If the idea of working on a school project while on a trip to Walt Disney World has your kids groaning, take heart. Disney is full of educational opportunities—some more obvious than others, but all of them packed with fun!
School-Year Trip Basics
Of course it’s best to hold missed days to a minimum and talk with your child’s teachers to make sure educational activities relate as much as possible to regular school work. You also need a plan for making up any work that is missed. Tackle this before the trip, when spirits are high, rather than during the post-trip readjustment to reality. Returning to school after a trip to Disney is tough enough without facing mountains of homework.
Projects for Ages 5–7
All four parks have great project opportunities for kids this age. At the Magic Kingdom, have your child collect souvenirs for each letter of an ABC book you’ve created: a birthday pin or sticker (handed out at City Hall for people celebrating their birthdays) for the "B" page or Goofy’s autograph for the "G" page. In the Animal Kingdom, visit Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch to learn about endangered animals and see the veterinary labs. As you travel around the World Showcase at Epcot, visit the KidCot Fun Stops (above), where young children interact with people from each country represented while creating an ongoing art project.
To work on math at Hollywood Studios, help your child notice, record, and add up the number of Hidden Mickeys—the outline of Mickey’s head that Disney Imagineers have woven into carpet patterns, incorporated into pictures, and otherwise cleverly hidden all over the park—that you encounter in a day. In fact, looking for Hidden Mickeys (can you see any in these photos?) is a great way to sharpen your powers of observation, no matter what your age.
Projects for Ages 8–12
For older kids, the best opportunities are at Epcot and Animal Kingdom. You can go on Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek, which offers an in-depth look at the animals along the Kilimanjaro Safari route as well as adventures in the form of swinging bridges high above animal enclosures. Also at Animal Kingdom, the Cretaceous Trail educates kids about the biological evolution of plants. Innoventions at Epcot is not only a cool arcade but also a great preview of future technology.
The challenges of the Kim Possible Adventure will have kids patrolling the countries of Epcot’s World Showcase for clues, painlessly learning history and geography lessons along the way. You can come up with math exercises at almost any attraction—if there are 12 cars at Test Track, and each car holds 6 people, and the attraction lasts 10 minutes, how many people can ride in an hour?
Projects for Ages 13–17
For an art class, have your child photograph Cinderella’s Castle from different angles or Spaceship Earth at different times during the day. The greenhouses you visit at The Land in Epcot during the Behind the Seeds tour afford a 45 minute exploration of space-age farming and environmentally sound methods of food production. As a real chore, ride different roller coasters and determine on which ones centrifugal force is a factor. For kids 16 and up, consider the Keys to the Kingdom tour, which goes behind the scenes and even underground at the Magic Kingdom, explaining everything from the park’s waste-management services to the historically accurate architectural designs within Liberty Square.
Photo Credits: Courtesy Walt Disney World