Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday's Five - Hidden Educational Gems at Walt Disney World

Friday's Five is a feature every week where I pick a new topic and list five items that I think fit best.  Then I ask you to share your thoughts in the comment section.  For an archive of past topics, check the Friday's Five Page

The first thing that you think of when you hear "Walt Disney World" is education, right?  Probably not, yet as one who loves learning new things, I have great appreciation for the amount and diversity of the many educational opportunities that are available throughout the resort.  I'm well aware that a trip to Disney is not for "educational purposes" (despite the fact that many parents have to list that reason when taking their kids out of school), but that doesn't mean that you can't learn a few interesting things during your trip.

Here are five lesser-known, really cool, and free opportunities to learn while you are enjoying the Most Magical Place on Earth.

Norway's Viking Exhibit
1.  Mini-museums in Epcot's World Showcase country pavilions - There is lots to learn in Epcot's World Showcase.  Just talking with cast members from around the world can give one insight into many different cultures.  Many people never make it to the mini-museums that are hidden in some of the pavilions, though.  In Norway there are displays telling of the history of the Vikings.  In the American pavilion there are artifacts from Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and NASA's astronaut program among others.  In China there is a replica of the Terracotta Army.  In Japan there is a museum that describes how Japanese mythical creatures have inspired many of the characters in Amime.  Morocco's Gallary of Arts and History is beautiful and displays the science, technology, and music of the country.  Visiting these exhibits is very informative and well worth your time.

Animation Academy
2.  Disney Hollywood Studios Animation Academy - Tucked away amid character meet and greets in the Animation building at the Studios is the Animation Academy where every half hour a Disney animator teaches gives 20 minute lessons on how to draw a Disney character.  The character changes each time, so it's something you can do more than once.  In our session this trip, we learned to draw Buzz Lightyear.

3.  Wonders of the Lodge Tour at Disney's Wilderness Lodge - At 9AM each morning, a free tour of Disney's Wilderness Lodge is offered.  On the tour you will learn about Native American culture, history and legends, the geology of the Grand Canyon, and the history of steam trains.  You don't have to be staying at the Lodge to take the tour.

4.  Innoventions at Epcot - In Epcot's Future World there are two large buildings that host Innoventions (West and East).  Inside these buildings are games and activities sponsored by companies that teach you about recycling, fire safety, how to make paper, the physics of roller coasters, and many other topics.  My kids absolutely love spending time in there, and I've learned quite a bit myself.

Bird Spotting on the Pangani Trail
5.  Exploration Trails at Disney's Animal Kingdom - The Animal Kingdom has so many educational opportunities that it was hard to narrow them all down for this list.  My kids enjoyed learning about conservation and different kinds of animals when they completed the Kids Discovery Club program.  I decided to go with the exploration trails, however, because of the appeal to both kids and adults.  In addition to exhibits with signs and information to read, there are guide maps, bird identification guides, and knowledgeable cast members who will answer questions about any of the animals you encounter that you want to know more about.

Now it's your turn.  If you've been to Walt Disney World, what were your favorite educational activities?  Have you experienced any of the opportunities on this list?  If so, what did you think of them?  If you haven't been to Walt Disney World, what educational opportunity appeals to you most?  Please share with us in the comment section below and pass the post on to others on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and Plurk so that we can hear their opinions as well.