip is the train at Disney’s Animal Kingdom to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and Conservation Station. But if you’ve got some time, this is a great place to watch veterinarians at work on exotic animals of the theme park. You can view farm animals up close, view the newest additions to the Animal Kingdom in the hatchery, and maybe even watch an operation of one of the animals. The best part of this area is that the exhibits and experiences are always changing, depending on what the animals need. The worst part of this area is that the exibits and experiences are always changing, and sometimes there isn’t anything going on. Regardless, the cast members strive to keep you interested and will provide all sorts of information!
School Subject Integration: Science, Biology
Attend an art class at the Animation Academy
If your child enjoys doodling, then the Animation Academy is the place to go. If you go to The Magic of Disney Animation building at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and keep walking all the way past the meet and greet characters, you come upon a queue for the Animation Academy. I highly recommend this attraction, which is a drawing class with an animation instructor. The character you draw is usually recommended by the group, and the pose is always different – which means you never draw the same thing twice. You draw in a dimly lit room with Hollywood Studios paper, a backlit, raised desk, and a pencil with no eraser.
Depending on the instructor, you always are learning more and more information about animating and the history of Disney animation. In my two experiences I have done Donald and a Toy Story martian, and I’ve been very pleased with my work, even though I’m not an artist in the slightest!
School Subject Integration: Art
Go aboard the Liberty Belle Riverboat
I could take the easy route and mention the Hall of Presidents in Magic Kindgom Park or the American Adventure in Epcot, but I am going to go slightly off center with this integration choice. Located in Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom park, the Liberty Belle Riverboat takes you on a circle tour around Tom Sawyer Island and gives great views of Frontierland and Liberty Square.
Why is this my choice for an educational experience? If you listen to the audio guides (Horace Bixby and Samuel Clemens), you can hear about the history of riverboats on the Mississippi River, why the leadsman sings out “marks” (to reveal the depth of the water), and facts about Samuel Clemens – AKA Mark Twain. The sayings that Clemens says in the attraction weren’t all actually said by him, but they give tourists an idea of his personality.
The one problem you might encounter is that the attraction also talks about fictional areas, like Chick-a-pin Hill and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Keep that in mind. But if your child enjoys boats, just walking around the riverboat should be a fun experience, too.
School Subject Integration: Social Studies, History
Travel around the World Showcase
While Disney characters have entered World Showcase in Epcot in recent years, there is still a lot of educational experiences to be found.
- View amazing art in the Japanese pavilion.
- Witness gorgeous architecture in the Norway pavilion’s chapel.
- Listen to great Mexican music by Mariachi Cobre in the Mexico pavilion.
- Take a historical tour of China with the “Reflections of China” film.
- And much, much more! Each pavilion incorporates art, music, cuisine, and history into the pavilions somwhere.
Let the tourists pass you while you’re playing Haunted Mansion instruments
I really enjoy the outdoor queue at the Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom park, mostly because of the organ and other instruments playing “Grim Grinning Ghosts” when you touch them. The front section is a great way to review real musical instruments and their sounds: which have high sounds, which have low sounds, different sections of instruments, and rhythms.
On the other side, there are some odd instruments that can’t be found in a normal orchestra. Talk to your kids about what inspired those instruments, how they would be played, and why they are a perfect fit for the Haunted Mansion. I often let people pass me by while I touch these instruments and let them play over and over again!
School Subject Integration: Music
Take a Disney behind-the scenes tour
Some tours are exclusive to adults, but others – like the Steam Train tour, the Behind the Seeds tour, the Seas Aqua tour, and the Wild Africa Trek tour can be experienced by children and adults. This is a great way to add some more education to the trip without your children even knowing that they are actually – gasp! – learning something!
There are also tours and guides at the Disney resorts, so if you’re staying at one of those (or just touring around the resorts), make sure to ask for any special presentations being made that day.
School Subject Integration: All sorts!
Do you have any more Disney Parks attractions or areas that would be great for educational experiences with your kids? Have you ever created an educational day at Disney with your own children? Let us know in the comments below!
6 thoughts on “You Can Take the Teacher Out of the Classroom…Educational Integration at WDW”
We were lucky to spend several days at Animal Kingdom in September so we took the time to really explore the animal trails and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. We were astounded at the breadth and depth of knowledge the CMs had in these areas so I started asking about their training. They were trained biologists, conservationists and educators. We’re retired biologists and we still learned so much from them. We’ve taken the Behind the Seeds tour several times because the emphasis changes, based on the educational emphasis of the guide. We couldn’t agree more with this article!
I’m making it a point to get back to Conservation Station this trip because of this. They know so much, and they only share it with a few people because people don’t know how to get back there or choose not to. I’m glad you’ve done this and the Behind the Seeds tour too!
We homeschool and always count Disney as school days 🙂 There really is a ton of opportunity for “school” and the kids hardly even notice. In fact we once discovered that our 5 year old who was having trouble identifying numerals did actually know all his numbers when we asked him which ice cream he wanted and he told us he wanted “number 6.” The best part is later on in our studies when they say, “Remember when we saw ____ in Disney World?”
How great! There are tons of ways to bring in education to any trip – even the unexpected ones like numbers on an ice cream cart!
I just took my daughter last week. I am also a teacher and notice all of the educational activities as we go around the parks. A new favorite we discovered this trip was the Piggy Bank challenge at Innovations at Epcot. I wish I had this available nearby to teach my students about personal finance. My daughter (7) did the challenge 3 times. There are so many wonderful educational opportunities, but another to mention is the Wilderness Explorers at Animal Kingdom.
I don’t think I mentioned Innoventions at all, which is a shame – there are a few activities in there that are great for math, health, and engineering. They should make apps based on the Innoventions attractions!