Life Lessons With a Disney Twist: Teach Kids to Be Appreciative

teach kids to appreciate nice things you do for them

Updated for 2014!

If you are planning a vacation, it will probably be one of the more expensive things you budgeting for during the year. Some people plan and save for Disney vacations for years, weighing accommodation options, scheduling the entire trip around Free Dining, etc.  Not everyone stays in a Deluxe Disney Resort, because not everyone can afford it. If you are sweating over the money it will take to get to Disney, then chances are, you are probably on a tight budget that may barely include Value Resort accommodations.

My family pulled up to an inexpensive hotel in Orlando several years ago to groans and cries from my children, “We can’t be staying here!”  While I was not planning to spend a lot of time in the hotel room, I still didn’t take this accommodations-mutiny well. “You’re on vacation, and lots of people are not. Just be glad you’re here,” I growled, wondering what sort of ingrates I was raising.

This goes beyond how some people are not taking a vacation to Orlando now.  Some people have never been on vacation to Disney, and many people never will. Disney vacations are fabulous and incredible and yet insanely expensive. There are life skills you can teach your children before and while you’re on a Disney vacation.

Today’s life lesson with a Disney Twist is to be appreciative.

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help kids appreciate your Disney vacation

As a public high school teacher, I work with over 250 students each year. When I ask them to raise their hand if they have ever been to Disney World or Disneyland, the total is about 5%.  It is certainly not my imagination that there is a look of envy toward those kids who have. When I ask my pre-teen sons how many of their friends ever mention going to Disney, the answer through the years has been a small handful.

It doesn’t have to be new or crazy expensive to be nice.

Bought your souvenirs at the Wal-mart in Kissimmee? At least you have the t-shirt. Ordered your trading pins off eBay, and these aren’t as adorable or shiny as the pins in the gift shops?  This is just motivation to trade the cheap pins more often. Ate a sandwich on a bench for lunch? Now you may have enough money for a nice sit-down meal for dinner.

Have to wait in long lines? At least there is a ride at the end of the line.

Have to wait for the next monorail? At least there is one just 5 minutes behind that one.

You are at Disney, which makes all the simple things seem all the more magical.

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Disney vacations are expensive

Where does appreciation start?

The fine art of appreciation starts at home, way before the Magical Express pulls up to the resort doors. Talk with your kids about how they can’t have it all, and that sometimes, they will make a choice to settle for less. If you stay off property in an inexpensive hotel or a Disney Value Resort, maybe you can afford to step up to more expensive accommodations on the next trip, but then again, maybe not?

Explain your financial decisions before, during, and after your trip. You teach appreciation by setting the example.  Kids, enjoy where you are when you are there.

How do you teach children to be appreciative?

1. Conversation

Start by having conversations and teach your kids to appreciate where you stay, the food you eat, the view you have, even if it’s not really the one you wanted deep down. We can’t all stay in Deluxe Resorts, eating characters meals twice a day, toting our Disney Dooney & Bourke handbags over for our reservation at Le Cellier. Some of us that rolled change and had yard sales to afford this trip better be glad we made it to Disney at all.

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kids love parades at the Magic Kingdom

Teach your children how to be grateful for what they have by talking with them.

Just by saying, “We’re so lucky to be here. We’re so lucky to be able to do this” is a great way to show your kids you appreciate what you have.  Model appreciation by working it into conversation. When you repeat an idea over and over, it’s more likely be learned. Verbally encourage your children to appreciate the Disney magic for what it is… an amazing opportunity that not every child gets.

2. By Example

Adults, enjoy where you are when you are there.  The ability to appreciate what we have before us, as opposed to constantly wishing for more, is a valuable life skill. It’s all about making choices…

We all have choices to make with vacation plans. In our age of massive credit card debt, it would be so easy to book a room we really can’t afford, to book character meals we really can’t afford. Sometimes we make financial choices for vacations that will keep us out of debt when we get back home or keep us from going even deeper in debt than we are now.

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learn to appreciate your vacation

Teach your kids that making financial choices at Disney that may not buy you the best of everything is a choice, and when you make a choice to have less that what you wanted, you can still have a fine appreciation for where you are and what you get. You do your teaching by talking with them, and then by showing them 

Tell your children the reasons why you chose the resort you booked or the house off property, and then show them the number comparisons on a spread sheet. If you won’t be doing a character meal every day, explain the cost. Menus are online for nearly every Disney restaurant in every park; show them how much character meals cost, then compare that with counter service meals.

When you do splurge on an expensive meal or experience, show your children how much you paid. Explain why they need to work hard in school. An excellent way to do this is to divide the cost of one character meal by minimum wage, and show them how many hours you have to work to pay for Disney splurges.

Tell them how long you worked so your family could take this trip. Have you told your children about how you did or did not visit a Disney park as a child? Talk with your children about how grateful you are to be there, how thankful you are for your meals and accommodations, so they can see and hear what a great thing they have going for them.

Explain why they need to appreciate where they are and what they are doing. Because when you are on vacation, lets’ s face it, many, many people are not.

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Main Street at Disney World

3. Work

Let your children earn their own money for souvenirs. It takes a long time to earn enough money to buy a Disney t-shirt.

Have the kids help clean up the hotel room, pack the car, pack their clothes, unpack the car and their clothes, etc. When kids participate in the work for the trip, they can better understand how much effort it took to get there.

Did any family members contribute money for your trip? Make sure the kids write thank you notes. This is a lesson many adults could re-learn in our texting and e-mail modern times.

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life lessons for kids on Disney vacations

If you have balloons or souvenirs that may not travel well, encourage the kids to give these away on their way out of the parks. Giving to other people can show kids how lucky they are to have the blessings they have.

Look around and take in the Disney beauty, the architecture, the magic, and whisper a word of appreciation for the simple fact that you are standing on Disney soil.  Appreciate what you have, and you’ll have a whole lot more fun on vacation.  That’s a life skill your kids can take from the Disney theme parks and into their adult lives.

We would all be a little happier if we could just appreciate what we have…

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Thanks for stopping by Life lessons with a Disney World Twist, and we’ll see you teaching those kiddies some life lessons…


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  1. alicia says:

    your amazing at this blog I am thankful to be going in April for my birthday. Your right some people never been to Disney Parks I am thankful whenever we go.

  2. Kristen says:

    Well said. Growing up, we never had a lot of money, but we lived a few hours from Disney. Our vacations were a cheap Motel 6 (best western if we were getting fancy) and a long weekend trip. My mother taught me about some of things you talk about on your blog (window shopping, packing lunch) etc. She told me “The reason we’re packing our lunch is so we can afford this trip. You may not get a fancy meal, but you’re in Disney World.” I honestly didn’t even know about resorts until I was around 13 years old. It just never occurred to me that you would need anything but a hotel to sleep in or the meals were anything but counter service. HAHA.

    • Amanda says:

      Sing it Sista! I remember sneaking in food when we were young. Now you don’t have to sneak it, but we bring it in anyway just to save money. I’m thankful every trip we make. Thanks for commenting, and thanks for reading! ~A.

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