Play Research in Disneyland: An ECE’s Perspective

As an early childhood educator I take play seriously.  Hopefully not too seriously!  And I’m just back from a trip to Disneyland and excited to share some photos with all of you.


Anyhow after a week of play at Disneyland I decided to take a closer look at what contributes to a sense of play, fun and magic that has such mass appeal for so many people. What allows adults to experience that sense of play?  Here is what I came up with:

  1. Details. If I look closely then when I go on a ride for a second or third time then I always notice something new. Novelty is what keeps my interest.  Hidden Mickeys on each ride appeal to those with an eye for detail but there are so many more details to enjoy. It is hugely satisfying to find little details that you may have missed the first time around.   image
  2. Beauty. From the artwork of the talented animators to the lush gardens created by horticulturalists beauty is everywhere.
  3. Sense of risk. That feeling of doing something just outside our comfort zone, something we are afraid to try but wish to master, something that gives us a thrill. It is what we feel when going into a dark ride or racing along in a roller coaster.image
  4. Appeal to five senses Happy music  playing through the speakers, beauty everywhere you look, the smell of fresh waterfalls, the feel of the breeze on your face as you whoosh down the Matterhorn, the taste of the Mickey pretzels, soft ice cream and fresh popcorn are all great examples of the complete sensory experience that is Disney. image
  5. Natural elements Water is everywhere from fountains to waterfalls to water rides.  Ice and snow in the musical Frozen, balls of fire in the World of Colour show, beams of light in Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear, fireworks in the sky, and the magic of snow falling in summertime.  image
  6. Costumes/dress up Story book characters with elaborate costumes.  Families dressed for Disney with matching shirts and/or hats.  Children dressed as princesses or space explorers.IMG_2136
  7. Stories Brought to Life If I was going to sum it all up, I think most people would agree that Walt Disney just wanted to make stories come alive for children and families.  And he accomplished exactly that.image

I will say with pride that Early Childhood Educators are really skilled at adding these seven elements into our programs and without spending huge amounts of money !

Toy Story and Buzz Light Year both offer something interactive but most of the other rides do not. And yet the interactive rides are closer to real play which I believe involves action.

Preschool is much more interactive! And there is one more thing we offer children that Disneyland does not: the ability to create and co-create!

(Although I will admit you can visit the Lego Store in downtown Disney for an opportunity to create…)image


Add that creative piece to Disneyland and it would be even better!!

What if there was a huge playground area (like the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail) with items that children and families could use to construct, build and change their own play spaces?  Like this youtube video: imagination playground .  This is where the real play, the real magic happens!

Okay, Disney.  I’ve issued the challenge.  So when Star Wars Land is done your next mission is to create a new interactive playground where parents and children can co-create!

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Forever Young