By Michelle Leifur
As families start to pack for the Disney vacations the issue of education comes up quite frequently. Some children miss regular school days while other children are homeschooled. Even families that are vacationing on scheduled breaks may find that they want to account for some sort of educational opportunities while on holiday. If you are headed for Disney World, you won’t be disappointed! Disney can make up for “lost” education days and even help fill blank pages in a homeschooling portfolio.
We will begin with an easy one: Epcot. Epcot is a virtual educator’s paradise. There are hands on activities all through Future World. Children can learn about technology, fire safety, paper-making, and the history of communication before really stepping foot outside the first two main buildings (Innovations and Spaceship Earth). Future World also houses the largest indoor aquarium in the world! There are attractions on recycling, renewing the earth, agriculture, oceanography, learning how the mind works, discovering how babies are made, learning about energy resources and how our brain functions. And don’t discount Mission: Space as purely fun. When your kids hear an astronaut or military pilot talk about “pulling G’s” your kids will know not only what that means, but how that feels!
Then there is the wonderful World Showcase! Eleven countries spread out around a lagoon providing a plethora of experiences in taste, texture, sound, and language. Everything from traditional Japanese drumming to modern rock with bagpipes is available for your young scholars to experience. You will quickly realize that the Cast Members in World Showcase come from the countries that they represent. My own children have carried on conversations with people from China, Morocco, Canada, Japan, and Norway. They have asked about the clothing that they are wearing as well as how to pronounce unfamiliar words. Take advantage of the Kidcot stations to get to know the Cast Members and the countries that they represent as they decorate masks. To experience all the educational opportunities of World Showcase one would easily need 2 days Even with all the educational opportunities at Epcot we aren’t done yet! We are heading to Animal Kingdom. Here, again, is an extravaganza of wonderful multi-cultural sights and sounds. Take time to visit with animals that you may never be able to see in natural habitats. Look at the details. From electric lines strung across the streets to laundry being hung to dry behind buildings, there are elements that are so realistic that your children will have a glimpse of just what being in a small village in Asia is like. The experiences at Animal Kingdom are like no other. Nowhere else can you dig up dinosaur bones (which are actual castings from real dinosaur bones) and dance to African drummers on the same day! The best part of Animal Kingdom, though, has to be the wonderfully educated Cast Members! The Cast Members really know their stuff. Ask them a question about a King Scorpion, or a python, or how a bird’s wing works. Take time to talk to them. They encourage questions and take delight when people make inquiries. It’s their job!
Now, we are park hopping our way over to the MGM Studios to find out all we can about film-making! While this park is not as “educational” as the other two we have already explored, there are things to be found here that would certainly be worth experiencing. The Great Movie Ride is an excellent opportunity to be “in” some of our most famous cinematic adventures. Perhaps Truman Capote will hijack your car or you may find yourself in the midst of a western shoot-‘em-up! On Backlot Tours you will discover how films are made, from special effects to costuming workshops. And take time to step into the footprints of some of your favorite stars. Our children always insist on seeing Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. Cast Members from this show periodically come out and answer questions from guests after the shows. Once the director showed us how break-away furniture was put together! And don’t forget that there is a great opportunity at Studios to talk about physics. Yep; I’m talking about the “Great Penny Levitation” while riding Tower of Terror! Try it. It really works! The Magic of Disney Animation allows guests to learn about the art form. After the presentation, guests even can take a mini class in animation and learn to draw a popular character.
OK, so I’ve justified Epcot, Animal Kingdom and MGM Studios as being educational. So would you believe me if I told you that Magic Kingdom was as well? Well, it is! Did you know that Main Street, USA is designed after a turn of the century classic American town? Did you know that the Liberty Bell at Liberty Square was made from a mold of the actual Liberty Bell? Did you know that Disney updates the Hall of Presidents within weeks of a new president’s inauguration? It’s all true! Many of the rides can be used as a catalyst for future reading projects. Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, and Tom Sawyer! Or better yet, read them before you go!
Speaking of “before you go,” pre-planning is a great way to start your “biggest field trip ever” off to a great start. Pick a country from World Showcase and learn some of the language, cities, and fun facts about that country. Learn to count to 10 in as many languages as you can. How many languages are represented at World Showcase and can you name them? (It’s more than you think!) Find out why a penny will seemingly levitate while on Tower of Terror. Create a trip planning book and let your kids help plan your trip, including driving directions. Check out some books from the library and find out interesting facts. There are some great books on the life of Walt Disney as well as how DisneyWorld was “imagineered.” Find some books on animation and let your budding artists go to town with drawing their favorite Disney characters. Disney truly is a wellspring of education and inspiration. If your children are going to be missing some days of school, check out the downloadable letters to teachers and school administrators that are already on the MFL website. http://www.themouseforless.com/downloads/kids/SE.shtml. These can be customized for your individual situation.
So whether you are homeschooling, missing school days, or just looking for a way to enhance summer learning, Disney is a fantastic place to turn fun into learning and to learn something while you are having fun!