When her lolo and lola told her that we were celebrating her fifth birthday party in Disneyland, the Energizer Bunny was ecstatic! She started counting down months prior to our trip. She viewed and reviewed our photos from a previous visit. I knew she was really psyched, though, when she casually mentioned that we “study” Disneyland.
Taking her cue from a Disneyland map that she got, I thought that we could just do some mapping skills to get ready for our trip. Mariel suggested though that we get to know Walt Disney, the genius who had this vision of “the happiest place on earth.” I am so thankful that she did because our two weeks with Walt Disney made us appreciate our Disneyland vacation even more!
We anchored all our lesson topics on this wonderful biography chapter book by Whitney Stewart that I found in Fully Booked. Part of a series of biography books for children, it is simple enough for young kids to understand, without sacrificing content. In fact, the anecdotes are comparable to another Bible-thick biography book that I borrowed from my dad.
The Energizer Bunny was also thrilled to see funny caricatures of Walt throughout the book. We read a chapter or two at a time and then expounded on topics that was relevant to our family and our trip.
Walter Elias Disney, we learned, was the fourth of five children. He once lived in a farm in the town of Marceline, Missouri, which was the inspiration for Main Street, USA in all the Disneyland parks.
Using Melissa and Doug farm stickers, we made a farm scene and tried to imagine what it was like to live in a farm. The Energizer Bunny dictated a story about her farm picture, which I wrote on paper.
Disney was also very fond of trains, which is why Disneyland parks have trains around them. We read some simple facts about the trains in Hong Kong Disneyland (their names, colors, and cars) so we were quite excited to ride in it. Unfortunately, the trains were out of service during our visit.
Just the same, we had fun learning about different kinds of train cars and singing and dancing to our Kindermusik songs about trains. We also enjoyed reading, “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper, chanting the motto about perseverance (“I think I can, I think I can”).
Even as a young boy, Walt enjoyed drawing the most. Once, he and his younger sister Ruth found black tar in the backyard and thought it was paint. They were said to have drawn on the white walls of their home, much to their mother’s anger. It is said that these first documented drawings of Walt can still be seen in his home.
Knowing how kids would love to draw on walls, too, I invited the Energizer Bunny to write on our garage wall using chalk. Weeks after, she still tells the story of how she drew on the walls, just like Disney.
Animation and the most famous mouse in history
What is a study about Walt Disney without the study of the history of animation? We spent a lot of time in this topic mainly because we really enjoyed taking a ride back in time to explore how cartoons were made and watching cartoons of old.
YouTube is an amazing resource for old videos, including original videos of Charlie Chaplin, which the Energizer Bunny found surprisingly funny, and was Walt Disney’s model for Mickey Mouse (big feet, shoes pointed out). Original Mickey Mouse clips, namely Plane Crazy (Mickey’s debut, and which was a big flop initially!) and Steamboat Willie (which made a dent in the animation scene as the first cartoon with sound and made Mickey and Walt Disney stars) can also be viewed there, as well as other Disney originals.
We compared the differences between the original and modern-day Mickey, from his looks to his character traits. Other noteworthy videos when studying Disney are Walt introducing Three Little Pigs, Three Little Pigs from the Silly Symphony series, which was one of the first colored cartoons, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first ever full-feature cartoon.
Aside from viewing these interesting clips that paved the way for modern animation, we also made our very own cartoon. Energizer Bunny’s dad gamely made a flipbook about a boy playing with a ball. The Energizer Bunny saw how many drawings were needed to make this simple cartoon, making us appreciate Walter Disney’s genius even more.
As an apt ending to our discovery of animation’s history, we visited the Art of Animation gallery in Disneyland, which had all the movies that we enjoyed during our study; there was also a flipbook of the original drawings of Cinderella. The most interesting part, however, was seeing the Zoetrope with the characters of Toy Story. Watching it come to life was just plain amazing!
After Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney’s creative efforts were channeled into making an amusement park that the entire family could enjoy. He envisioned a clean place with rides and trains (of course!) where children and adult alike would be happy.
While Roy, his brother and business partner, was not quite sure how Walt Disney would pull off financing such a big project, the dream became a reality as the Disneyland parks that we now know and enjoy.
The Energizer Bunny and I took a look at the different lands and scenes that we would see in the park. We listed down the rides that she wanted to go to. We also explored how roller coasters work using a piece of tube and a small bead.
Her dad, who is in charge of science in our home, showed her how these rides were powered by sheer energy and gravity. We put loops in the tube and experimented on the correct angle and height for the bead to completed the “ride”.
To culminate our unit study, we put together a lapbook, which also serves as our album of the trip. A Mickey Mouse folder from our hotel room served as a perfect home for all our printables, lists, drawings, and pictures (as soon I get them printed).
Towards the end of our trip, the Energizer Bunny casually asked me what I liked the most in Energizer-Bunny-land. I asked her what I would see there. “Rides and all my friends, of course, ” she replied. “And a museum too. A Walt Disney museum.”
And this, I think, sums up our take-away from one of our most enjoyable lessons – that Walter E. Disney was a great man who made his dreams and his visions come true.