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
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!