Connecting Disney and Education


My family spent Thanksgiving break at Disney as we have the past few years.  We live about 3 and 1/2 hours away, and we like to go when it’s a bit cooler, even though the crowds are bigger (or at least it feels that way!).  There’s something about the magic and atmosphere there that has to be experienced.  Our first day there we went to Animal Kingdom for the first time, then spent a couple of hours at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), taking in the shops, restaurants and people.  As it was Black Friday, it was almost impossible to park and harder still to walk around!  We did our best, then decided to come back Sunday morning to shop (and get our Wetzel Bitz-I love soft pretzels!).  Saturday was spent entirely at the Magic Kingdom.  My son and daughter had a blast!  We were there for over 10 hours and didn’t even scratch the surface of all the things we wanted to ride and do.

As always, I try to be a keen observer of my environment and how I can connect incredible experiences and ideas to physical education.  Last year when we were at Disney Springs, a DJ had the crowd (including myself) dancing and chanting along to a bunch of hits from the 60’s to today, using small samples of each song.  I took that idea back with me and began making “music montages” that now serve as some of our warm-up songs in class.  The kids, especially K-3 love them!!!  The older students are a little more hit or miss with them, but watching 100-120 students singing, dancing and moving to my mixes is amazing to watch!

So what were my findings this trip?  Here’s a few that I noticed:

  1. Amazing Customer Service: One of the things that separates Disney from most companies is their friendliness, professionalism, and all-round customer service.  We were late getting into the Magic Kingdom on Saturday morning, missing our fast pass time for a ride.  My wife went to their office and the kind “Castmember” gave us a fast pass for that ride good for any time the rest of the day.  The workers are always friendly, always present (not playing with their phones!), and always striving to help customers like myself have magical Disney experiences.  PE application:  It’s not always easy, but we need to talk to the students as they arrive, asking them how their day has been, commenting/complimenting them on their clothes, hair, or something they did that was positive.  I’m not perfect with this, having 100+ students per class, but I try to greet the classes with a smile, help tie shoelaces, give high-fives, and accommodate them as best as I can.  Also, learn the student’s names.  It’s really difficult to learn 1000 or so names, and I don’t have them all memorized (especially the kinders!), but I work hard to remember names, as it’s extremely important to the children to know you care. All students deserve a quality PE experience, and you never know what some of them go home to.  We need to be their light and structure because quite often they don’t have that after 3 pm.
  2. Focus on niches: You won’t believe this, but at Disney Springs there’s a shop for left-handed people!  My son went over to the outdoor store and wanted something there, but I told him he was a righty so we needed to move on.  Now that’s a niche!  Why would a store do that?  I think with millions of people going there each year, it’s probably a good bet that either left handed people or their relatives find some unique gifts to buy from them.  PE application:  Find your “Niche”.  I can’t do every cool thing or use every new app that’s out there, and trust me I want to, but I have to focus and play to my strengths.  I can complain all day long about having 120 students in 95 degree Florida weather outside, but I’ve come to embrace it and do the best I can for them.  My niche is getting a lot of kids moving, learning and having fun at the same time!  I love SOLO Taxonomy, cooperative learning portfolios (sportfolios), TGFU, sport education units and many other teaching methods, but I can’t do it all, and I don’t have enough devices (or Wifi available) to make all these things happen.  So instead, I blend them and mix them into my program.  For instance, every spring we have a sport ed. tchoukball tournament with our 5th graders.  It’s an incredible experience, and our final game is held inside our cafeteria, which we turn into a stadium complete with loud music and capacity seating! I wish we had the time, smaller groups and resources to do this all year with 3rd and 4th graders as well, but it’s just too difficult.  But we make it work and it’s an experience the 5th graders cherish and the 4th graders can’t wait until it’s their turn!

  3. Cleanliness: It’s rare to see garbage on the ground at any Disney park.  Not only do castmembers constantly walk around picking things up, but I’ve read that touch-up painting occurs nightly on Main Street and other places in the parks. PE applicationMake sure the students have a nice, clean, organized PE environment.  I will sweep the pavilion or ask our custodians to use their leaf blower to get the debris off our cement where the students come in and sit.  Also, organize stations and equipment so the class can easily flow from one station to another.  It’s the little things that make a big difference sometimes.

  4. Something for everyone: So I know #2 contradicts this, but at Disney Springs, along with the left-handed store, there was music playing at every corner on that Friday night.  There were rap-battles, country music singers, djs, jazz, pop singers…you name it, it was covered!  If you liked music, you could find your style.  PE application: Give the students choices.  Have something for everyone.  I don’t always give 6 classes choices every day, but on Fun Friday, students are given a lot of choices, ranging from Pillow Polo (a cross between hockey and soccer), jump roping, hula hooping, basketball, paddle ball, 4 square, and many others.  Let them explore new things, but give them a chance to do what they enjoy.

All in all, my time at Disney was fantastic! We had a lot of fun as a family, but I’m always looking for ways to improve our PE class for my students.  They deserve the best, so let’s give it to them!


2 thoughts on “Connecting Disney and Education

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