BEN AND ME
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING: Friendship.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS: Citizenship; Caring.
AT A GLANCE: Age: 5-8; Not Rated; Animated; 1953; 27 minutes; Color.
In this charming Disney classic, a mouse named Amos claims credit for many of Benjamin Franklin’s accomplishments and inventions.
This film will introduce children to Benjamin Franklin: scientist, printer, patriot . . . and a whole lot more. Franklin (1706-1790) was a Founding Father of the United States and one of the most remarkable men produced by Western civilization. This movie will also demonstrate the fun and importance of inventions and experiments.
BEFORE WATCHING THE MOVIE
Tell your child as much about Ben Franklin as you can. Not only was he a great scientist who made important discoveries about electricity, he was one of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. He helped pass the Declaration of Independence. Later, he served as ambassador to France and helped convince the French King to send his Navy to help with the War of Independence. French ships stopped the British from escaping by sea at Yorktown and assisted in the victory that won the war. Franklin was also an author, a newspaper publisher and an inventor. We still use some of his inventions. Ben Franklin thought up the idea of public libraries.
Bifocals, glasses, stove, inventor, exploration, experiment, historical, electricity, almanac, newspaper, gazette, history.
TALKING FOR VERBAL, SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
What is your favorite invention that we saw in the movie? Why is it your favorite?
If you could have any of the characters in the movie as a friend, which would you choose? — Why is that?
→ Always encourage your child to form opinions and to share them.
→ Open-ended questions will help get a discussion going.
How did Amos wind up with Ben Franklin?
According to this movie, which inventions were really made by Amos the mouse and not by Ben Franklin, the human being?
→ Just talking with your child fosters verbal, social and emotional learning.
→ Exercise memory skills by asking about the story, the characters, and the plot. Keep it light and fun.
Would you rather be Amos or Ben? Why?
→ Young children love Story Time.
DISCUSSIONS BASED ON THEMES IN THE MOVIE
Select questions appropriate for your child.
1. Talk about some of the things that Ben Franklin invented that we still use today.
Bifocals — These are glasses in which the lens is divided in the middle. The bottom half is for looking at things that are close when we are reading or sewing. The top half, which changes what people see in a different way, is for looking at things in the distance. If they use bifocals, people won’t need two pairs of glasses. Find some bifocals and show them to your child.
The Franklin Stove — This is a metal stove in which people burn wood or coal. It is set in the center of the room with a pipe going through the roof to take away the smoke and dangerous fumes from the fire. In a Franklin stove, all sides of the fire heat the air in the room. This is much better than a fire place which is set against an outside wall. Heat from one side of the fire escapes outside and it is wasted. Find a picture of a Franklin stove on the Internet and show it to your child.
The Rocking Chair — Can you imagine life without rocking chairs?
The Lightning Rod — Franklin was the first to discover that lightning was a form of electricity. In those days, if lightning struck a building, it usually burned to the ground. Franklin realized that if you stuck a metal pole above the roof of the building and ran a wire from the pole to the ground, the lightning would strike the pole and follow the wire into the ground without starting the building on fire. This invention has saved countless barns, houses and other buildings. Find a picture of a building with a lightning rod on the Internet and show it to your child.
The Almanac — This is a book full of helpful facts. Show your child an almanac. If you don’t have one, get one from the library and be sure to remind your child that Ben Franklin invented the concept of the lending library. Look through the almanac together and find some interesting facts.
Lending Libraries — The next time you take your child to the library to get a book, remind him or her that the idea for a lending library was thought up by Ben Franklin.
→ When a parent takes a concept from the movie seriously, a child will start thinking about the lessons of the film. Often, it only takes one comment to start a child’s mind going.
2. Name some great things that Benjamin Franklin did for our country. Talking About It — He, along with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, helped convince the Second Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain. He served as ambassador to France during the Revolutionary War and helped convince France to send its fleet of warships to America to help us out. The French fleet was an important factor in winning the Revolutionary War. He was the first Postmaster General and was responsible for setting up the U.S. Postal Service.
→ You can talk about a movie at any time: right after it is over, in the car on the way to school, during quiet time, or before bed.
3. Benjamin Franklin coined many wise sayings to help people lead good and happy lives. Do you know any of them? Talking About It — A few are set out below. Tell your child what they mean. Have your child memorize some of them.
- A penny saved is a penny earned.
- Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
- Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.
- God helps those who help themselves.
- Little strokes fell great oaks.
- A good example is the best sermon.
- The nearest way to come to glory, is to do that for conscience which we would do for glory.
- The noblest question in the world is: “What good may I do in it?”
- Sell not virtue to purchase wealth nor liberty to purchase power.
- If thou injurest conscience, it will have its revenge on thee.
- Fear to do ill [wrong] and you need fear nothing else.
→ Don’t feel obligated to cover everything in this Guide. One or two questions are all that some children will tolerate. However, if your child watches the movie more than once, on each occasion start a new conversation or pick a new activity. This will enhance verbal development and increase the number of lessons your child takes from the film.
PLAYING FOR GROWTH
1. Make an invention — You and your child can experience the fun and excitement of inventing. Collect a couple of household items (like empty 2-liter bottles, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, paper plates and bowls, aluminum foil, shoe boxes, rubber bands, etc), as well as some tape, glue or pipe cleaners, and set everything out. Work with your child to invent something new from these everyday objects. (For example: if you wrap rubber bands across a shoe box without the lid, you’ve made a guitar!)
2. Perform an experiment — You can also perform safe and entertaining experiments from home. Place two teaspoons of baking soda into a clean empty soda pop bottle and add an inch of water. Next, take a balloon and place a tablespoon of white vinegar into the balloon. Cover the mouth of the bottle tightly with the mouth of the balloon without releasing the vinegar into the bottle. Then release the vinegar and allow it to flow into the bottle. What happens to the balloon? (It should inflate with carbon dioxide gas formed in the chemical reaction.) A simpler version of the same experiment is to take the clean, empty soda bottle and pour a little bit of baking soda in the bottom. Go outside, or place the bottle into the bathtub or large plastic container (to contain the mess!). Slowly add white vinegar. Have children who can write take notes about how the experiment was set up, what was added, and what happened. Explain that making these “observations” are what real scientists and inventors do to try to understand what happened.
3. Another experiment — Collect various items from around the house and from your backyard or a park (e.g., small rocks, twigs, leaves, empty soda can, paper crumpled into a ball, aluminum foil and aluminum foil crumpled into a ball). Fill up a sink, bathtub, or large plastic tub with water. Ask your child which items will sink and which will float. Make a list of each item you have collected and make a check to the right of the ones that your child thinks will float. (This is the “hypothesis”. A scientist, when he or she designs an experiment, states what he or she thinks will happen and then goes about finding a way to test it out.) Then, one by one, drop the objects in the water. As each object either floats or sinks put an X next to the name of the objects that sink and a check mark next to the ones that float. When you have dropped each object into the water see how your Xs and check marks line up. Was your child’s hypothesis correct? If your child is interested, take the next step and try to decide why certain objects float and others sink. Form a new hypothesis about that. Let your child think one up and then figure out a way to test it. For example, you could test whether objects of one color float and objects of another color sink. When that hypothesis is disproven, try another. When you are ready to get to the one that works, try: if the object is heavier than the amount of water of the same size, it will sink. Otherwise it will float. Then test your new hypothesis with other objects to see if it works. Explain that we learn new things by experimenting, and by testing our ideas to see if they are right.
4. Learn about our Founding Fathers — There have been many wise men and women who have contributed to our country. These include Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Graham Bell, Clara Barton, and Betsy Ross. Look up information about these great people online, or check out books from the library about important men and women in American history. For more information about important Americans, visit Lives of Early Americans.
Stories are essential tools for verbal development, social-emotional learning, and character education. Intentional parents can use family movies as a basis for storytelling.
Repeat the story of the movie at bedtime, on a rainy day, or at any quiet time. Let your child correct you if you make a mistake and, better yet, encourage your child to tell you the story. Both of you can invent new adventures for Amos and Ben. Your child’s imaginative and verbal capacities will be enhanced if you invent new characters and create situations that are not in the movie. To learn more about enhancing growth and development through stories told to children, go to How to Tell Bedtime Stories . . . Any Time.
One idea is to make up a story about how Ben was captured and put in jail by the British because of his activities on behalf of the American Revolution. Have Amos be instrumental in picking the lock on his jail house door and allowing Ben to escape. Give them many kinds of mishaps along the way, like almost getting recaptured, running into a British cat that tried to stop them, and so on, as far as you want to go.
Here is a story to read to your child. If you read it at bedtime and your child falls asleep before you are finished, complete the story some other time.
Let’s imagine that once upon a time mice could talk and think, and read and write like people. Let’s imagine that mice had beds, and schools, and mail, just like we do. Now, let’s imagine that there was a small grey mouse named Janet, who lived with her family behind a mouse hole hidden by the refrigerator in a farmhouse near Philadelphia. Janet had a cousin named Eddie who had moved to the city. Each week Eddie sent letters to all his relatives through the MouseMail, describing tall buildings and busy streets, movie theaters and concert halls, ice skating rinks, and a humongous baseball stadium. He wrote that there were restaurants all over town and they set out their garbage every night in big cans that usually fell over and spilled on the ground or at least had lids that didn’t fit. Each night was a feast for an enterprising mouse.
Janet was determined that one day she would see all there was to see in Philadelphia. Janet sent MouseMail messages to friends who lived in Philadelphia asking if they could help her find a place to live and maybe a job.
[If you haven’t already pointed out the location of Philadelphia on a globe or a map, do it now. Show your child the location of the town in which you live and how far it is from Philadelphia. Talk about Philadelphia. It is in Pennsylvania, which was one of the original Thirteen Colonies. It was in Philadelphia that the Continental Congress met and declared independence. It was there that the Constitution, which still governs our country, was written. It was there that Ben Franklin lived and worked. Finally, tell your child that Philadelphia is the city where our imaginary mouse wants to go.]
Janet already knew what job she really wanted. Many years before, the human family in the house where she lived had tossed out a magazine. It missed the garbage can and landed with a big THWAP right beside the steps where the mouse family had their back door.
Now, Janet had gone all the way through mouse school and she was a smart mouse. What Janet read in this special magazine was something that would set the course of her life forever. On the cover was a plump man with very round glasses. His hair was pulled into a ponytail, and underneath his thick chin were the words “Benjamin Franklin: Inventor, Innovator, Ingenious”. Janet climbed into the magazine and, with her paws, pushed past the pages until she got to the long article about this Benjamin Franklin. Janet read and read, learning all she could about this incredible man and his equally incredible inventions. When she’d finished reading, she sat up and sniffed the air. It seemed to Janet that it was the freshest air she’d ever sniffed. Yep, this was what she wanted to do. She wanted to be an inventor.
Thomasina was Janet’s older sister. She was a sleek brown mouse who was larger than Janet. She had fine whiskers and was very popular with all the boy mice. Thomasina was usually the center of attention whenever mice got together. But Thomasina had a serious side, too. She was the oldest child and was responsible for helping their parents take care of all of the younger children, and there were a lot of those. Thomasina and Janet shared a bed in a little space just off the main room of their parent’s nest. They would talk long into the night about their plans and dreams for the future. While Janet wanted to be an inventor, Thomasina wanted to become an architect and design beautiful places for mice to live. But one of them had to stay home and help with the children. If Janet was going to go off and learn to be an inventor, Thomasina would have to give up her dream of being an architect.
And now, Janet’s requests through MouseMail had finally worked. Her dreams were about to come true and she was going to live in the city with her uncle’s neighbor’s friend, an older mouse named Vincent. This mouse loved to tinker with machines and invent new ones. He was looking for a set of helping paws. After a long walk to the city, Janet arrived at Vincent’s mouse hole ready, nervous, and excited. Vincent quickly put Janet to work.
The two mice toiled all through winter, the older teaching the younger and the younger taking care of chores like cleaning up the shop and oiling the tools. The weather was dreary all winter, cold and wet, with many overcast days, but Janet didn’t notice. She was learning so much from Vincent that it seemed the brightest and most exciting time there could ever be.
Another wonderful thing about living with Vincent was that the food was great. At home, Janet’s family lived on simple mouse food, stale bread and crumbs with an occasional piece of cheese or human food that fell behind the kitchen stove. The human family that owned the farmhouse cleaned it very carefully, and didn’t leave much for the mice. Vincent lived behind a restaurant. He would select the choicest morsels from the food the restaurant threw away and make big, delicious meals on the “Super Stupendous Succulent Stove Machine” that he had invented.
The two industrious mice kept working through the spring, and well into the summer. They only took time off to raid the restaurant garbage, for Vincent to cook, and, of course, for a little sleep. They thought, they drew, they talked it over, and then they built. And usually, they would tear apart what they had built because it didn’t quite work. Then they would start all over again, each time getting closer to what they were trying to make. For the last several months Vincent and Janet had been working on a mouse-car, the “Marvelous Magical Mouse Mobile”! It had seats and a radio and lights and everything. It even had a wagon on the back so that the driver could carry something from one place to another without having to hold it in his or her front paws and hop like a kangaroo.
After a particularly busy week putting the finishing touches on the Mouse Mobile, working all the day and most of the night, Janet started thinking about her family. She hadn’t seen them for a long time. She told Vincent that she’d like to go back home and spend a week at the farmhouse in the country. Vincent looked seriously at Janet and, for a while he didn’t say a word. Janet felt very strange. “Have I done something wrong?” she asked herself. But Janet just looked down at her feet and said nothing.
When Vincent finally spoke, a smile came across his face, “Well, I’ll miss you, Janet. When you go, why don’t you try out the Mouse Mobile? I was thinking that it needed a long test drive.”
“Do you mean it?” Janet cried, not believing her good luck.
“I can’t imagine anyone better. After all, you helped put it together. And you can take presents to your family, too.”
They spent an hour selecting small gifts and tasty treats for each member of Janet’s family. Vincent wrote a quick a note for Janet’s parents, saying that their daughter was a valuable helper. Janet got together a few belongings and grabbed her favorite book. Janet and Vincent wound up the rubber band that powered the car, counting down, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” Janet then hopped into the driver’s seat, buckled her seatbelt, and was off. “Drive carefully!” Vincent called. Janet waved goodbye and drove away in the new invention.
Janet’s ride home was a most amazing experience. Wherever she went, mice of every kind and description came out of their holes and looked at her and her car with their mouths open. Some would rub their eyes to make sure they weren’t dreaming. Every time the rubber band wound down, Janet had to get out and wind it up again. Each time a crowd of mice gathered and asked her questions about the new invention. Many of the father mice asked how they could get one for their families. Janet started taking orders for Mouse Mobiles and writing down the names of mice who wanted to buy a car on scraps of paper that she stored in the wagon along with the presents. Before she got home Janet had more than fifty orders.
It was dinnertime when Janet turned down the street where her family lived. She stopped the car and knocked on the back door of her family’s nest. Janet’s mom opened the door and squealed, “Janet, you’re home!”
Once Janet had hugged her family, they sat down to their usual dinner of breadcrumbs and a tiny bit of cheese. Janet’s stomach growled. She was used to big dinners at Vincent’s house. Her mind wandered back to her meal with Vincent the night before — heaps of spaghetti with tomato sauce and big hunks of salty Parmesan cheese and then a dessert of raspberry scones with cream — Janet snapped out of her daydream. She didn’t say anything about how much better she liked the food at Vincent’s because she didn’t want to hurt her mother’s feelings. But she did have those delicious morsels of food in the wagon. “Special treat!”, she cried and led the way to the wagon.
When dinner was over, the family stayed in the main room of the nest, sipping coffee made from grounds that people had used and then thrown away. Janet talked and talked. “And then, together, we came up with a machine that flips your morning paper from your front step right onto your lap! Oh, oh! Have you heard of a little thing called the ‘Wonderfully Wacky Washing Whatchamacallit’?” Of course, no one had ever heard about it because Vincent had just invented it. Janet pointed to herself. “We did that, too!” Janet talked well into the night, sharing nearly every accomplishment she’d had with Vincent. Then she took the mice out for test-drives in her special automobile. “It’s the most complicated mouse invention ever!” Janet said proudly. “And Vincent said he couldn’t have made it without me!”
Janet had so much to talk about that she forgot to ask about her family and what had happened while she was gone. Everyone was excited to get the presents, see the car, and hear Janet’s stories. That is, everyone, except Thomasina. Janet was especially glad to see Thomasina and had hoped that her older sister would admire the new car.
But Thomasina would yawn whenever Janet started to tell another story. The other members of the family were anxious to sit in the driver’s seat of the car and put her paws on the steering wheel. But Thomasina just stood to the side, looking at Janet and not saying anything.
Thomasina and Janet shared their old bedroom that night. Thomasina pointed at the floor and said, “You’re sleeping there.”
Janet looked up, hurt. “Is everything okay, Sis? Did I do something wrong?”
Thomasina glared at her. “Janet, you come home as a surprise, give presents to everyone, tell us stories about YOU all night, bragging about all of your inventions and creations, never asking anybody else how things are going. . . . You’ve changed, Janet. I don’t like having a sister who only thinks of herself.” With that, Thomasina blew out the candle and went to sleep.
Janet curled up on the floor but she couldn’t sleep. Her mind kept going back to what Thomasin had said. She hadn’t meant to talk only about herself; she was just so excited to share all of the great things that had been happening. And she wasn’t trying to make Thomasina feel jealous. Then she thought back to what had happened before she had left for Vincent’s. In order for Janet to go on her great adventure and follow her dreams, Thomasina had to stay at home and help their parents take care of their little brothers and sisters. “I’ll make this right tomorrow,” Janet thought, and fell asleep.
[If your child isn’t sleepy yet, ask if Janet was being selfish by bragging about her time in the city and not asking her family about what had happened to them while she had been away. Ask your child how he or she would have made it right the next morning, as Janet intends to do. Praise your child’s solution and then continue reading.]
The next morning, Thomasina woke up to an empty room. Janet was nowhere to be found. Then Thomasina heard murmurs of excitement coming from the back of the nest. She rolled her eyes, and thought, “What has Janet the ‘Spectacularly Splendid Marvelously Wonderful’ done now?” Thomasina got out of bed and went to where her family was gathered. There she saw Janet standing in the back door with two small suitcases already packed up, a tent, and small sacks of yummy looking food. Thomasina’s eyes widened. “Was that a sack full of cheese?” she wondered, as she saw a small, cheddar-y cube poking out of one bag. Behind Janet was the Mouse Mobile, all wound up and ready to go.
Janet said, “Sis, I realized last night that it wasn’t fair of me to talk all about how great my life was, and not listen to you. I also know about the sacrifices you made so that I could live my dream. And I wanted to say thank you with a trip! You and I are going to go camping. We’ll have a campfire and I want to hear all about what you have been up to.” Janet’s dad came up to her and gave her a big hug.
Thomasina gave Janet a hug, too, saying, “Sis, you didn’t have to do this. But I sure appreciate it. No matter what, you’re my little sister and I love you.”
Janet grinned. “I love you, too, big sister.” With that, everyone helped put the suitcases, the tent, and the bags of food in the wagon. Janet held the door for her older sister to get into the Mouse Mobile, and they were off.
At the campfire that night, Thomasina came up with an invention all her own . . . a yummy treat called s’mores!
BRIDGES TO READING
This film was derived from Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos, a delightful book for young children by Robert Lawson. Children who are excellent readers in the 3rd grade and good readers in the 4th and 5th grades can read it themselves. Robert Lawson has written several excellent books for children ages 7 – 12 telling stories of famous individuals through the eyes of animals, including: Mr. Revere and I and Captain Kidd’s Cat.
How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning, by Rosalyn Schanzer is an enjoyable and entertaining book about some of Ben Franklin’s inventions and experiments. It’s easy enough for younger children to understand, and is fun for parents to read, too.