Disney with Special Needs: That’s One Heck of a Field Trip

We have already established that my family is a little out of the realm of average for a variety of reasons. One that I haven’t talked about is the fact that the little one is homeschooled. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is another of our special needs, it does make for some special circumstances, and that includes when we travel to Disney.

Here’s the thing: just because she is “homeschooled” doesn’t mean that all of her learning is done at home. Instead, her whole life and all of the experiences that she has are about learning and we take every opportunity that we can to broaden her mind and allow her to explore the things that interest her the most.

One of the biggest things that I love about her not being in public school is that I never have to ask permission for her to, well, do anything, but mainly to miss school for vacation. I never have to ask a teacher to approve a trip or worry about her number of allowed absences during the year. She’ll never have to worry about make-up work or doing homework in the car or resort. We’ll never have to obsess over a calendar to make sure that we choose a travel time that is during a school break or that doesn’t correspond with exams or projects. We don’t have to be concerned that she is going to miss some integral lesson that will be required on a standardized test. That doesn’t mean, however, that she’s not doing anything school-related when we visit The World. That’s one way that we are even more a Disney family. When we travel, Disney World becomes one big classroom for her.

So come along with me while I show you a little bit of how Avalon turns the Most Magical Place on Earth into the Most Educational Place on Earth.

School’s in session! 

On the road. The drive itself is a fantastic opportunity for Avalon to learn. Before we go, we talk about our milestones and the times that we think we’ll hit each one. We calculate mileage so that she can keep track if we get off course. After we fill up, we talk about gas and when we’ll need to stop for more. Once we’re actually on the road we work on observation skills by picking out letters on signs and license plates, and facts and thought speed with the category game. This is just going through the alphabet naming different things within a specific category, such as foods, animals, colors, capitals, or things you might bring with you on a road trip

Math. How families handle souvenirs for children is one of the age-old debates about Disney World. Some families have their children save up their own money. Others give them a specific budget. We give Avalon a set number of treats she is allowed to pick out and she chooses them throughout the trip. As she’s picking out her items, she has the opportunity to pay for them, which works on various math skills. We also work on math when calculating wait times, paying for meals, and figuring out timing for reservations and travel

Science. My hubs and I are both artists, which means obviously we have a child who is devoted to science. She has been passionate about all types of science since she was super tiny and dreams of being a doctor and an astronaut. This makes Disney one of the best places in the world for us to bring her. She can study physics when we discuss velocity, gravity, and how rides work the way that they do. She can learn about the human body in EPCOT. She studies animals from the savanna to the ocean and learns about their environment, life cycle, behaviors, food, and conservation efforts. We talk about weather, pollution, green initiatives, and how Disney uses recycling to improve their carbon footprint. We explore technology and how it is always evolving to change the way that we do things in daily life. Space Mountain and Mission Space indulge her love of space and she is eagerly anticipating the opening of the space-themed restaurant promised for EPCOT in the coming years

History. Spaceship Earth, anyone? If you know why these words look the way that they do — thank the Phoenicians. A ride on the big spiky ball is a favorite for our family and it has spawned many conversations about history and the progression of humans, including how paper developed, the invention of computers, the value of books (which is particularly impactful for her since she’s growing up with my collection of antique books that I count among my most prized possessions), and how one person’s ideas can change everything. We also take the opportunity to talk about colonial times, the Liberty Bell, and what a liberty tree is when roaming Liberty Square, gold mining and the Wild West as we venture through Frontierland, and the inspiration for Pirates and Main Street

Reading. The baby is already a voracious reader who will devour several books a day, but part of that comes from the way that she learned. Rather than focusing completely on phonics lessons and repetition, we read everything and everywhere. At the parks we encourage her to read signs, wait times, storytelling signs, maps, and anything else that she can get her hands on. Now she continues to work on her skills and building her vocabulary as we discover more of the hidden signs, posts, and instructions throughout the park. It’s always fun to watch her find a little sign or caption like the “key under the mat” sign in Muppets Live and following them to discover the hidden surprises around the park

Social skills. Beware! My little one is an unsocialized homeschooler on the loose. Not really, but you would be surprised at just how often we hear people lament that she must have no social skills because she’s homeschooled and “gasp” an only child. Here’s my favorite way to clear that little myth up — in school she would be required to sit in a desk and told not to talk to the people around her for hours on end, then would go outside to play with the same group of people every day; with us she goes everywhere that we go, is exposed to different people every single day, and gets to engage with people in a wide range of situations. Still socialized. Just differently. Disney World is an amazing place for her to work on social skills. She meets people from all different countries, learns about taking turns and being patient, finds out about different cultures and languages both from other guests and from Cast Members, and works on being supportive and comforting when other children are nervous about particular experiences. One of my favorite memories is when we were waiting for the Christmas parade and a family walked up at the last minute. Of course they couldn’t get a good view and their little girl was devastated. I offered for her to sit with Avalon at the edge of the road and my little one looked back at me and reached out for the little girl. She scooted over to make space for her and they spent the rest of the parade holding hands and enjoying the magic.

School’s out! You get an A. Great job. Go get some cookies and milk for your afterschool snack and get started on your term paper: Pecos Bill – Legend or Delicious Lunch: discuss.

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Taryn was born and raised, and still lives in Richmond, Virginia. Neither she nor her husband ever had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World when they were children, but when their daughter Avalon came along, they decided she was not going to follow in their footsteps. They brought Avalon for the first time when she was 3 and have been hooked ever since. Now along with Taryn’s mother and equally Disney-loving older brother, they go “home” at least once a year, and by the time she is staring longingly at Cinderella Castle from the ferry on their last night, Taryn is well on her way to planning the next trip. As a group consisting of two adults with Asperger’s, including one who is also vegan, a very accommodating husband, an only child, a senior, and a service dog, they are a pretty special family, but Taryn is excited to show that the World really is The Most Magical Place on Earth and that there is a place there for everyone. When she isn’t thinking about her next Disney adventure and trying to come up with a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party costume that will beat her Oozma Kappa nerd look, she is a professional blogger and novelist, but Taryn also likes to indulge her Disney passion on her Etsy shop It’s Better in Vinyl.

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2 Responses to Disney with Special Needs: That’s One Heck of a Field Trip

  1. Shepard C Willner says:

    I like your daughter’s name: Avalon. Did it come from the movie “Avalon”? Or does it some special meaning for you, e.g. the place where King Arthur went to after getting killed in his final battle against the evil witch, Morgana and her brother Mordred?

    I wonder if Avalon learns about percents while learning math. For example, if you’re paying a tip at a table service establishment, then the tip amount is X% of the meal’s cost, before sales tax. If she’s getting socialized, I’m sure she’ll observe that not everybody gets a who works for Disney gets paid a salary; other workers have to work hard and only get tips or commissions for their service. I agree that there are advantages to being homeschooled. I also wonder what Avalon would say on her college applications when it asks where she went to school and what year she graduated. What answer does she enter in those blank spaces, and how would a college admissions office handle that situation?

  2. Taryn says:

    Thank you! Her name actually comes from the King Arthur legend.

    She has not quite gotten into percentages yet. We started working on fractions last year and her curriculum will include percentages next year. When she applies for college her applications will say that she was homeschooled. Her records are documented in the same way as public school students, including her written evaluations, and she will take the SATs in the same way, so she will have the same types of paperwork. Considering she will graduate just as anyone else graduates, she will list the year that she graduated when asked. We don’t yet know what year that will be because she is already on an accelerated path and while she is technically recognized by the school district as being in the grade level that her age dictates, as she gets older, she may choose to skip grades and graduate early. College admissions offices handle homeschooled students the same as they handle any other students. They look at their application, essays, and achievements, and consider test scores according to their standards. She has already expressed interest in being a doctor, so her studies are being shaped toward the requirements of schools with aggressive pre-med programs. Many homeschool students receive scholarships for their academic achievements as well as for other achievements, just as conventional students do.

    Thanks for reading!!

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