I had never been to any Disney park until I started dating Greg. (My parents would argue this, but I contend that going in utero does not count). Being that he is a huge Disney fan, he has helped to grow my love for the parks as well. And we are now most definitely a Disney family. Shortly after we began homeschooling, we planned a family trip to Disney World with the boys.
Incorporating our real life into our schooling has always been important to us, like when we took an impromptu trip to Texas to spend a few weeks, and the ways we’ve learned about our state with fun first day of school field trips. So deciding to homeschool Disney World was a no-brainer!
Studying about an amusement park, you ask? Spending valuable school time learning about a cartoon Mouse?
If that’s what you’re thinking, you are in for a treat!
Homeschool Disney World
Before we get started, I want to add an aside. Clearly, you don’t have to be a homeschool family to study these things before your trip.
I’ve always said that all families are, in a way, homeschool families. I know when our boys were attending the charter school, we did plenty of learning at home, too. I’m focusing on homeschooling here, since when I was looking for ideas to incorporate our trip into our schooling, I did not find many resources out there. I hope that, whether your family does homeschool, public school, private school, online school, charter school, or any other kind of schooling—you’ll find something of value here!
Now…on to the learning!
Here are some areas of study available to you when planning a trip to Disney World:
- American History
- World History
- The 5 Senses
I’ll bet you could find more, but this is the list we’ll be looking at today. While most of the activities we did were for elementary/middle school age, if you have older kids you could easily plan more in depth studies of the topics.
Before we dig into the specific topics, I want to talk a little about one way to go about the studies. We used the lapbook format.
Have you used lapbooks before? They are such a wide open opportunity to make exactly what you need for each study. Using file folders as a base, students make mini-books about various topics, recording what they’ve learned. Do a Google or Pinterest search for “Lapbooks” and you’ll find tons of tutorials on getting started. There are lots of varieties of how to set up your file folders, depending on your needs. Lapbooks can include pictures, maps, outlines or any other way to show what is learned. Mini-books are one way to do that. You can go here and here for free printable mini-book templates.
The Magic Kingdom is full of opportunities for literature studies. Here are some suggestions and their accompanying attractions:
- Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss – – Swiss Family Treehouse
- Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – – Tom Sawyer Island and Liberty Square Riverboat
- Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – – Peter Pan’s Flight
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – – Mad Tea Party
- Uncle Remus Stories by Joel Chandler Harris – – Splash Mountain
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- And of course classic fairy tales like Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid and more.
Two parks offer opportunities for studies in American History. In the Magic Kingdom, Frontierland and Liberty Square are where to look. And in Epcot, American Adventure is full of learning.
Do a study of colonial times and then keep your eyes open while in the parks. This site has some good information about what you’ll find at Magic Kingdom. Did you know that the Liberty Bell that is displayed in the parks was cast from a mold of the original? Cool, huh?!
Check here for exactly what you’ll find at American Adventure in Epcot. Be sure to read the whole page, it is very detailed. It even lists the songs you will hear during the presentation, which would be fantastic to find and listen to when studying the various eras.
Here are just a few of the topics you could study before going: flags that have flown over the U.S., Benjamin Franklin, the Pilgrims and the Mayflower; the Boston Tea Party; the writing of the Declaration of Independence; Valley Forge and the Revolutionary War; slavery and the Civil War; Native Americans; the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition; the founding of Yosemite National Park; World Wars I and II.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend adding world history topics before a park visit. But if you are already studying world history, there are places in the parks to note. Primarily, in Epcot in Spaceship Earth (the iconic Epcot geodesic dome – another interesting study in itself!). The ride details the “History of Communication.” If you’re studying Ancient Rome, Greece, or have learned about the invention of the printing press you will want to tell your kids to watch for them. Any time that students see what they have learned in a book show up in ‘real life’ it reinforces the concept and it’s also pretty fun!
This is my favorite! In Epcot, the World Showcase is a collection of countries you can wander through. In each country, you’ll find authentic architecture, landmarks, historical references, food, and people. Really! Each country’s pavillion is entirely staffed by people who are actually from the country.
Here is a free printable that you could use for your lapbooks when studying each country. It would be fun to try some foods and learn a word or two from each country too!
These are the countries in the World Showcase, click each one to find information about the pavillion. You will find details that can add to your studies:
- U.S. – we covered this one above in American History
- United Kingdom
This site has some great suggestions for crafts and other ideas for your studies on America, Japan, Mexico, China, and Canada. Just scroll down to the section on “Educational Resources.”
Geography also will show up on your trip on “It’s a Small World” at Magic Kingdom…as will the desire to bore the repetitive song out of your head with an ice pick. (I kid, I kid).
Oceans, The 5 Senses, Technology, Agriculture
Epcot is divided into two primary areas: The World Showcase and Future World. In Future World you’ll find lots of places to reinforce learning. Here are a few to consider:
If you’re studying ocean life, be sure to spend some extra time in The Seas area. Here you’ll find one of the world’s largest saltwater aquarium tanks. Within the tank is a complete man-made coral reef inhabited by sharks, tropical fish, rays and dolphins, all exotic and colorful forms of life that normally colonize Caribbean reefs.
Journey into Imagination with Figment is especially fun for younger visitors, and covers the 5 Senses.
Mission: Space and Test Track are good places to reinforce studies on technology, space studies or automotive design. (If changes in technology are of interest or something you’re studying, be sure not to miss the Carousel of Progress over in Magic Kingdom. It tracks technological advances from the turn of the 20th century to the 1990’s. And it’s got a great song, to boot!)
The Land looks into agriculture and the environment. If you have some extra time in the park, consider adding the “Behind the Seeds” tour to your day. We did it and learned a lot! You get to go behind the scenes and tour greenhouses and fish farms in the Land pavillion. We got to release ladybugs, see the hydroponics, and feed baby alligators…it was pretty cool.
Also in the Land pavillion is Soarin’ Around the World. Scenes on the ride include a flight over Switzerland’s Matterhorn, the Arctic Ocean with a leaping whale, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, Germany’s Neuschwanstein castle, a herd of African elephants, the Great Wall of China, Egyptian pyramids, India’s Taj Mahal, hot air balloons in Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border, outrigger boats off Fiji, the Iguazu waterfalls on the Argentina-Brazil border and France’s Eiffel Tower.
One area of Future World that we avoid is the Universe of Energy. Two reasons we don’t love it: The Big Bang and Bill Nye. Having seen enough scientific proof that the earth is much younger than mainstream science says it is, and not being big Bill Nye fans (he is blatantly anti-Christian, anti-Creationist, and frankly, quite arrogant) … well, that’s enough to make this attraction a no-go for our family. (Update: The Universe of Energy closed this summer to make way for a Guardians of the Galaxy coaster. That I can get behind! Yay!)
Before you go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, take a few minutes at least to look up some of the animals you’ll see. Or do an in depth study of them…whichever fits your fancy. And just in case you were wondering…yes, these are real animals we’re talking about, not audio-animatronics.
Here are just some of the animals you might see on the Kilimanjaru Safari:
- Black Rhinoceros
- Yellow-backed Duiker
- Yellow-billed Stork
- Nile Crocodile
- Nile Hippopotamus
- White-bearded Wildebeest
- African Elephant
- African Lion
- Scimitar-horned Oryx
- White Rhinoceros
And here’s a sample of what you might run into on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (formerly Pangani Forest Exploration Trail):
- Colobus Monkey
- Naked Mole Rat
- Nile Hippopotamus
- Spiney Tailed Lizard
- Stanley Crane
There are places all over Animal Kingdom where you’ll find animals to learn about. The above are just a sampling of the two largest collections. If you have real animal lovers, or just want to explore even more, you may want to check out the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Rafiki‘s area.
Disney Imagineering Science Videos
One additional resource I want to point you to is a video series that we really enjoyed. Real Disney Imagineers host videos that each cover a scientific principle and show how that principle shows up in the parks. Some examples include gravity, magnets, levers & pulleys, and fluids. You can buy the videos through the link below (click the image), but I would check at your local library first, that’s where we found them.
I hope these resources and ideas have given you somewhere to start if you’re looking to add some pre-trip studies to your homeschool agenda or just deepen your family’s enjoyment of the parks through learning.
When we decided to homeschool Disney World, we did lapbooks on the World Showcase countries and the animals at Animal Kingdom and touched on a number of the other topics.
Don’t feel overwhelmed. You don’t have to study all of these things in depth. Just looking them up, seeing pictures, reading a few paragraphs or watching a short video before you go to the parks can be beneficial. When your kids see things in the parks or on rides, they will be familiar. It will help to cement what they learned in their brain.
And I think it makes your trip all the more fun. Isn’t it more fun when you recognize things around you? When you make the connection and can say, “Hey! I knew that!”
Finally, if you’re interested in adding a study on Walt Disney himself, this is a fantastic resource!
I know this list isn’t comprehensive. I’d love it if you’d share with us what you’ve done to add a little Disney to your homeschool.
And if you just can’t get enough Disney in your life…check out my posts on Planning a Trip to Disney With Someone Who Doesn’t Love Disney (Yet) and the Disney Princess Bridal Shower I threw for my niece!