by Tiki Diva
This month marks my family’s eighth anniversary of homeschooling. We have seen at least one child through every grade level, now. Our son is a college freshman, while our daughter is plowing through fourth grade.
While I will often see people post on social media, asking about taking children out of traditional public or private schools for a Walt Disney World vacation, I rarely see homeschooling parents ask this question. More than likely, this is because many states like mine do not require us to submit attendance records, or families make up the vacation time at other times throughout the year. Or, you may take the schoolwork to complete on the way to Florida or in the books and crannies of your days, as we had to do while on a trip during my son’s senior year. (He has deadlines given by teachers in his homeschool co-op classes) But, did you know that you can also enjoy a magical trip to Walt Disney World and feel good about the educational experience you are giving your children while there? Soarin’ Diva previously gave us tips on in her article “You Mean My Kids Disney Vacations Can Be Excused Educational Trips?”
This is going to be the first article in a multi-part series regarding homeschooling at Walt Disney World. I’m going to start our homeschooling tour by discussing Epcot’s Future World, as that’s a significant portion of the park that many people likely first consider when relating education to Walt Disney World.
Epcot first opened in 1982 and was designed to help visitors discover many facets of the world around them. In fact, my own mother thought the park was so “teachy” (her word) that we completely skipped over it because she was afraid Epcot would bore everyone to death. Incidentally, I’m still smarting over that decision and desperately wish I had been given the opportunity to experience some of those early attractions.
At any rate, it is pretty obvious that you can’t throw a stick without hitting something educational in Epcot. (But don’t really do that. You’ll tear something up.)
Young preschoolers through elementary age will enjoy being told what things are. Point and look at all the wonderful exhibits. Middle Schoolers will want to explore through questions. Encourage them to dig deeper into the things they see. High Schoolers? Good luck. They will learn by virtue of being there. Give them time and space to explore on their own, if you are comfortable. Sometimes the biggest lessons come in the form of life skills, particularly time and money management in a park this size.
Let’s start with the Future World Pavilions.
Give me an I
Give me an S
Give me a T
Okay. That’s getting old. Let’s jump to the chase: H-I-S-T-O-R-Y
Someone tell me how this could be anything other than educational. For my Classical Conversations-trained daughter, she sang the Timeline song as she rode through for the very first time. Want to dig deeper? Pick a favorite scene and do additional research and unit studies on it. Discuss why ancient texts may have been saved. Discuss why Rome was burning. Or ask your child, “What technological advances do you want to see in the future?”
Get a bird’s eye view of the world in Soarin’. While waiting in line, share facts and tidbits about the various sights you will encounter on this extremely popular attraction.
Take a boat tour through Living with the Land, a personal favorite. Discuss man’s impact on the environment through the use of large factory farms versus backyard or community gardens. Compare traditional growing methods and hydroponic setups, which are on display in the greenhouse.
Bonus: book the Behind the Seeds Tour. At $25 per adult and $20 per child (as of January 2019), this is one of the least expensive guided tours at Walt Disney World. During this one hour tour, you will get an up close view of the fish farm and four greenhouses in the Land Pavilion.
Double bonus: Eat at the Garden Grill to taste delectable vegetables grown on property and to possibly snag an opening ride on Soarin’ with little to no wait.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends
This building is most often visited for Turtle Talk with Crush and the dark ride, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, which is the building’s current namesake. But, I urge you to block out some time to explore the aquarium, as well. This pavilion was once called The Living Seas and features an enormous aquarium. In fact, until 2005, this was the largest saltwater aquarium. While I have never been able to find an entrance other than going through the gift shop, once inside, the turquoise and blue decor offers a calming oasis in the middle of a steamy Florida day. While here, peek at the resident sharks, fish, and rays in the 5.7 million gallon Caribbean Coral Reef aquarium and take time to explore the fascinating manatee exhibit. Be sure to catch the twice-daily fish feedings (10 AM and 3:30 PM) and visit the Observation Deck for a seagull’s eye view of all the action.
Bonus: The Seas offers a few tours to choose from: Epcot DiveQuest, Dolphins in Depth, and The Seas AquaTour.
Double Bonus: Go under the sea and dine at the Coral Reef Restaurant, with table-side views of the aquarium.
Rumor has it that The Seas may be in for an update. Stay tuned!
Put the “A” in your STEAM efforts when you visit this colorful, interactive amusement. Granted, Journey into Imagination with Figment can cause a bit of a stink when compared to the original, but there’s still plenty to see, smell, hear, and perhaps even taste here. (Taste? There’s a delightful flavored popcorn cart just outside the building. Try it!) I personally adore the charm of this ride, but it is also a lovely little way to encourage the younger crowd to delight in all their senses. Older students may enjoy seeing the vintage Figment figures and have a rowdy discussion regarding the reasoning that some rides are refurbished or replaced. Or, you may try to figure out the imagineering behind how certain illusions in the attraction actually work. For instance— how do they hide that skunky stink when riders first enter the olfactory room? Afterwards, try out the hands on game stations at the exit of the ride for some more interactive fun. Don’t forget about exploring the physics behind the upside down and jumping fountains. Can you catch the water mid-air on a hot day?
Bonus: Sit and stay for a while. The Disney and Pixar Shorts Film Festival is playing in the theater on the upper level of this pavilion. Ask your children: how do the music and imagery in a film affect the viewers’ emotions?
Test Track Pavilion
Wandering over to the opposite side of Future World, we find the Test Track Pavilion. Discussing the decisions that go into the development of new automobiles and other forms of transportation is obvious, here. But, what else can you discover? What physics come into play when your vehicle is slung around the outside track? What variables cause the car to go a different speed each time? Is the car actually going various speeds or is that part of the show? Why is the track curved? Also take time to explore the show building. You might just learn something from the various displays inside.
Bonus: Take a peek at the Frozen Coca-Cola stand near this ride. Ask your kids if they can discover ways marketing and building design (the water misters) can draw customers in?
Mission Space Pavilion
The exterior of this building just completely lights up one’s imagination. What would it really be like to travel through space? This ride doesn’t often have a terribly long line and extra fast passes are typically available, in my experience. For those who like to walk on the wild side, try out both the Orange and Green Teams and then compare and contrast the experiences. You may also choose to discuss the more obvious astronomy concerns such as the planets in the solar system, moons, and so forth. Or, you may ask yourselves, “just what caused me to get so sick?” Or, ride Team Orange multiple times and see if you can control the point at which you feel queasy or discover why you have a steel stomach and don’t get sick at all. (If you can’t tell, this ride is a one and done for me.)
Bonus: there’s a restaurant coming to this pavilion, too. Personally, I’ll have to choose to either dine there or ride Mission Space, as I don’t think I’d be able to stomach one right after the other.
This pavilion is constantly changing. One time, we learned about managing money and saving. Another, my daughter enjoyed a Scientist-led show about experimentation and the scientific method. You never know what you’ll find, but it is worth popping in to see what they are offering during your visit.
Does this seem dull and boring to you? I encourage you to avoid making your trip all about school, unless you are specifically visiting as a field trip or have the good fortune to live nearby. Slip a few of these suggestions into your day and let your children soak up the rest. Above all, have a magical day!