Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Disney Day #4: One Day in Magic Kingdom, and our YES Program Class

Although we'd been loving all our days at Disney, I, personally, had been looking forward to our YES Program class the most, and our time in Magic Kingdom. Our class, How Things Move, met at the Magic Kingdom entrance 45 minutes before the park opened, and so I was excited about seeing the park for the first time before its official opening, and I was excited to see what Disney-style education entails.

Only one parent is permitted to accompany their children to a YES Program class, so Matt dropped me and the girls off bright and early, and then headed back to the condo to sleep and swim (he was supposed to do laundry, but since no laundry actually got done, I can only assume that this is how he spent his morning?). We said goodbye to him, walked up the ramp, and then got our first experience on...

...the monorail!!! If we ever drive through Orlando again (likely) without going to Disney World (also likely), I will set aside an entire afternoon simply to ride the monorail. It's made of fun.

Our YES Program class was also VERY fun, and so educational and inspiring that I really wish that we'd taken it on the first day of our trip, instead of the next to last. Our instructor, a Disney teacher who specializes in working with this specific age group (and you could tell!), escorted us to a before-hours Main Street and spent a few minutes having the children point out to her all the things that were moving. When all the children seemed engaged and their answers started becoming more creative and sophisticated, she walked us back to Fantasyland, asking us to notice as many more things that were moving as we could on the way. We sat in the shade of the teacups ride while the children shared the things that they'd noticed (Water! Horse and Carriage! Flags on Cinderella's Castle! Dumbo!), then led them to think about what made each of these things move--that's its source of energy!

To get the kids' minds focused specifically on mechanical energy sources, we all rode The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, again observing things that moved, this time also trying to envision their source of energy. Then, our instructor talked about several mechanical sources of energy, specifically solar (She brought out a small solar-powered car for the children to play with in the light and the shade), air (We rode Dumbo, and learned to recognize that specific sound that signals pneumatic power), electricity (demonstrated by a battery-powered circuit), gravity (We rode Goofy's Barnstormer twice in a row without having to get off!), and magnetism (which powers the PeopleMover, we learned as we rode it; in other news, I was stunned when Willow was able to easily explain to the class how a magnet works--yay, magnetism unit study!). 

Although I would never want to have the class (or any other class, as a matter of fact) take place outside the Disney park, a Disney park is VERY distracting to attend a class inside. It helped vastly that our instructor was excellent, and really good at keeping young children focused (the value of a simple hand on a distracted child's shoulder as one speaks can never be overestimated!), but nevertheless, would YOU pay attention to a short lecture on energy sources when just across the sidewalk a million Disney characters are emerging from a hidden gate and heading off to their various stations before park opening?!?

Clearly, this Momma couldn't! And, of course, our instructor didn't expect any of the 5-8-year-olds to, either, so we all waved and yelled hello, and then, during the first break in traffic, she subtly herded us somewhere a little quieter.

When it was time to do some designing, our instructor took us to a restaurant that wasn't open yet, and there we had tons of room, plenty of quiet, empty bathrooms(!!!), and air conditioning to hang out in while the children worked hard to design their own rides, also thinking hard about what energy sources should power them. Willow designed a double-inversion roller coaster (she talks big talk, for a kid who wouldn't even ride Space Mountain!), and Sydney got a lot of praise from the instructor for the details that she drew into her roller coaster that goes in and out of a mountain, at the top of which is a fire-breathing dragon:

I also must say that I found our instructor's habit of referring to the children as "future imagineers" SO refreshing, considering that, for the past three days, basically everyone who works at Disney had been calling my girls "princess." Mind you, I knew already that Disney was a den of gender heteronormativity, but it got very wearisome to hear from two perspectives, the first as the mother of a very gender-conscious girl who sees the princess thing as a license to put on high heels, lipstick, and dresses that tangle you up when you try to run around and climb trees, and the second as the mother of a very butch girl who sees the princess thing as yet another way in which she is inexplicably different from seemingly every other little girl in the world. 

The girls and I talked about this a LOT, discussing archetypes and consumerism and the fun of fantasy play and stereotypes and gender heteronormativity, and coming up with a list of other things that CMs could call children (Pirate! Your Highness! Mouseketeer! Imagineer!), but I also invented a game for them to play:

You probably can't understand her, because part of the fun is how difficult the phrase is to say, but the gist of the game is that whenever a Disney CM called one of my children "princess," that child would turn to me a few seconds later (ideally, after the Disney CM was no longer in earshot) and say, "I object to their sexist hegemony!"

I wanted the children to notice when they were being typecast, and to remember each time that I don't approve of stereotyping, but in a way that remained playful for them. For myself, it reminded me each time that I could allow my children the fun of the Disney experience without giving in to any values of which I don't approve. You'd be surprised at how many of my friends have given me flack about taking my kids to Disney World, but I stand by my assertion that I can let my children enjoy Disney World without letting them internalize consumerism or sexism. I can let them spend all their own money on all the crap they want without letting them think that they HAVE to have any of it. I can let them have fun going on rides and meeting characters without letting them watch most of the movies upon which those rides and characters are based (and the kids don't seem to notice either way!). I can let them love the princesses without letting them believe that they, themselves, have to be princesses to be loved. We can enjoy the fantasy that Disney World sells without letting it own us, and I think we did a good job at that.

In our class, the children also worked together in teams with tubing and marbles to design their own gravity-powered ride, and they learned a bit about how a ride is brought to life from a design, but the best part of this class was how, even after we were dismissed and off to spend the rest of our day riding rides and seeing shows and watching parades and meeting characters, the children always had it in their minds to think about the energy source behind everything. For the next two days, Matt and I would often hear something from the kids like, "I bet there's a hidden car driving that parade float," or "We're floating! This ride must be powered by moving water!".

As far as Magic Kingdom as a whole goes, if there was a ride, we rode it. If there was a show, we watched it. And then we did it again!
Prince Charming's Regal Carousel
We rode it twice!

Haunted Mansion--we rode this one twice, too.
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin--we didn't really like the aiming system on this ride, so we only rode it once.
We figured out that we could drop Syd+parent off at the entrance to Space Mountain, then take Willow to ride the PeopleMover; the PeopleMover is a longer ride, but it takes longer to walk the miles of queue to ride Space Mountain, and so we almost always got off our respective rides and met up at the exact same time!

Sydney, in some combination of parents or other, rode Space Mountain probably six times, and possibly more; Will rode the PeopleMover about that many times. We saw PhilharMagic, rode Peter Pan once, It's a Small World Once, Goofy's Barnstormer a couple more times, Dumbo once more, Pirates of the Caribbean at least three times in a row, saw The Enchanted Tiki Room (Matt perennially teases me about the Tiki Room, because I've had that song stuck in my head my entire life, and first sung it to him probably 16 years ago), and Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, both of which Willow actually consented to ride!

Off and on when entering a ride queue, one of these was scanned and handed off to us:

We'd give it back to the CM who helped us onto the ride itself, and I noticed them scan it immediately upon receipt--my theory is that they're timing our exact wait time and comparing it to the wait times listed at each ride's entrance (most of which vastly overestimated the wait times--even when a wait time was listed at 20 minutes, we often just walked right onto the ride). 

The kids ate even more ice cream--

--and we had a great spot for the afternoon parade:

Nevertheless, it was nice to know that we had two days in Magic Kingdom, and so to feel perfectly entitled to spend an hour or so goofing around Tom Sawyer's Island--

--and to hang out for nearly that long by the Sword in the Stone, eating sandwiches and watching people fail to pull the sword from the stone and, of course, trying our luck ourselves:

That thing was STUCK!

The girls had plenty of their own Christmas and birthday money to buy their own souvenirs, but I had a couple of things in mind that I'd budgeted to buy them myself, too. The kiddos spend almost all of their playtime playing with little people and animal figures, so I let them each pick out a Disney-themed figure set (Will has never played with hers, preferring to play with the remote-controlled time machine that she bought with her own money, but don't worry, Sydney plays constantly with BOTH sets!), and a gigantic, elaborate, ten dollar Mickey balloon: 

Magic Kingdom closed at 7:00, and it was the perfect closing time--the kids ate their packed dinners off and on throughout the afternoon, finishing them up on the ride back to the condo, then swam for a while, got ready for bed, and were sound asleep at the perfect time to wake up well-rested and ready for another day of Magic Kingdom in the morning.

It was particularly important to be well-rested, because the next morning, we were going to have breakfast with the princesses!

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