[Ed. note - Some of the movies mentioned in this article are appropriate only for older students; others have uncut versions and family-friendly versions. Please preview any title before showing it to your family.]
Homeschooling parents can use documentaries and carefully selected feature length films to introduce children to:
– major events of U.S. and Western history
– extraordinary men and women who shaped our world
– principles of science
– great works of music, dance, drama, literature and the visual arts
Each year the movie industry makes some very valuable films that can be used to teach children. Over the last 70 years, these films have accumulated into a national cultural treasure.
Here are some examples:
Science: The classic 1943 film Madame Curie tells the love story of Marie Curie and her husband Pierre. It also describes the discovery of radioactivity. It grips boys and girls alike, even those saturated with modern television and movies. To stir interest in the film, especially for girls, all a parent needs to do is pose this question before showing the movie – Did you know that the first person to win two Nobel Prizes in science was a woman named Marie Curie? At a pause in the film or afterwards, homeschooling parents can describe to their children the importance of the discovery of radioactivity for science, medicine, and warfare. Activities such as writing assignments or projects after the movie can branch out into physics or chemistry curricula. Other movies that can be used as a basis for teaching science include: Antz, A Bug’s Life, Albert Einstein: Light to the Power of 2, Finding Nemo, Fly Away Ho me, Galileo: On the Shoulders of Giants, Gorillas in the Mist, Isaac Newton: A Tale of Two Isaacs, The Lion King, March of the Penguins, Never Cry Wolf, Outbreak, and Winged Migration.
History: Gandhi tells the story of the Indian saint and social revolutionary. The technique of changing governments and societies through non-violent mass action was perfected by this wonderful man. It was the major political-social innovation of the 20th century. Non-violent mass action, also called civil disobedience, has been of great value to the U.S. in two ways. First, it was the method used by the Civil Rights Movement. This allowed African-Americans to gain the rights they deserve and helped white Americans finally live up to the full meaning of the Declaration of Independence. Second, non-violent mass action was used in Russia to topple the Soviet Union, the main enemy of the U.S. in the second half of the 20th century. (This occurred when Boris Yeltsin and the people of Moscow faced down the tanks of the Red Army that had surrounded the Russian Parliament building.) Gandhi also introduces the British Empire, India and South Africa . There are hundreds of films which can be used to supplement history lessons, including Judgment at Nuremberg, Spartacus, The Longest Day, The Miracle Worker, Dr. Strangelove, Thirteen Days, The Insider, Schindler’s List, and Hotel Rwanda.
Literature: Movies can serve parents teaching literature to their children in a number of ways. First, in this media age, many children are more used to watching a screen than reading a book. Movies employ most of the literary devices used in books (for example: symbols, antagonist/protagonist; foreshadowing, flashback, and irony). For many kids, these literary devices are best taught in movies, the medium they are most comfortable with, and then applied to books. See Reading in the Dark by John Golden, National Council of Teachers of English, 2001. Movies are also useful to organize complex works that are at the top of a students’ reading level. For example, teachers of Jane Austen’s novels find that even college level students do better at analyzing Austen’s novels if they have seen a movie version before reading the book. See Jane Austen in Hollywood, edited by Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield, 1998, University of Kentucky Press, pa ges 140 147. Movies of literary works can also be used as a reward after the book has been read.
Movies and literature mix well when the movie acquaints students with the author. Mary Redclay, a master teacher at Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles, California, uses the movie Beautiful Dreamers to spark an interest in the poetry of Walt Whitman. The movie is about the relationship between Whitman and a Canadian psychiatrist. It focuses on a visit that Whitman made one summer to the psychiatrists’ home in Canada. Mrs. Redclay reports that after watching the film, her students feel that they have a connection with Whitman and are anxious to read his poetry.
Documentaries: Documentaries are an excellent resource for many subjects.
How do homeschooling parents find the right movies and lesson plans? For some movies the studio will commission a lesson plan and post it on the Internet. Examples are Holes, Finding Nemo, and Super Size Me. Some teachers post lesson plans on the Internet. There are a few web sites that focus specifically on helping homeschoolers and teachers create lesson plans based on movies. The most extensive is TeachWithMovies.com (http://www.teachwithmovies.com) which is specifically designed for this purpose. (The author of this article is a co-founder of TeachWithMovies.com.) TeachWithMovies.com offers, without charge, extensive indexes listing more than 270 films by subject matter and appropriate age. For $11.99 a year parents can access Learning Guides designed to help teachers and homeschoolers use the movies as a teaching vehicle .
There are many other resources on the web which help homeschoolers and teachers use movies including: History in Film (http://www.historyinfilm.com/) and Walden Media (http://www.walden.com). Wikipedia provides free information on most movies. As for documentaries the web sites for PBS, the History Channel, and other outlets are excellent sources for information about the documentaries sold by these outlets. Often lesson plans are provided as well.
To survive in the movie industry, script writers and directors must be good story tellers. Homeschooling parents can harness this story telling power to inspire and engage their children.
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