ll our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

For a century now, the magic of Disney has touched the hearts and ignited the imagination of children from all corners of the globe.

As we commemorate "100 Years of Disney," it's the perfect moment to reflect on how this beloved entertainment empire has not only brought enchanting stories and timeless characters into our lives but has also instilled essential values and life lessons in the hearts of generations.

From the endearing Mickey Mouse to the resilient Cinderella, Disney characters have exemplified strength, courage, and determination, making them relatable and inspiring role models for children.

Yet, the enchantment of Disney extends beyond the screen and into the life of its founder, Walt Disney, whose journey from humble beginnings to global acclaim is a profound source of inspiration for young minds.

In exploring "100 Years of Disney," we will explore how Disney's creations continue to captivate and educate children. We'll uncover the lessons that can be learned from the life and work of Walt Disney, a visionary who showed that dreams can indeed come true with determination and perseverance.

Join us as we embark on a journey through the magical world of Disney and the invaluable lessons it offers to the young and young at heart.

Walt Disney's Early Childhood

How Homeschooling Shaped Walt Disney's Creative Vision: A Look at His Early Years – Walt Disney Birthplace  

"Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children." -Walt Disney  

Walt Disney, the visionary behind some of the most beloved animated films and theme parks, had a humble and challenging start in life.

He was born on December 5, 1901, in a modest two-story home in Chicago, Illinois, that his father, Elias Disney, a carpenter and a dreamer, had built with his own hands.

Elias and his wife Flora had moved to Chicago from Florida with their two sons, Herbert and Raymond, in search of a better life.

They soon welcomed two more sons, Roy, born June 24, 1893, Walt, and a daughter, Ruth, to their growing family. 

Walt was home-schooled by his mother, Flora, until he was seven. His childhood was filled with both joys and hardships.

He developed a love for drawing and storytelling at an early age, inspired by his mother’s nurturing way and his father’s talents in music, furniture making and carpentry.

He also enjoyed playing with his siblings and exploring the city streets. But he also faced many difficulties, such as his father’s strict discipline, frequent moves, and financial struggles.

Walt’s mother encouraged his love of drawing, while his father, Elias was more of a pious man with an entrepreneurial spirit and who’s focus on the three older sons helped to allow Walt to be more playful.  

He thought Walt should focus on hard, manual labor instead of wasting time on sketches.

Walt’s mother, however, saw his talent and passion and persuaded Elias to buy him a set of colored pencils and some drawing paper.

Walt was overjoyed and devoted every spare moment to improving his drawing skills and enjoying his hobby.   

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©Walt Disney Birthplace, https://www.thewaltdisneybirthplace.org/

When Walt was four years old, the family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri, where Walt experienced the beauty and freedom of nature.

Walt attended school for the first time when he was seven years old; he and his younger sister Ruth would walk to Park Elementary in Marceline every day.

His father was an entrepreneur longing for success. In 1912 Elias took proceeds from the paper route and made the first of several investments into a Soda company called O-Zell.

By 1917 the Disney’s decided to move from Marceline back to Chicago to help run with the business.

An entrepreneur at heart, Elias Disney returned to Chicago in 1917 to support his new business venture and investment into O-Zell – the ‘soft drink’ and the answer to hard liquor during the days of prohibition.

It was at this factory where Walt would get his first job cleaning bottles and his first stock certificate showing him as an investor in the company. While Walt drew, Mrs. Scroggins would look on.

It was she who encouraged him to pursue classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He took her advice and with his small earnings as a bottle washer began taking art classes and selling his drawings to classmates and neighbors.

He dreamed of becoming a cartoonist or an animator someday. 

“Walt's humble beginnings give people hope that they too can rise up from anywhere and be successful. “ Dina Benadon, Co-Founder of CECCI.   

After years of neglect, the home where Walt Disney was born was purchased with the intent to restore it to its 1901 state and to protect the home forever.

The amazing team behind the Walt Disney Birthplace is CECCI – The Centre for Early Childhood Creativity and Innovation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to build arts education and community outreach programs.

CECCI believes that Walt’s origin story could inspire every child, family, and community anywhere in the world to achieve their highest and best purpose in life.     

The Walt Disney Birthplace is more than just a house. It is a symbol of hope, courage, and creativity. It is where Walt Disney’s amazing journey began and where he learned the values and skills to shape his future.

It is also where he discovered the power of imagination and the magic of storytelling that prepared him for a lifetime of creativity-fueled innovation that transformed (and still transforms) the world.   

The Centre for Early Childhood Creativity and Innovation (CECCI) 

“CECCI envisions a world where Walt’s personal story inspires children and communities around the globe. Through collaboration with local and international partners, CECCI will help children achieve their greatest potential through creativity and innovation.” 

CECCI Centre believes that Walt Disney’s origin story can motivate anyone to overcome challenges and pursue their dreams. By providing creative programs, CECCI Centre hopes to spark the imagination and curiosity of children and communities worldwide.   

©Walt Disney Birthplace, https://www.thewaltdisneybirthplace.org/

How to Train Your Brain Like a Genius: The Science of Early Childhood Development and purposeful training  

Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.” — Walt Disney

What makes some people excel in music, sports, or academics? Is it a natural talent they are born with, or is it a result of hard work and training?

In his book “PEAK” (Ericsson, 2016), Anders Ericsson reveals the results of the thirty years he spent studying the special ones, geniuses, music prodigies, and sports stars. He demonstrates that special abilities are acquired through training and that the innate gift of talent is a myth.

As Sir Ken Robinson says, all children are born geniuses (Robinson, 2006), and Anders Ericsson confirms – that we are all born with a unique ability to develop our brains and bodies through our own efforts.  

One example of this ability is perfect pitch, which is the skill of identifying or producing any musical note without a reference. Many people believe that perfect pitch is a rare gift that only a few musicians, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, possess.

However, Ericsson shows that perfect pitch is not a gift but rather the ability to develop perfect pitch is a gift, and pretty much everyone is born with it.

What Japanese psychologist Ayako Sakakibara proved in his research with children two to six was that after completing training, every one of the children was able to develop a perfect pitch and identify individual notes played on the piano (Sakakibara, 1999).

A little investigation shows us that Mozart’s father, Leopold, a moderately talented violinist and composer, set his younger son up for success. Mozart also had a sister Maria Anna who was also talented, but Mozart's father decided to start training at an early age.

By the time Mozart was four years old, his father was working full time with him, and although we don’t know the techniques his father was using to teach his son, we do know that by the age of six or seven Mozart was trained more intensively and for far longer than the children who developed perfect pitch through Sakakibara’s short training sessions.

Did Mozart have a special gift? Yes, he had the same gift that other children are born with. He was born with a brain so flexible and adaptable that with a certain sort of training he was able to develop capabilities that seemed magical to all of us who do not possess it.  

What is important to note, though is that the necessary adaptability in the brain disappears by the time a child passes six years old.

The reason for that is that the brain and the body are more adaptable in young children than in adults, and by the age of six, their brains develop exponentially.

This is the reason why certain abilities can be only developed or are more easily developed by the age of six, or twelve or eighteen.  

Walt was homeschooled by his mother until the age of seven. Despite the strict discipline of his father, who didn’t accept drawing as anything serious in life, the persistence of his mother allowed him to delve into the world of art in this crucial age.  

Sir Ken Robinson,  a world-renowned educationalist who promoted creativity and more diverse and individualized curricula, believed that all children are born with immense potential and that education should nurture their natural talents and passions.

He criticized the current education system for stifling creativity and innovation and for failing to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. He advocated for a radical transformation of education that would foster a culture of curiosity, exploration, and lifelong learning.

He also emphasized the importance of including the arts in schools, as he saw them as essential for human development and expression.

Do schools kill creativity?


Do schools kill creativity?

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

Resources for parents:

In her book Mind in Making (Galinsky, 2010), award winning author Ellen Galinsky curates the science of children’s brain development and learning, shares it with the general public, families, and professionals and translates this research into transformational in-depth training and materials.

In her book, parents can discover The 7 Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs along with the program that helps adults better understand how children learn, what they need to know, and how adults can take simple, practical steps to promote this learning.  

CECCI also created a collection of resources for parents who want to encourage creativity and innovative thinking at home with their children. The resources include hand-outs, materials, classes, and curated lists of other providers and resources in the community and online.  

MaNaBu Movement is another 501c3 non-profit organization that empowers children to achieve their full potential and become leaders of change. It helps them discover their talents and learn about the world around them, immersing themselves in nature and advocating for a kinder, more inclusive and sustainable future.

The MaNaBu Movement runs community-based programs that inspire children and parents to drive change and help children acquire skills for the future, such as creativity, collaboration, and human skills, while embracing empathy, gratitude, and circularity.

©MaNaBu Movement, https://manabumovement.org/

The foundation is developing an animated series for children aged 4 to 9, where animated ambassadors for good, Ma, Na and Bu, take viewers on a fun-filled journey to explore the world around them and work with children and animals to solve some of the global challenges, starting from their neighborhood.

©MaNaBu Movement, https://manabumovement.org/

Getting inspired by Walt Disney

Walt Disney's enduring appeal to children and his ability to inspire them stem from several factors in his real-life story. Disney's creations, including iconic characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and many others, are designed to be relatable, entertaining, and endearing to young audiences.

These characters often find themselves in exciting adventures, teaching valuable life lessons and making them role models for children.  

Disney can be a profound inspiration for kids through his life journey. His humble beginnings and the numerous challenges he faced before achieving his dreams send a powerful message to young minds.

Disney's early experiences of moving to different places, working hard on a paper route, and pursuing his passion for art despite his busy schedule demonstrate the importance of determination, perseverance, and time management.

His transition from a self-taught amateur artist to a world-renowned animation pioneer is a testament to the potential of self-learning and continuous self-improvement.

Furthermore, Disney's relentless pursuit of creativity and innovation encourages children to think outside the box and pursue their passions.

Walt Disney's journey to self-learning

“When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.” – Walt Disney

Walt Disney's journey to learning cartooning offers insights into self-learning and determination. During his early years, he developed his artistic skills mainly through self-learning. Here's what it says about self-learning:

Walt Disney's path to mastering cartooning is a testament to the power of self-learning. Born in 1901, Disney's early years were marked by a deep passion for drawing. With no formal training, he turned to the local newspaper, copying cartoons to hone his skills.

His determination led him to explore various artistic mediums, from watercolours to crayons, illustrating his willingness to experiment and learn independently.

Disney's move to Kansas City in 1911 introduced him to vaudeville and motion pictures through his friend Walter Pfeiffer. In Chicago, Walt became a student at McKinley High School and soon found his place as the school's cartoonist, contributing to the school newspaper.

His illustrations during this time were primarily centred on patriotic themes related to World War I. Additionally, he continued to nurture his passion for art by enrolling in evening courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

Disney enrolled in courses at the Kansas City Art Institute and even took a correspondence course in cartooning, eager to enhance his abilities. In 1917, his family's return to Chicago saw him enrolling in McKinley High School, where he contributed as a cartoonist for the school newspaper.

This period was pivotal in honing his craft and gaining recognition for his artistic talents.

Disney's motivation for learning Animation

“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” – Walt Disney

Disney's interest in Animation was not just technical; he was drawn to the magic of bringing characters to life through animation. Disney began experimenting with animation techniques at home with only a borrowed book on Animation and a camera.  

Despite financial challenges, Disney established Laugh-O-Gram Studio in May 1921, demonstrating his unwavering belief in Animation's power to captivate audiences.

His decision to produce "Alice's Wonderland," a combination of live-action and Animation, is a testament to his innovative spirit.  

Walt Disney's Entrepreneurial Odyssey

“If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.” – Walt Disney
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Walt Disney's journey to Hollywood in 1923 marked the beginning of his illustrious animation career and demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit. At just 21 years old, Disney boldly decided to move to Los Angeles despite New York being the epicentre of the cartoon industry.

His motivation stemmed from a desire to explore new horizons and pursue a career as a live-action film director.

This move was particularly significant as it allowed him to be closer to his ailing brother, Roy, who was recovering from tuberculosis in Los Angeles.

Alongside his brother Roy, Disney established the Disney Brothers Studio, which would eventually evolve into The Walt Disney Company, a global entertainment conglomerate.

This early foray into entrepreneurship set the stage for Disney's future success. His ability to navigate challenges, negotiate contracts, and create innovative content laid the foundation for his remarkable career in Animation and filmmaking.

Little did he know that this venture was beginning a journey that would revolutionize the entertainment industry and leave an indelible mark on popular culture.  

“Too many people grow up. That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don’t remember what it’s like to be 12 years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. Well I won’t do that.” – Walt Disney  

Walt Disney's vision for Disneyland

"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here, age relives fond memories of the past—and here, youth may savour the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America—with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

Several vital factors drove Walt Disney's vision for Disneyland and the subsequent Disney theme parks. His desire to create a clean and organized amusement park was born from a personal experience as a father.

Disney often took his daughters to amusement parks, but as a parent, he felt somewhat sidelined while his children enjoyed the attractions. He envisioned a place where families could have fun together and believed in shared experiences' importance.

Disneyland was created to provide a family-friendly destination where parents and children could bond, make memories, and enjoy quality time together. He wanted to go beyond the traditional amusement parks of the time, offering something different and more immersive.

Additionally, Walt Disney was a visionary storyteller, and he saw the potential to extend the magic of his animated films into the real world. He wanted people to enter Disney stories' worlds, creating a deeper connection to his characters and narratives.

Disney's vision was not just limited to creating a theme park but offering a unique and high-quality entertainment experience.

He saw Disneyland as an opportunity to innovate and experiment with new technologies, such as audio-animatronics, which brought characters to life in a way that had never been done before.

How Walt pushed the limits of technology

Walt Disney was an undeniably visionary figure who consistently pushed the boundaries of technology, leaving an indelible mark on the animation industry and the world of theme parks.

His pioneering efforts included the creation of the first sound cartoon in 1928 with "Steamboat Willie," which revolutionized Animation by synchronizing sound with visuals and marked the debut of Mickey Mouse.  

In 1937, Disney broke new ground with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the world's first full-length animated feature film, challenging conventional wisdom and setting new standards for cinematic storytelling.

Disney's introduction of the multiplane camera added depth and dimension to Animation, making scenes in films like "Snow White" and "Pinocchio" remarkably realistic.

The 1940 release of "Fantasia" saw the innovative use of Fantasound, an early form of surround sound, further enhancing the movie-watching experience.

In the 1950s, Disney ventured into television with the "Disneyland" TV series, promoting the newly opened Disneyland Park in 1955, setting a milestone in marketing and entertainment synergy. His vision for Disneyland extended to creating lifelike robots known as audio-animatronics, which seamlessly combined Animation and technology to bring characters to life.

Although Walt's ambitious vision of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) was not fully realized before his passing, it inspired future innovations in urban development.

Disney's enduring legacy continues through the Walt Disney Company's commitment to cutting-edge technology, from pioneering the first feature-length computer-animated film with "Toy Story" to the ongoing advancement of technology in Disney theme park attractions.  

Lessons we learn from Walt Disney

"It's a good hard failure when you're young is important. I learned a lot from that. Because it makes you aware of what can happen to you."

Walt Disney's life and career are potent examples of resilience and determination in facing obstacles. Throughout his journey, Disney encountered numerous challenges, setbacks, and rejections, but he persevered and ultimately achieved tremendous success.

Here are a few key lessons we can learn from Disney about fighting obstacles:

Unwavering Vision: Disney clearly envisioned what he wanted to accomplish. He dreamed of creating a magical world of animated characters and a place where families could have fun together. His vision was his guiding star, helping him stay focused and determined in adversity.

"To today's youngsters, I say believe in the future; the world is getting better; there still is plenty of opportunity."  

Rejection Doesn't Define You: Disney faced rejection early in his career when he was told he lacked creativity and good ideas. He didn't let these setbacks define or deter him from pursuing his dreams. Instead, he used rejection as motivation to prove his worth.

All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be best for you." — Walt Disney.

Learning from Failure: Disney's first animation studio, Laugh-O-Gram Studio, went bankrupt. Instead of giving up, he learned from his mistakes and saw it as an opportunity to grow and improve. He used the experience to hone his skills and make a fresh start.

Innovation in the Face of Challenges: During difficult financial times, Disney was constantly innovating. He introduced synchronized sound in cartoons with "Steamboat Willie," which was groundbreaking. When facing adversity, he sought creative solutions.

"When you're curious, you find many exciting things to do.

Perseverance Pays Off: Disney's relentless industry is one of his defining characteristics. His famous quote, "All our dreams can come true if we dare to pursue them," reflects his unwavering determination to overcome obstacles and achieve his goals.

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

Surround Yourself with a Supportive Team: Disney surrounded himself with talented and dedicated individuals. Together, they were able to achieve incredible feats. Building a solid team and drawing on their collective strengths is a valuable lesson.

Embrace Change: Disney was always bold in embracing new technologies and adapting to changing circumstances. His willingness to evolve and take risks contributed to his success.

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we're curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."

Dream Big: Disney's dreams extended beyond Animation. He envisioned Disneyland and the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). His audacious dreams inspire us to think big and pursue our boldest ambitions.  

"No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true." — Walt Disney

In sum, Walt Disney's life is a testament to the idea that obstacles, no matter how daunting, can be overcome with vision, resilience, and determination. His legacy continues to inspire people worldwide to face challenges head-on, believing that dreams can become reality with perseverance.

"It's a mistake not to allow people to learn to depend on themselves while young."

Article contributed by Priyanka Modi, Tihana Pavic Smitran, Dina Benadon

Oct 21, 2023
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