As I write this, it is May 8th. School will not be out where we live for more than a month still, but we just bought season passes to our local theme park – Six Flags America. I’m pretty excited to spend as much time there this summer as we possibly can between the main park and the water park. We could go as early as next week when our passes first arrive and the park starts opening on Thursdays and Fridays. I think it will be a lot of fun to go before the masses let out of school and vacationers arrive in our touristy metro area.
If you haven’t considered a theme park membership before and have one nearby – we found ours to be about the same price as a pool membership and we all think it will be a nice change of pace.
Theme parks are packed with plenty to do and see, but you would be surprised how much kids can learn while visiting your favorite theme parks, if given a little guidance. If you are pressed for homeschool days to meet state requirements but you are all ready to get outside and get moving into summer, or if you want to find ways to apply the knowledge your kids have gained in the areas of physical science, food science, personal etiquette and hygiene, exercise and hospitality (among others), you will find theme parks make amazing classrooms.
When planning your theme park trip check the park’s website for educational materials. Many offer great programs all year long for children to study everything from marine biology to physics depending on the theme park of your choice. Simply use the sites search feature to search for “educational resources” and “homeschool programs” and the site’s offerings should pop up. Some theme parks will even offer discounts and special days for homeschool families at highly reduced prices.
Take advantage of the main theme of your favorite amusement park to make unit studies extra exciting. Water parks or theme parks with marine exhibits are great additions for ocean-themed unit studies. Roller coaster parks are perfect for physics. Use your theme park visit to bring physics to life for your older students. There’s nothing like studying the physics of a ride before you go then hopping on and feeling how everything comes together and seeing the machine work in person. Big theme parks like Disney’s Epcot are packed with themes that can pull entire years worth of unit studies together into one very exciting field trip experience.
Do a search for ideas that will help you pull together books and activities to bring along for your child to learn while you travel. This is a great chance to pull in history with biographies about the creator of the theme park you are visiting. The history of some of the attractions (yes, study roller coasters! It’s fascinating.). You can even study the hospitality industry. For young kids picture books read beforehand will bring the entire experience a depth of learning and neural connections you do not expect.
Theme parks are a great way to get kids excited about learning how to read maps. Bring permanent markers with you. Grab a map for each kid at the gate. Have your children use the maps to help find your way to different parts of the theme park. We like to have different kids take turns navigating us to our next ride or attraction of choice. For younger children have them find new location on the map when you arrive so you don’t risk getting lost or — have an adult with a map too who can guide the process.
Take advantage of learning opportunities the theme park has to offer. Many have great additions such as historical items like trains and boats that visitors can see. Near these most will have a plaque that will explain what you are seeing and why it is in the park. Waterparks often have fun additions like giant shark jaws that will give you a chance to show your children the teeth and jaws of a shark up close and personal.
Give kids a budget and let them use the field trip as the perfect chance to learn about how far a dollar can go (hint: not very far) and how to budget so that they can get what they really want while on your family vacation. These are important real life lessons that stick!
Take a stop by the gift shop on your way out. While many families like to avoid the gift shops at theme parks for budget reasons you will be surprised how many offer great books, activity kits, and other fun items that are great takeaways to help cement things they learned or add a bit more educational value to your trip if you feel you did not sneak enough in. I find the prices are often high, but I can write down the names of books and activity kits I want and buy them later elsewhere.
I had a professor in college that defined education for us in a way that many of us had never considered. Education is not the assimilation of a million different facts in different subject areas, but is actually in the ability to make valuable connections and observations and draw conclusions pulled together from a variety of subject areas to form a more complete picture. Theme parks provide an enriching opportunity for your students to observe many different school subjects working together in one beautiful unit of fun.