Taking the Kids To Disney World: 7 Tips from a Preschool Teacher

Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom

For many families, Disney is a once in a lifetime experience, so making the experience go as smoothly as possible is definitely worth the investment. Disney can be overwhelming for children, especially young children. If you’re not prepared, that Disney magic can be quickly replaced by stress and disappointment.

As a preschool teacher and parent, here are my suggestions for preparing you and your child to have a great Disney trip.

Tip 1: Rehearse

Some of the best advice I can give is to rehearse. What I mean by this is to practice for the trip and help children become comfortable and familiar with experiences as much as possible before you even leave home. Some ways to rehearse include talking to your children about the trip beforehand, watching videos or reading books about traveling and going to Disney, or taking a trip to an all day outing such as the zoo, aquarium, or a fair. When preparing my 2-year-old nephew for Disney, we watched point-of-view videos of Disney World rides on YouTube beforehand. This is also great so you can get an idea of what may be exciting and what may be too scary for children.

Tip 2: Make a Calendar

A countdown calendar is a great tool to have leading up to your trip. Since young children are still developing concepts of time, a countdown calendar is a tangible way for them to understand how long until a trip. You can make your own countdown calendar using a standard paper calendar or instead make a countdown paper chain, cutting a ring for each day until the trip. Both are great ways to give children a visualization, get them involved in the process ahead of time, and curb those questions of when you are going to Disney. For more ideas on making a countdown calendar check out this thread on DISboards.com.

You might also consider making a calendar itinerary of your trip that can be easily understood by your children. For young children, you can include pictures for certain days or activities, like a picture of Tinkerbell under the day you will have a character meet and greet. For older children, you can use pictures and words. You can even turn it into a meaningful opportunity for them to learn by helping them develop reading skills as they sound out new words or help you make the calendar by writing or drawing pictures themselves for what will be happening each day.

Tip 3: Pack Items to Keep Your Kids Engaged

How and what you pack is key when traveling with children. Because children can be sensitive to change it is helpful to bring items that are familiar and will provide some sense of normalcy. For young children, this may be a lovey like a stuffed animal or blanket; for older children this may be a favorite book or a favorite item of clothing such as a hat. It can also be a good idea to bring along some items you may have used to rehearse such as a book about travel or even a children’s guide to Disney World such as Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World For Kids. To keep children engaged during down times at the resort or in transit, bring along some favorite toys or games. You may consider something having to do with Disney, such as a Buzz Lightyear figurine or something new or that isn’t played with at home as often such as cards or dominoes. For older children, downloading group games (e.g. Charade-like games, or trivia apps) to your smartphone beforehand is also a great idea. When out at the parks, long lines feel shorter while playing “Eye Spy” or answering trivia questions.

“The Boneyard” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Tip 4: Take Breaks

Going long days at Disney can be tiring for everyone so it is important to pace yourself and take breaks. I find it helpful to take a break during the middle of the day before or just after lunch to return to your resort or hotel. This gives children a chance to nap and can be refreshing for everyone. Families with older children may choose to return to take a swim and relax in the resort room. Either way, a break in the middle of the day from the rush of Disney can do wonders for a child’s energy level and help them to not become worn out by the end of the trip. It can be hard for children to spend all day standing in lines and sitting in shows and rides so also plan for some movement breaks. When we took my nephew, we took a break and let him play in the play area for Dumbo and the Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Area. There is also an awesome play area at Animal Kingdom called The Boneyard. These breaks can be a great time to regroup and reconnect in the busyness of a long Disney day.

Picture of Walt Disney From One Man’s Dream at Hollywood Studios

Tip 5. Learn something new!

Disney is a great place to visit because the experience can be not only entertaining but also educational. Whether it is learning more about the history of the United States by a visit to Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom, or the history of Disney himself, with a visit to One Man’s Dream in Hollywood Studios, there are many opportunities to learn through rides and attractions. Epcot has many attractions geared towards learning, particularly in the area of science. You can take a ride on Living with the Land and learn about agriculture or visit the aquarium in the Seas Pavilion. The World Showcase gives opportunity for learning about other cultures and Animal Kingdom presents numerous opportunities for learning about animals and conservation. To help children reflect on their experiences you can make it a point to have them take note of things they learned or what they might want to learn more about after a day in the park. For young children, you might talk with them and retell some of the happenings of the day. For older children, it can be as simple as asking, “What is one thing you learned today, that you didn’t know before?”

Hall of President’s at Magic Kingdom

Tip 6. Use a System to Encourage Positive Behavior.

As exciting and wonderful as Disney may be, all the busyness that a Disney trip brings can be very challenging for some children, leading to meltdowns, tantrums and downright not-so-nice behavior. I like to suggest that before traveling, parents set up systems to encourage positive behavior. Rather than reacting in the moment, you can have a plan beforehand for how behavior can be managed along the way. For example, you can make a sticker chart on an index card to track and reward positive behavior, like sharing a toy or being patient in line. And if they get enough stickers, they get some small reward such as a treat or a toy you have picked out for them.

Another idea is to give your child a job. For example, you might make it your child’s job to manage the itinerary. For a young child this is as simple as holding the itinerary paper or book (perhaps in the stroller). Older children can work on reading skills as they read what is happening next or count down how many more attractions and check off what you are doing as you go. Another idea is to give your child a disposable or old camera to take pictures of each ride or attraction as you go or some other objects that interest them. This can keep children focused, reduce negative behaviors, and help them feel involved and engaged throughout the trip.

PhilharMagic at Magic Kingdom

Tip 7. Be Flexible

Although I’ve shared many ideas for how to plan ahead and be prepared, it is also important to be flexible when going to Disney with children. Because it is a new experience, things may not always go perfectly or as planned. It can be helpful to have an idea ahead of time of how you may need to respond in case of emergency or if your child is just really having a hard day and you need to change plans. Familiarize yourself with the park maps and attractions beforehand so you have an idea for how to quickly leave in case you need to make an exit (keep in mind it can take up to an hour or so to get back to a resort). Another alternative is to have ideas of where you can take quiet breaks in the parks case you need an impromptu cool down period. Quick service restaurants during off-peak hours can work for this or you might just skip a more fast paced longer wait attraction such as Big Thunder Mountain and opt for something calmer with a shorter wait such as Mickey’s PhilharMagic. For very young children, the baby care centers can be calmer areas to take breaks if needed. For more ideas on where to take a break check out this article. Sometimes in the middle of a meltdown, some air conditioning, a cool drink, and a change of scenery can work wonders.

For more helpful tips on bringing your family to Disney, check out the Disney For Families board on the DISboards.


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