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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image-38 1 of 13Ready to learn in the happiest classroom on earth?
Health Class 2 of 13One of the first lessons for visitors to sunny Southern California visitors is that the sun is not your friend. Learning about the effects of sun exposure and how to protect against harmful rays is a Disney School essential!
Geography, Culture and History Classes 3 of 13Rides like a Small World offer up a unique opportunity to discuss and identify countries, continents, languages and cultures. Additional opportunities abound throughout the park. Look for flags of the world, Tiki history and Revolutionary War History.
Math Class 4 of 13For the youngest children counting games will suffice - counting characters, hidden Mickeys & pumpkins for example. For older kids try averaging line wait time, estimating ride throughput, calculating the number of people per car and per train on roller coasters. Use shadows to estimate the height of attractions and characters. Keep a journal of your math facts, and record as you go!
Arts, Architechture and Culture 5 of 13While it's not the same as visiting the city - a visit to New Orleans Square gives visitors a taste of the city. It's a great opportunity to learn about the tradition of Mardi Gras, history and cultural fusions that bring the city to life.
Science Class: Flora and Fauna 6 of 13From the Jungle Cruise to Nemo's Submarine, there are many opportunities for Disneyschoolers to identify critters. Try identifying which are real vs. imaginary animals and/or identifying what continent or region the animals are from. Worksheets for the Jungle cruise are available online.
Physics Class 7 of 13Centrifugal Force lesson? Look no further than the teacups!
Technology & Industry 8 of 13The history of the monorail as a innovative transportation system for future cities, is an engaging lesson when taught about this futuristic train. Explore exhibits in Innovations, and throughout the park for more opportunities to discuss the role of technology in industry and progress.
Chemistry Class 9 of 13How does ordinary sugar become fluffy cotton candy? What happens when it gets wet? The most delicious chemistry lesson ever.
Weather 10 of 13Cloud gazing is a much more significant art when you are planning your day in the park. Track weather patterns and chart clouds and you'll not only be prepared, you'll remember an umbrella!
Science and History 11 of 13How do fireworks work? What precautions are taken during fireworks shows? Who came up with them to start with? Take photos at Disney and use them in your report.
Arts and Literature 12 of 13Disney parades showcase characters from beloved tales, costumes derived from rich historical traditions and an amazing display of talented dancers, musicians and acrobats. Use any of these as the jumping off point for a memorable lesson.
By the Book 13 of 13Many of the lessons learned at Disneyland are best captured and recorded by the kids who learn there. Use a camera and a journal to record facts and keep a smart phone handy for on the spot google searches. Once home, use collected facts and images to assemble presentations of what you've learned. From a report on the story of Tom Sawyer to the history of riverboats, these lessons will come alive once your child has "lived" a piece of them. That is the best magic of all.
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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