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  • Writer's pictureHeather Anne

Disney Inspired Literature Based Thematic Learning!

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

This blog post shows you how to teach all of your children at the same time by creating a multi faceted literature unit using very little materials and with very little effort on your part. Even can use the classic literature that inspired Walt Disney to create Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, and more!

There is enough material in this one blog article to cover an ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR or more, depending on how much you do for each novel. I hope this helps!


I'm writing this blog entry during the COVID -19 coronavirus pandemic. Many families are on lockdown and schools are closed. They are suddenly crisis schooling at home. (You can see my other blog entry about the difference between the crisis schooling and homeschooling here. ) With varying ages of children in the home trying to learn, limited time during the day, exhaustion, depression, anxiety and juggling way too many balls at once, how are you supposed to teach all of your kids and give them a good education? And not lose your mind?

Even if you are a homeschooler by choice and we are not in a pandemic, this can be a big challenge. One way, and in my opinion, one of the best ways, to deal with this challenge is to do thematic learning with your children as a group. Thematic learning is where you choose a theme such as a science subject (the solar system for example) or a piece of literature and you base lessons and activities around that theme or literature.

The best thing about using literature for thematic learning is that you can also cover multiple subjects at once! It's easy to build reading, writing, art, history, science and even math into one unit. Keep reading and I will show you how.

You can also include all of your children together and then vary the assignments or activities to fit their skill levels and ages.

A note about math: I am not a math person. Math is not my thing and to this day I strugggle to do mental math. I personally have always done math separately using traditional curriculum because I don't trust myself to do creative and interesting math and be thorough. I'm not going to do a bad attempt at covering math as part of the thematic learning experience, but if you are good at math, there are ways. I do know people who do this. It's just not my skillset. We all have our limitations and math is mine!

On to the Disney portion!

Walt Disney loved literature and he was a masterful visionary at bringing it to life. When he created Disneyland, Walt wanted guests to be immersed in stories. Employees are called cast members. Rides and experiences are called attractions. His goal was to create a theatrical experience where stories were brought to life.

Many classic Disney movies and attractions are based on works of literature. My kids and I did an entire year where we read the literature that inspired Walt Disney and it was glorious! We go to Disneyland often, being annual passholders. Once we read the stories, everything at Disneyland became much more meaningful for my kids. Plus, the stories are fun and so beautifully written.

Mary Poppins is quite snarky and haughty in the books. It was so fun to compare the character as she was written with the character in the original movie, and then see her in the Soundsational parade at Disneyland. I had this literature nerd pet peeve and I got all twitchy when people on social media called the second movie a remake because the Mary Poppins series has a whopping EIGHT books and Mary Poppins Returns is a SEQUEL not a remake. I wanted to wag my finger and them and scold them for not reading their literature!

WARNING! WARNING! Don't go down a school research rabbit hole and overwhelm yourself trying to find activities to do with each book! We are looking at how to SIMPLIFY your teaching, not complicate it! If you go onto a million websites and start printing, pretty soon you'll have an entire stack of pages that you'll never use and you'll want to throw churros and Disneyland popcorn at me.

Below is an easy way to create a thematic unit with very little materials.


1.CHOOSE YOUR NOVEL and decide to either READ ALOUD or listen to the AUDIO BOOK. I prefer audio books myself. I enjoy listening to them as well.

2. NEVER WASTE CUDDLE TIME! Listen to your book, or read it to your children in a comfy spot. School does not need to be at a table or desk! When corporations think outside the box with their employee work spaces, they are so much more productive but they rarely step outside the box to try this. You have a chance to cut up the box, turn it into a cool fort and create family learning time memories with your kids!

3. USE NARRATION as a way of discussing the story. This is a key component of the Charlotte Mason teaching method. She was a brilliant educator in the late 1800's and early 1900's whose ideas are still popular today, especially with homeschool families. Have your children repeat the part you just read in their own words. This can be done orally or written. You can also have them tell the story in pictures or stick figures.

Charlotte Mason method is heavily based in literature as well as doing science through nature study. If you are interested in reading about her method, this book below, A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning is a wonderful read. The author, Karen Andreola, homeschooled her children with very little money using her version of the Charlotte Mason method. It's beautiful in its gentle approach and its simplicity.

4. ART PROJECTS: There are so many ideas online for activities and projects to go with literature. Search for the book title and activities for kids. "Mary Poppins activities for kids." "Mary Poppins art projects for kids" If you can connect it to the story, like chalk drawings for Mary Poppins that's great but don't stress about it fitting perfectly.

5. FIND A RECIPE and cook together. For Alice in Wonderland make sugar cookies and lemonade for the "eat me" and "drink me" part. For Mary Poppins, have a formal tea party (not on the ceiling unless you can manage it) and bake scones. Whatever book you read, you'll see references to food. Cooking together also involves my favorite! MATH! (Just kidding. Math will never be my favorite and you cannot make me love it!) Cooking is also science!

6. MOVIE Watch the corresponding movie together and have a discussion. What was the same? What was different? Ask "why" questions. Why do you think they made Mary much more sweet in the movie? Why did they leave out this part or that part of the book? Older children can then write an essay after your discussion. I said AFTER the discussion because they need modeling to form these thoughts.

7. SONG Write a silly song together based on the story. Take a familiar song, break it into syllables and then put your own words in. I did this with my students when I taught fourth grade and we had many laughs with this. Take a piece of paper and put lines in for the syllables. Then put words into those spaces that fit the rhythm of the song. Mary Had a Little Lamb, Bah Bah Black Sheep, Yankee Doodle and other nursery rhyme songs are the best for this.

8. DRAW Simply draw characters and settings. Art doesn't always have to be a project.

9. DRAW TO MUSIC. Put on music from the movie if it's a musical and just let the kids draw while they listen.

10. ATTRACTION VIDEOS Watch videos of the attraction at a Disney park on YouTube. There are a gazillion of them! Compare the story telling in the attraction to the actual story and discuss how they put the elements in and what they left out. Be pretend Imagineers and create your own attraction. Research who developed the attraction and who the artists were.

11. QUOTES Keep track of favorite quotes as you read. Make them into posters to display in your house. We are not doing Better Homes and Gardens right now. Build a fort. Get out the blankies. Decorate with kid work. When they grow up and leave your home, do Better Homes and Gardens.

12. Find fun words in the books and write them on cards or paper and put them on a wall. Learn to spell them.

I am a Disneyland girl. I'm not that familiar with parks around the world, but I do know the other parks have attractions we do not have. so do your searching. For this blog, I'm going to focus on Walt's Original park- Disneyland in California.

I added links below for the novels, audio books and other resources that might be helpful.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (8 books in the series)

Movies: Mary Poppins animated classic, Mary Poppins Returns live action

Attraction: Soundsational Parade

Peter Pan by Sir James M. Barrie

Movies: Peter Pan original Disney movie. Peter Pan live action by Columbia Tristar. Attractions: Peter Pan ride in Fantasyland. Peter Pan story time and themed bedroom at Innoventions in Tomorrowland (now closed but there are videos. Oh how I miss this one!)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Movies: Alice in Wonderland animated classic. Alice in Wonderland live action. Alice Through the Looking Glass Live Action

Attractions: Alice in Wonderland. Mad Tea Party tea cups ride.

Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

Movies: Winnie the Pooh and the many variations.

Attraction: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

I highly suggest getting the abridged version of this one, especially for younger children. Mr. Grahame has a beautiful way of painting scenery with words, but young children can get bogged down by it.

Movie: The Wind in the Willows

Attraction: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Dumbo by Helen Abersen has a very interesting story behind it. Research the story of Dumbo and read it with your children or retell it to them.

HINT: You won't find the original book for sale. Research why!

Movie: Dumbo classic or newer live action

Attraction: Dumbo

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table: There are many books written about King Arthur, both for adults and for children. Search for an age appropriate book. Approach this one carefully and find an appropriate retelling for your family.

Movie: The Sword in the Stone

Attraction: King Arthur's Carousel in Fantasyland. Research the special horse named Jingles, the connection to Walt Disney's wife and the connection to Mary Poppins for some extra fun!

Please read descriptions carefully to determine if my linked items below are appropriate for your child's age and reading ability.

By the Great Horned Spoon! by Sid Fleischman

This is my favorite children's novel of all time. It's set in the Gold Rush and it's really fun!

Movie: The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (It's on Disney + but I think you can also find it elsewhere.)

Attraction: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad The attraction is not directly based on the book, but it is based on the gold rush and mining towns. Also look up Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland which was there before Big Thunder.

I just gave you enough reading and fun to last a whole school year and I haven't even covered all of the literature connections in Disney parks! I also only focused on Disneyland, so involve your children in research to find attractions at other parks. That would be a fun book report, or a presentation on a poster board!

Happy learning everyone! Learning should be fun, connected to the real world, engaging and connected to things children love. Then, like sneaking spinach into a green smoothie, you can sneak in the other stuff that they might not love and they will do it without resentment. Our goal is to create curious, engaged, excited, lifelong learners!

Blessings to all of you!

©2020 Heather Anne at Heather Anne Art and Soul. All rights reserved. See my copyright notice here.

Here are some other fun items I like.

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Mar 29, 2020

I love this! We are in the last few yrs of home schooling our youngest and missing those younger yrs. I was not as organized as all this but we did read alouds thru the yrs and they are some of the best memories! Thank you for this!


Mar 27, 2020

Loved these suggestions and instructions. Makes much sense and is fun !

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