Teaching Mexico, Epcot Style

Mexico was the first nation we studied on the World Showcase. Since this was our first country, it was a little more disorganized than the countries going forward. Mexico was our learning curve.

Teaching Mexico was a lot of fun with my kindergartner. We started with the basics. My son has a large Discovery Kids world map on the wall in our classroom. The first thing we did was find our country and our home. This was the easy part, since we had done it before. Then, I showed him where Mexico was. We labeled it with the Velcro country labels that came with the map and discussed the continent. The DK map shows each continent in a different color but it does not have state lines drawn on it. So, we went to our globe and discussed the exact country location.

We had gone to the library and checked out various books relevant to Mexico and a DVD from Marathon Films Productions from a series called “Countries Around the World.” We watched the video and discussed what we saw. These videos serve as a wonderful introduction to the countries we are studying. Usually, they feature a child telling a little about the country, their lives, culture, foods, etc.

Next, I went to Google and found pictures of Mexico. I specifically got pictures for each environment type (beaches, deserts, mountains) different cultural depictions (dress, musical instruments, religious figures, and fiestas). I then used those pictures and traditional Mexican music I purchased from iTunes to make a slide show. My son and I sat down and looked at each of those pictures and discussed what they meant in terms of the country. We used National Geographic Kids to help supplement some of the information.

Then, using construction paper, my son made a flag of Mexico. This was accomplished by using a white sheet of construction paper and 1/3 of both green and red. He then drew the eagle/serpent/cactus part in the middle. This was one of many art projects that carry over into the Social Studies realm as well. Prior to making the flag, we had heard the Aztec story that founded Mexico City from the “Countries of the World” video. The Aztecs believed that when they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a serpent that is where their city should be founded. They saw this in the area that is now Mexico City and the flag’s center shows the picture of an eagle, sitting on a cactus, eating a serpent on an island.

Flag of Mexico

Flag of Mexico

Using Google again and Time for Kids I was able to learn a few simple phrases in Spanish to teach my son. We practiced those phrases as well as pointing the country out on the map, the continent and the flag recognition every day of our 10 day lesson. We also looked at famous places, including Chechen Itza and Tulum.

We downloaded the GeoWalk app on my iPad which gave some nice pictures and facts about some animals unique to Mexico. We ordered Mexican jumping beans online. This was the basis of our science/biology area of our Mexico studies. Using fact sheets from online resources and from the retailer, my son learned about the moths inside the jumping beans, their lifecycle and habitat. We are still eagerly awaiting their hatching.

We also used a scientific article on Jaguars and their habitats for both scientific exploration and reading comprehension. The worksheet was located on superteacherworksheets.com which provided both the article describing the cat’s habitat, eating and living habits but also followed the article with reading comprehension questions.

Another scientific area we studied was the climate differences between Mexico’s capital city and our home. We took the weather readings daily from weather.com, gathering temperature and precipitation. At the end of our Mexico studies, we graphed the results and discussed how Mexico compared to home. This crossed into the math studies as well.

For additional math studies, I created a homemade “Souvenir buying” worksheets. I used pictures of the types of souvenirs which may be purchased at the Mexico pavilion and gave them whole-dollar price tags. From this, I created math problems involving adding and subtracting money (prices and change) that help him not only understand math concepts, but concepts of money.

For the English/Language Arts we focused on two areas. The first, writing. I created a worksheet for writing “M-E-X-I-C-O” with the use of Microsoft Word. This worksheet listed each letter and an elementary style lining for him to copy the letters. He also practiced writing on the reading comprehension worksheets and weather worksheets.

For reading, we checked out a number of books from the library that covered various areas of Mexico and its culture. Those books varied in reading levels, some being very simple and read by him and others more complex and read to him.

Art is always a pretty easy subject to teach. Other than completing the Mexico flag, we also made an “eye of God” craft, homemade maracas, and a homemade piñata. To top it all off, we created a suitcase from cardstock which houses postcards he creates depicting scenes from each country. It is decorated with flags from the various countries. We have also created a passport which has space for each nation’s flag, various information about each of the nations and a place for each of the pages to be stamped at Epcot.

To end our study of Mexico, we had a Mexican fiesta, which included various Mexican foods, drinks and snacks , Mexican music and the breaking of the piñata.

Making the pinata.

Making the pinata.

The finished product.

The finished product.

We also watch The Three Cabilleros to end our study of Mexico and tie Disney back into our trip. For those who have not yet been to the Mexican pavilion at Epcot, the ride has scenes from the movie. It also features a large Aztec/Mayan style pyramid which is a architectural feature that my son is now very familiar with. I can’t wait to take him to Epcot. I plan to quiz him as we enter each pavilion to see if he can determine which country we are in.

Breaking the pinata.

Breaking the pinata.

So, that’s it…. Until Norway.


Disney Schooling

How to turn a Disney Vacation into the ultimate homeschool field trip:

1. Epcot is your friend. So many people think Epcot isn’t for kids. I beg to differ. We took my son to Epcot for the first time at 3 years old and he loved it. There are so many areas that are made to stimulate their imagination.
A. Study the Oceans in your homeschool lessons and then use the Living Seas pavilion to reinforce what you’ve learned.
B. Start a garden and then head to the Land pavilion. There you can discuss plant life cycles, hybrid plants or hydroponics techniques, depending on the age of your child.
C. Study the 11 countries on the World Showcase. The age of your child will dictate how in-depth your study will be. With my kindergartener, locating them on the wall map, learning their continent, studying their language, environment, unique animals, and a small overview of their culture, history and religion is good enough. We plan about 10 days for each country.
2. Even Magic Kingdom presents opportunities for education. Most people don’t realize that most Disney movies are based on books, poems or stories from all around the world. For instance, Mulan is based on the Ballad of Mulan from early China. Reading the primary materials and comparing them to the Disney version can be great for not only providing your child with a great base of classic literature, poetry and mythos.
3. Animal Kingdom provides a unique opportunity to view animals in their habitats. It is also a chance to study African and Asian countries typically not covered in traditional schools.
4. Disney has a multitude of cultural experiences available to enrich your child’s understanding and exposure to the world. In each of the World Showcase countries, the cast members who work at the different pavilions are originally from the nations represented. This gives your child the chance to interact with the people you have been studying, practice their new language skills, and ask questions about things they have learned about in class.

In the coming weeks, I will post how we have incorporated the world showcase nations into our learning. I hope you enjoy!


Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom

Our Classroom

Our Classroom

Whoever said this was going to be easy was lying through their teeth. That isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable or worth it. I have never once questioned by decision to homeschool (since I got started, of course). But just because I know it is the right thing, does not by any means mean it is easy.
One of the hardest parts of homeschooling has honestly been keeping up with my son’s pace. He is smart. Smart as a whip. Every time I introduce a new learning concept, he picks it up in a matter of a lesson or two. Of course, he requires practice to hone the skill and develop it further, but I usually plan two to three days worth of simple instruction and then three to five days of practice. I find myself having to readjust the lesson plans just so he doesn’t get bored. He is easily annoyed with my questions such as “What continent is Norway on?” and “Can you show me China on the map?” After an eyeroll and a “Mom, you know where it is,” he effortlessly points it out or names the continent.

The real struggle here is not him, it is me. Between working full time and being a full time graduate student, finding time for lesson planning can be challenging. Library days are a must. He gets time to play with the materials at the library and I get time to research our next country. I also have pulled from the internet quite a bit. Superteacherworksheets.com has been indispensable for providing simple math and English worksheets to help cover a concept he has just learned. Especially when I haven’t had time to create one myself.
Mostly, I find that simple books from the library give us our best social studies, science and English lessons. Currently, we are working our way through 11 countries. Those countries are: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the USA, Japan, Morocco, France, the UK and Canada. The clever eye can spot the reason for the nation picks; they are the 11 countries on Epcot’s World Showcase. These studies will be punctuated with a “field trip” to those “countries.”
While this might seem like a cheap way of justifying a Disney trip, it is actually a great way to teach my son a little about the world. We have looked at each nation on the map (he can point out the ones we have studied), learned their continent, environment, architecture, culture, language (short phrases, obviously), religion, mythos, history and stories. For each nation, we are choosing a Disney movie that depicts or originated in the nation we are studying. Then we are reading the original text. My son was surprised to discover that Mulan was only a one page long poem. Or that the book that How to Train Your Dragon was based on was NOTHING at all like the movie.
Overall, I’d say it’s a win… most of the time.

Innovention on the Horizon

After my revolutionary decision to home school my son through kindergarten, my life has gotten somewhat more hectic. I have spent hours reading books, searching through curriculum and looking at worksheets and workbooks. I have completely moved two rooms around in my home and changed the fundamental use of those rooms. My onetime idea that my son’s room would be a place of quiet reflection, having only small, quiet-play toys and books has been replaced with all of the toys that lack educational use. The once overcrowded and loud playroom has been replaced with a quiet area of books, educational movies, blocks, musical instruments and globes. I have one entire unit planned and ready to go, lots of notebooks, pens, paper and art supplies on standby and new lamps, bins and baskets.

Also in the same timeframe, we have finally made our third annual Walt Disney World Resort reservations for the fall. Our party of 8 will be traveling in style at the Caribbean Beach Resort and having wonderful dinners at Cinderella’s Castle, the Tusker House, the Garden Grille, Narcoossee’s, the Coral Reef, the Liberty Inn and the brand new Be Our Guest Restaurant. My family will be spending 9 lovely days at the resort and 7 days park hopping through the worlds. Extended family will be spending 7 days at the resort and 4 days park hopping as well as one day at universal Studios. It is sure to be a wonderful trip! I can’t wait for new experiences such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot. I honestly wish that we were leaving right away!

Since the trip will take place after homeschooling has begun, the trip will be prefaced by animal and cultural studies that will coincide with animals and countries we will come into contact with at Disney’s Epcot and Animal Kingdom. We will also be reading some of the classic literature (not just the Disney version) that is associated with some of the rides at Magic Kingdom. This way, the learning will help build excitement for the trip and the trip will help reinforce the learning. Win-Win! With stories like Tom Sawyer, Swiss Family Robinson, Through the Looking glass (the real version of Alice), Beauty and the Beast, Song of the South (the tale of Briar Rabbit [splash mountain]) and many other fairy tales, we should have plenty of literature to keep us busy. Not to mention Epcot’s many country representations, complete with cultural foods, videos, architecture, language and entertainment. Epcot also has the living seas and the land pavilions which teach about the environment and the animals and plants that live there. Innoventions East and West teach about weather, technology, engineering and other scientific topics in a fun way. Let’s not forget Spaceship earth which gives a great overview of the evolution of man. Animal Kingdom goes without saying. Life science is an easy find here. I can’t wait!

I have also managed to score tickets to an upcoming Heart concert complete with VIP package which includes a meet and greet with Ann and Nancy prior to the show. I will be giving one ticket to my partner in crime who really wanted to go but thought it was too expensive for her birthday. *shhhh*

With all this excitement, it is hard not to get started right away! But first, I have to finish building the bookshelves….

Disney Diva

For those of you who don’t know, I am a Disney freak. We go to Walt Disney World every year for our family vacation and we stay for a while. My son has a few shirts with Mickey on them, we have at least two Disney themed dishes, a pair of ears and at least one biggish Mickey stuffed animal. Okay, okay maybe we aren’t quite to the level of Disney freak just yet.

Disney is our favorite vacation spot though and I am a freak about planning vacation. To me, the planning stage of any vacation is the most fun. I enjoy spending hours reading reviews, scoping out the perfect place to stay, eat and play. And of course, I love finding ways to have a five star vacation at a three star price (or better).

For Walt Disney World, I have found that information is both bountiful and of good quality. There are a few websites that I must point out. First and most obvious, the Walt Disney Official Site . This site gives quite a bit of information about the various parks, hotels, and restaurants available on Disney property.

One thing I should say upfront, is that I am a purist. Meaning, when I go to Disney, I stay onsite, I eat onsite and I don’t stray from WDW until I am homeward bound. No, it isn’t because I don’t know that there are many other wonderful things outside the Magical world of Disney. It’s because I’m lazy. It’s a 15 hour drive from home, I have a preschooler in tow and I get one good vacation a year. I like to relax once I arrive and not have to drive anywhere or work too hard for anything. Thankfully, Disney makes it easy for me to do all of the above. The experiences at Disney are amazing and (if planned well) not that expensive, so there really is little incentive for me to stray.

So, after checking out the information available on the official site, I venture to Touring Plans to check out the crowd calendar. This site is amazing for quit a few things, not the least of which is the crowd calendar. The crowd calendar is important for picking a good time to visit Disney. I for one, hate the large crowds which pack in like sardines to every corner of the park at peak season. It is more important for me to avoid high crowds than high prices, so I start by looking at dates. The calendar provides a rating (1 to 10, 1 being the lowest crowds 10 the highest) for each park, each day of the year. For instance, a friend I know is going to WDW on March 23 and, based on her toddler, I’d say Magic Kingdom. A quick look at the calendar tells me that MK’s anticipated crowd level for that day is a 7.8. Ouch! I couldn’t do it.

Touring Plans has a few extra features I’d like to point out. My favorite, the lines app. Lines works on Android or Apple devices and provides up to the minute accurate wait times for every attraction, show and even restaurants in the park. This is especially helpful for those last ride of the day situations where your hopeful is on the other side of the park. There is nothing worse than running clear across the park only to find that the wait is too long for you and you wasted your time and energy. Another helpful feature for those who travel at busier times of the year (which I won’t), are the touring plans. If you use them religiously, they will take you to each ride on your list in the order necessary to spend the least time waiting in long lines. A definite plus when its 100+ degrees and 500 million people have joined you on vacation. Touring also has a blog where they review all of the new features available in Disney, as well as follow up on the old ones. Great for understanding how new things, like NextGen will change how my family does Disney. If you don’t know about NextGen, check it out Here or Here. These are two more amazing sites for all things Disney.

Next, it’s All Ears for the really fun part. All Ears has a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures. This is especially helpful if you want to try a new resort or restaurant and you just aren’t sure if it is a good fit for your family. This site is very detailed and has a review on anything you can think of. For me, the pictures are great, since Disney can make anything look amazing on their site. I like the more balanced review I get from Touring and Ears.

After all of this time spent reading, researching and reviewing, its time to make reservations. Many people like Mousesavers because of the many reviews on how to get the best value and what discounts are available. Its a great place to look, but I prefer All Ears and they push much less for a travel agent which I believe is just absurdly unnecessary for a Disney vacation unless you are coming from overseas or just simply can’t work a computer. I typically make my reservations through Disney directly as I book room, tickets and a dining package. You can see above about my preference for ease of use vacations. As such, I like the comfort of the dining plan and since I usually get it for free (thanks to my travel dates), its a win-win. After booking my package, I go straight to ADRs (advanced dining reservations). This for me is the most fun as my family always does some type of character meal, and usually more than a couple. Thanks to the dining plan, it doesn’t cost anything extra and my son loves them. I usually plan for a sit down lunch as it gives a respite from the heat and walking at the hottest part of the day. With a young child such as mine, that rest gives us just what we need to party late into the night at Stitches 626 dance party (a favorite of my 5 year old). Be prepared however, reservations book quickly (even in the off season) so I make my reservations right at the 180 day mark (the earliest possible).

While all of this may seem really intense for a vacation and way too structured for many, I find that it provides the exact opposite for me. I get excited about the trip very early thanks to all the blog following and review reading. And once my family arrives, all the hard work pays off and we can relax and really enjoy our trip. Food, paid for and arranged. Bed, check. Fun, let’s do it! My vacations are stress and worry free and my five year old sees nothing but the Magic!


Travel bug

Lady LibertyOne thing is for sure, I was bitten by the travel bug very early life. My mother loves to travel. I’ve been told that for both of us it was probably a means of escaping difficulties in our lives. Yeah, maybe. I think it is the rush that I get. There is an overwhelming feeling of awe standing in front of Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art in NyC, a giddiness standing atop the Empire State Building, a breathlessness watching the sunset from Sacre Coeur, prepare bliss sitting beach side from Myan ruins in Mexico, a desire for adventure and possibility when eating freshly picked fruit watching wild horses atop a mountainside in Jamaica. No, it isn’t an escape, its an adrenaline rush!


Beach at Tulum

I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively in my younger years. I have been to 46 of our 50 beautiful states and 6 other countries. I’ve touched the ancient rocks at Stonehenge, sat at the foot of Rodin’s The Thinker, fed stingrays in Grand Caymen, felt the mist of the falls at Niagra, fed iguanas at the Myan ruins, I’ve watched the Queen of England light fireworks from Buckingham Palace while serenaded by the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Paul McCartney, Elton John and more. I could fill a novel with the things I have been lucky enough to see and do.  But there is still so much I’d like to see; Brazil, Peru, the Amazon, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Italy, Ireland.

For the moment, I’ll just have to be content with showing my son all of the wonder I’ve seen In the world. It is my hope that the beauty of the world will widen his eyes and that his heart will long for daring travels and quiet enchantment. Or, if all else fails, Mickey Mouse ears and cotton candy is always a sure bet.

Cinderella's Castle