Back to School with Disney

Many school systems across the country are gearing up for a new school year.  For many families, this means waiting 8 months or more until they can visit Walt Disney World again when school is not in session.  While some families do visit during a long weekend, holiday break or spring break, many don’t try to visit this magical spot for fear of missing too much school.

Our family seems to be the opposite!  We try to go when school is in session!  Why?  Crowds are lower, temperatures are cooler and prices are cheaper.  We have taken our oldest son out of school to visit Walt Disney World and Disneyland 3 times now.  All three times we met with the principal as soon as we could to share our plans, dates and “curriculum!”  We assured him that our son would complete any classwork the teacher sent and we would complete the assignments we created for him.

Being a former teacher made it easier for me to see the value in a Disney vacation.  There are so many teachable moments during a vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth!  To begin, I searched for “Alabama (or enter your state here) State Course of Study 3rd (or grade your child is in) Grade.”   I printed the entire Course of Study for math, language, science and social studies.  I went through all of the documents highlighting what objectives would be met while at WDW and sometimes listing exact examples.  (Example: Social Studies, 3rd Grade, “Identify components of various ecosystems.” can be met through Living With the Land at Epcot.)  I then presented all 4 Course of Studies to the principal showing how our son would gain so many educational experiences at Walt Disney World.  Really, how could he argue with me?!?

Along with the presented Course of Study documents, we shared the daily journal he would be keeping, the “ABC” scavenger hunt he would do and the country reports at the World Showcase.  In the journal, he wrote daily about the events of the day, wrote three things he learned in each park, drew a picture of his “most favorite” thing, kept a weather log, and collected autographs, maps and ticket stubs.

The ABC scavenger hunt was a simple three ring binder with 26 sheet protector sleeves- one for each letter of the alphabet.  As we found items for each letter, we slipped it into the appropriate sleeve.  We took pictures for several letters and added the photograph once we returned home.  We were surprisingly able to find at least one thing for each letter of the alphabet!

How do you bring “school” along on your Disney vacations?  If you need suggestions, you can always find more ideas at my friend Jodi’s blog: Magical Mouse Schoolhouse!  I’d love to hear your ideas!

8 comments for “Back to School with Disney

  1. Maureen Brown
    18 August, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    I love this article. I also go to Disney World during school for the same reasons. To make the most and get the most enjoyment of our family vacation it’s a must 🙂 My daughter was entering Kindergarten when I again made my resi’s to visit “The World” As school started to near I became more concerned with my decision. This was a whole new ball game, it wasn’t pre-school anymore and I didn’t want to go against the grain of what was “right”. My reservations about going were put to ease when I met with her teacher. I explained to her our plans and asked if I could have the work my daughter would miss while at Disney. Her teacher was more than happy to accommodate us and thought a family vacation, no matter where it was, is a great learning experience. While at Disney World I added my own “tasks”. There are places throughout the Magic Kingdom that lend learning experiences without even knowing you are learning. How the TTA works, 3-D magic of Mickey’s PhilharMagic, watching the the paddle of the Liberty Square Riverboat, exploring Tom Sawyers Island, the Carousel of Progress (how it moves and the changes we have gone through). While in Epcot we payed special attention while in Spaceship Earth, Living with the Land, The Seas, Journey into Imagination and Innoventions; there are things to learn and absorb everywhere! The countries lent all new possibilities for a fun to learn experience. We visited each country with a children’s Disney World travel book I had purchased on-line. In this book it had stickers of each countries flag and a special place for the cast member at the kidcot station to stamp it as well as a space for them to write something in their native language! While at Animal Kingdom.. every inch is an absorbable opportunity to learn. We visited every Kidcot station to complete the task for that country and receive a stamp on our card. At the end of the day when we had filled our card the cast member had my daughter raise her right hand to take a special oath to always help our planet and to always do her homework, lol :D. I made sure to take lots of pictures of things we specifically learned about so she could incorporate them with homework assignments throughout the year. This probably sounds so excessive and “Where was the fun and down time in it all?”. Being in Disney World takes little effort to create a learning atmosphere, they do all the work for you. You just have to take that extra moment to point out the special details and to know your child and their attention span and when it is time to “give it a rest”, lol Thanks for posting this article; it brought back so many wonderful memories of what she has learned while at Disney World. I can’t wait to go back again!

    • Beth Green
      27 August, 2012 at 9:08 am

      That’s awesome!! Thanks so much for sharing all your wonderful thoughts!! 🙂

  2. 22 August, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Great ideas. We will be taking out daughter out of school this year as it is her first full year of school. I have already talked to her teacher to assure we will complete any assignments she missed and I also asked if there was anything we could do while on vacation. She recommended a journal.

    • Beth Green
      27 August, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Journals are great for any vacation- even if it’s not for school! It’s always fun to look back, years later, and see what your child was thinking during vacations!

  3. Silvia
    26 August, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    @Maureen – What workbook did you purchase and from where? We are pulling our twin kindergarteners out of school this year for our trip. Being a former classroom teacher, I plan on them having lots of fun learning at WDW. 🙂

    • Beth Green
      27 August, 2012 at 9:14 am

      I agree!! I’d love to know what book you purchased @Maureen! We have used Birnbaum’s WDW Guide for kids in the past and it was good for elementary age kids who could read, but a little advanced for K and younger. But, still has great pictures for little ones to look at! 🙂

  4. Beth P.
    29 August, 2012 at 3:03 am

    You have no idea how excited to see this post! I worked for ten years at WDW, mostly at Epcot Guest Relations and as a tour guide, but also teaching field trips through their Y.E.S. Programs in World Showcase and answering phone lines for those who were planning future trips. I echoed your philosophy again and again to families who were looking for the best way to get top value out of their vacations. When you spend every day in those parks, you really get to see what an impact it makes on the lines–and the atmosphere–when your vacation coincides with everyone else’s in America! The parks go from packed to empty, literally overnight. At that time, I didn’t yet have any children of my own, but I was a firm believer in the fun and MEMORABLE learning that a child could get from just running around those parks with the right kind of focus. Now I’m a homeschool mom with all the flexibility in the world (possibly influenced by that inspiration way back when? Hmmm….); and sadly, we’ve just moved about as far as we can get from Florida. Almost every week, something in my daughter’s lessons will remind me of something at WDW that would have been the perfect learning tool; how I wish we could go all the time, and just use that as our classroom every day!

    As a special note, I would encourage your readers to also consider the amazing learning experiences that are hidden in the non-ticketed areas of WDW. Not only can these save you a lot of money, but they can allow for a day of relaxed “down time” when you need a break from the parks. For example, the Wilderness Lodge has an entire timeline of fossils built into the “canyon” layers of its 5-story-tall fireplace, as well as Native American artifacts, and a very challenging scavenger hunt of Hidden Mickeys throughout the resort (ask for the clues at the front desk, and they’ll even give you a prize for finding them all!). Just a short hike away is the Fort Wilderness Campground; my kids and I loved to stroll through their trails on a regular basis, and we always saw several deer right next to the path! The campground also has a nice playground, pony rides, archery lessons, canoe rentals, free outdoor movies, and the barn where the enormous MK trolley horses are kept. Animal Kingdom Resort has endless displays of African art, musical instruments, ceremonial artifacts, traditional African foods (try the counter-service cafe near the pool courtyard), as well as an amazing array of animals in their backyard–with friendly African exchange students there to tell you all about them! At Downtown Disney, you can dig for fossils outside of the T-Rex Restaurant or explore geodes in their gift shop, and the employees are generally very welcoming if you just want to wander through the restaurant to peek at the dinosaurs (the fossils in the restrooms will take your breath away). I could go on and on. Just please, for the sake of everyone else who enjoys these hidden treasures, please do so humbly and courteously, with respect for those who might be paying big bucks to enjoy these places in peace. Also, if you’re exploring a resort area with a security gate out front, be prepared to give them a valid reason for letting you in–shopping, or counter-service dining–and then consider actually doing it; that usually turns out to be completely worth it, too!

    Sorry for the long post–just had to share, so that all of you can live the dream for me. Have fun!

    • Beth Green
      30 August, 2012 at 3:32 am

      Beth- great info!!! Thanks for sharing things to do outside the parks! I’ll definitely add these to my list for next time.

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