Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How to Create a Fun Disneyland Unit Study

When there is fun to be had, learning happens spontaneously. Some would even say magically. We've done unit studies on the "serious stuff," but our most engaging learning adventures are born from fun unit studies, i.e, anything that has anything to do with Disneyland.

But how could Disneyland be transformed into a unit study? How do you divert attention away from the squees of "are we going? are we going?" to authentic learning?

How do you take a mammoth concept and widdle it down to something manageable?

I've written before about how to make a vacation to Disneyland a learning experience, using New Orleans Square as a theme. Here I will break it down again and focus, specifically, on Tomorrowland.

Depending on how much time you have to play with a unit study, start by:

1. Planning out possible units.

The Park is divided into 8 lands/areas:

a) Main Street U.S.A
b) Adventureland
c) New Orleans Square
d) Critter Country
e) Frontierland
f) Fantasyland
g) Tomorrowland
h) Toontown

Depending on your time, you can plot out one land per month, one land per week, or let them all blend in together seamlessly.

Once you have an idea of what overhead units to cover, you can start:

2. Rounding-up sub-topics to cover.

My preliminary list is mostly scribbles of ideas about little topics within a land that we could cover. If your children have visited Disneyland previously, you can ask their help.

Let's think about Tomorrowland.

Rides and attractions in Tomorrowland include:
  • Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters
  • Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
  • Space Mountain
  • Innoventions
  • Captain EO
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
  • Astro Orbitor
  • Autopia
There's certainly the HUGE theme of space to cover, but what few visitors know about Tomorrowland is its commitment to the agrifuture.


Walt Disney predicted that an escalating population and growing commercial and industrial properties would leave little room for the farmlands of yesteryear. He decided that the people of the future would landscape commercial properties with practical and edible plants such as fruit trees, herb gardens and vegetable rows. Most of these plants are so aesthetically placed that most guests do not realize that the landscape is edible, a comparable secret garden.

You could, then, also cover topics such as:

  • the agrifuture
  • space travel
  • inventions
  • technology
  • automobiles
  • ocean life (via Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage)
That list is still so general and SO HUGE. You certainly don't have to cover everything, and if you try to, it will probably feel comparable to riding the Tea Cups too fast. Therefore, take your time, plot out the most interesting topics for your family and allow yourself to venture down a side trail in learning.

The next step is:

3. Paring down and finding your resources.

As an example, here is my list of Tomorrowland topics:

  • space (the serious: planets, asteroids and comets, moons and space travel; the fun: aliens)
  • ocean life (fish, marine mammals, coral, jellyfish, shellfish)
Keep it simple.

Since these are child-friendly topics, resources abound on the internet, through the library and on Youtube.

a)Visit the library to find appropriate books
b) Round-up appropriate videos (they don't all have to be educational so long as you're talking about them.)
c) Make Youtube playlists of appropriate videos
d) Visit craft sites or consult craft books for themed projects
e) Think about relevent science topics and experiments to cover
f) Brainstorm any fun food to enjoy with this unit
g) Collect (from the library, Youtube, Pandora, etc.) music fitting your theme.

Rounding-up resources may lead you to new ideas. Embrace them! Once you've got everything collected:

4. Make a tentative plan.

Sample Plan for Tomorrowland:


Space Boy by Leo Landry
There's No Place Like Space: All About Our Solar System (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library)
Here Come the Aliens! by Colin McNaughton
Non-fiction books on planets, astronauts and space travel

Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz
Other library books on ocean life


The Universe: The Mega Collection
The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor
Library videos about space
More library videos about ocean life
Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins
Finding Nemo

Crafts/Art Projects:

-Make a spaceship out of tubes
-Create an alien from random art supplies (foam, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, paint, stickers)
-Splash paint stars on a black poster board. Paint planets, asteroids, and comets.


-Create a Saturn planet from a foam ball and learn about buoyancy by placing "Saturn" in a sink full of water.
-Chart the phases of the moon together
-Make a wave bottle.

Fun Food:

- Make a Mars cake (or an Earth, Saturn, or Jupiter cake!)

- Make sun and planet cookies (of differing sizes) and line them up according to position relative to the sun
- Make tuna and seaweed (spinach leaves) sandwiches

Memory making/Field trips:

- Go star-gazing at night
- Visit a space center
- Visit an aquarium (even if it's only the one at the local pet store!)


- Make "just keep swimming" your motto for the month! Talk about what determination and progress means. Model what it means to "push through" and award your children for their efforts.

And most of all: Have Fun!

A wealth of information, fun topics, and exciting moments awaits in every unit study. This is only a sample of what your unit study could look like. Imagine how much your children will absorb and remember through exploring space and ocean life in fun, enjoyable ways! Not only that, but when they stroll through Tomorrowland, the rockets swirling on the Astro Orbitor will fascinate, the space journey on Star Tours will excite, and shooting evil aliens on Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters will remind them on their own goofy alien creations. Submerging below the sea on Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage will delight them as they spy familiar ocean creatures.

If planning unit studies around Disneyland still seems too mammoth a task, wait and check back often for my e-book on Disneyland Unit Studies!

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