For hundreds of kids in Southern California, and around the world, Disney parks are a part of the curriculum. These lucky kids are homeschooled, with the Disney parks serving as their part-time campus. It might just be the happiest classroom on earth.
Heather Martinson, a homeschooling mom in Orange County, founded the Yahoogroups list “DisneySchooling” that many local parents use to connect, plan lessons and schedule frequent meet-ups inside the park.
“Honestly, I had no idea it would be so big! I thought it would be just a handful of people who meet at the park every once in a while,” Martinson said.
Today there are almost 1000 members on the “DisneySchooling” email list, which is not officially affiliated with Disney. The list is made up of parents in Southern California and beyond who have both homeschooling and a love of Disney in common. Local families use the DisneySchooling list to plan their lessons and meet-ups in the park. It’s also a great source of homeschooling support.
Twice a year the group hosts a larger meet up in the park. These meet-ups are attended by families from all over California and far flung cities as well. Families make the trek from near and far to attend. It’s a special chance to connect with like-minded parents and kids, and there’s no need to take a day off from learning. Getting the group photo is a special tradition. At the next meet up on January 25, 2013 a very large group is expected to assemble for the photo outside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
While everyone is allowed to have fun, DisneySchooled kids get sticky from cotton candy for a cause. These kids take notes and are expected to pay attention and learn from their surroundings. The Disney “campus” is especially popular with homeschooling parents of teenagers, and their teens. It gives them the chance to put their knowledge and curiousity to use, as they find ways to learn outside the box and beyond the standard boundaries of a classroom. It’s easy to understand the appeal.
“There are not many places in Southern California where you can go to have so many profound ‘being there’ experiences all in one day,” Martinson explains.
“There’s nothing magical about a classroom. Sitting in a crowded classroom is actually a very poor way for a child to learn. It is what state schools do because it’s a cheaper and easier way to teach the masses. But when a child (and his parents) learn how to learn outside the box of the classroom, there is no end to the learning. It becomes a natural, normal part of life and learning habits are created that do not stop once a diploma is given. What IS magical is learning at Disneyland.”
So what does a day in a DisneySchooled kid’s life look like? What exactly do they study in the park? Here are some example lessons from DisneySchoolers, and my own travels, that might be fun for any family to try. In order to complete your assignments you will need a notebook or journal, a pen, a camera and possibly a copy of Tom Sawyer, to read aloud while you stand in lines…
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Many thanks to Chandra Forest who graciously shared several of these ideas as well as her account of a “day in the life” of a DisneySchooler, and Heather Martinson for sharing the history of the group with me. My children and I are very impressed with both of you and all the DisneySchoolers out there!
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