Sunday, June 24, 2012

How to Make a Trip to Disneyland a Learning Opportunity

It's true: children learn when they are having fun. Memories crystallize where excitement pervades.

Taking a trip to Disneyland is a good opportunity to learn about out-of-the-box subjects that might not be covered in school or everyday life. With a trip of our own planned in October, we have been gently learning about a wide array of Disneyland-related studies. This is our second go-around with Disneyland-themed unit studies so below you will find suggestions and resources for preschoolers and young children.

Aidyn, at 3, with his 'mars cake' for Tomorrowland

The easy way:

Say your trip is coming up in, oh, five months. Start by making a list of all the "lands" and major attractions of the park (or, heck, just use mine).

Main Street U.S.A
Critter Country
New Orleans Square
California Adventure
Hollywood Pictures Backlot
A Bug's Land
Paradise Pier
Car's Land
Golden State

Then, pick the ones you want to "cover," maybe one per month or one per week. Some seem "boring" like New Orleans Square, but that unit could cover pirates, pirate life, ghosts, and haunted mansions!

Once you have your lands picked out, it's time to Round Up.

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Search your personal and local library for books related to the land. Balance your selection between fun stories, non-fiction reads, films, and music. Jot down ideas for crafts and snack items related to your subject. Search online for any field trips that would enhance your learning adventure.

Here's what I do:

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Say I pick New Orleans Square. I make a list of topics I can cover in that land:

Creole culture
Jazz music

Then I might head over to Homeschool Share, which has a ton of resources for all sorts of books. Just type "pirates" and you could be led to:

a suggestion to read Tough Boris [Hardcover] by Mem Fox
worksheets about pirate garb
go-along book suggestions
pirate craft ideas

Essentially, your time spent "in New Orleans" could consist of hearing a few pirate stories and exchanging "Arrrrr!"s, cuddling up with some ghost stories at night, learning about pirate garb and maybe making some of your own, hearing jazz music filter through your home, sampling some Louisiana-style gumbo, and drawing elaborate pirate ships.

Not only are those activities fun, but they engage us in learning. Maybe it's during a reading of Tough Boris that your child learns that even "tough" guys cry sometimes; perhaps it's while hearing jazz music blaring that your child becomes fascinated with a trumpet, demanding their own to play.

Another bonus: when you actually get to Disneyland and stroll past the Jambalaya Jazz Band, it's familiar. When pirates are singing Yo-Ho-Yo-Ho, a pirate's life fer me!, your child understands that spirit. When you sit down for lunch at the French Market, your child begs for a try of that jambalaya.

Also, it's fun.

Creating unit studies like this works for families with children of all ages. Younger children enjoy the stories, crafts, and music. Older children (who still do enjoy the stories, even if they won't readily admit it) can go one step further. They could create costumes to fit the unit: pirate garb for NOS, armor or a dress for Fantasyland, a space suit for Tomorrowland, etc. They could read chapter books related to the subject, learn to cook a special meal, and draw elaborate pictures.

What's nice is that all you need is a subject, a "land," and you can find practically anything to help bring it to life. You can take your child's lead and let them develop ideas:

You: "We are going to learn about Fantasyland. What do you want to learn  about that is in Fantasyland?"
Child: "...castles! and fairies! are fairies real? are castles real? can we go in the castle?"

For more ideas on building a unit study on a particular land, send me a message, and I'd be happy to hand out ideas.

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