My two daughters are now considered “tweens," but my husband and I have been taking them on trips to Walt Disney World since they were each a year old. We’ve built lots of great memories, taken thousands of pictures, and spent lots of our free time talking about when we can go back. But recently, I realized that not only have we had enjoyable vacations at Disney World, but my kids have been learning some valuable skills and ‘life lessons’ along the way.
Waiting in line is a part of the Disney experience, so my kids learned pretty early on that some things are worth waiting for. While on line, we talked, played games, or just enjoyed being together in the most magical place on earth. If they couldn’t wait in line, then we couldn't go on that particular ride. We were even able to hold off on electronic entertainment for a long time...until the Play Disney Parks app came along. But even with that, we tend to play together, which just adds another way to interact as a family.
Recently, I realized that all this practice had really paid off. One Saturday morning in New Jersey, we wound up in an extremely long line at the post office to renew our passports. There was nothing to entertain the kids – no phone, tablet, or interactive queue; but surprisingly, they complained very little. We all stood in the line together and made it through.
Dealing with Disappointment
Everyone wants their vacation to be perfect, but with ride refurbishments, malfunctions, sudden thunderstorms, and different family members having different interests, someone is sure to be disappointed. We have certainly experienced our fair share of Disney World “Hunny Spills” (the term used when the Winnie the Pooh ride breaks down).
One of the most disappointing experiences was on a recent visit, when we tried to visit the Carousel of Progress in the Magic Kingdom three different times over the course of two days. Each time we arrived, it was closed, even the time we rushed over from Epcot after hearing from a cast member that it was back open. In the end, we had to leave Disney World without visiting this family favorite, and it would have been easy to get mad and try blame someone. However, we decided to focus on the positive, visiting another family favorite instead, the PeopleMover, and trying something new, the Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor. So, while we were certainly all disappointed, we made the best of it!
When we’re not at Disney World, we live in a suburban town where a car is needed to get to most places of interest. My kids don’t tend to venture out on their own very often. It can be hard to find ways for them to ‘stretch their wings’. I can still remember the first time I suggested that my kids go on an attraction without me or my husband. They gave me a shocked look and thought I was kidding.
However, as my husband and I get older, we have less tolerance for spinning rides and bumpy rides. So, when my kids were old enough, I sent them onto The Mad Tea Party ride at Magic Kingdom by themselves. Because they were familiar with it, this was a great first solo ride, plus I had full view of the queue the whole time. They had the chance to practice important life skills: waiting by themselves, keeping their place in line, and following cast member rules instead of relying on mom and dad. By the next trip, they were riding Space Mountain by themselves, and my back is grateful for it! We have discussed and agreed upon rules with them, like where to meet us, what to do if we are not there, etc. As a result, the kids have become more independent, and my husband and I are just a bit healthier and happier by avoiding repeat rides on Space Mountain.
Building Confidence (and a Love for Theatre)
Recently, my kids have become involved in a local children’s theatre – something my introverted self could never have done at that age. But they are totally comfortable and confident on the stage, and they love performing. I realized this might have just a little bit to do with their Disney World experiences. In addition to the countless pictures and videos my kids have posed for over the years at Disney World, the park offers a few different ways to ‘practice’ being in front of an audience.
When my kids were ages 4 and 6, they participated in the Jedi Training Academy, where they got to fight Darth Maul onstage in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I think that was the very first time they ‘performed’ in front of crowd. Soon after, we discovered Enchanted Tales with Belle in the Magic Kingdom. In this 20 minute interactive experience, all of the kids get to "audition" for parts in the play (everyone gets a part), and then meet Belle. My youngest has played Belle's father, Maurice, three times over the years, due to her convincing portrayal of a freezing cold Maurice locked in the Beast’s cold dungeon. My oldest daughter even got to play the Beast one time; it was really cool to watch my relatively quiet child “roar’ at Belle. My kids have had other parts, such as Mrs. Potts, plates, forks, and salt shakers, but I’ll always remember Maurice and the Beast as my favorites.
My kids are still relatively young, with not much money to call their own. We typically buy them souvenirs on vacation, but recently, my husband and I decided that we would instead give them a set amount of money to spend on whatever they wanted.
This was a really fascinating experiment. We saw how the kids chose to spend their money differently. One kid didn’t want to spend any money, in case something better came along, but then wound up disappointed that she didn’t buy something that we couldn’t find later. The other kid immediately started spending money, and then realized that she couldn’t get something that she really wanted at the end of the trip. We’ve done this on our past two trips, and it went much more smoothly the second time. The last time, both kids wound up with at least some money left over.
On the surface, Walt Disney World may not seem to be educational, but there is a lot that kids and families can learn while enjoying themselves at the most magical place on earth.
Has your family learned any skills or 'life lessons' at Walt Disney World? If so, what are they?
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