FLY AWAY HOME
SUBJECTS — Health (Grieving); ELA: theme, characterization, backstory, allusion, complication; Science(Biology); the Environment; World/Canada;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Grieving; Parenting; Father/Daughter; Caring for Animals; Teamwork;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring.
MPAA Rating — PG for an opening accident scene and some mild language; Drama; 1996; 107 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class.
In Fly Away Home, a 13-year-old girl whose mother has died in a car accident must now live with her long-estranged father. He brings her to his home in Canada where she must grieve her loss and adjust to living with a father she barely knows. The film uses the beauty of nature and an orphaned gaggle of goslings to illustrate the process through which the daughter heals. The movie also describes how the father learns to be a good parent.
The action of the film is based on the discovery by a Canadian named Bill Lishman that ultralight aircraft can be used to reintroduce migratory patterns in species of birds. Based on this framework, the filmmakers have built a delightful story with important lessons about life.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1997 Academy Awards: Best Cinematography (Caleb Deschanel).
Jeff Daniels as Thomas “Tom” Alden; Anna Paquin as Amy Alden; Dana Delany as Susan Barnes; Terry Kinney as David Alden and Holter Graham as Barry Stickland
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Health Classes — This film offers a look at how focusing on nature, a supportive family, and a project that takes an individual outside of oneself can serve the process of grieving. It provides a dramatic example for a lesson in healthy ways of dealing with loss. See Using Fly Away Home in Health Classes. The movie also addresses the redemption of a neglectful parent who comes to learn the importance of his role in the life of his daughter.
English Language Arts Classes — Fly Away Home is useful in inspiring students to exercise writing skills required by the ELA curriculum. See using Fly Away Home in ELA Classes. See also, Movie Lesson Plan for The Hero’s Journey in Fly Away Home — Teaching the Journey and Its Archetypes Through Quests for Internal Growth and Environmental Achievement in a Popular Film With a Young Heroine.
Biology Classes — The movie can serve as a springboard for discussions about migration and its inverse, dormancy, although for many classes, a portion of the film “Winged Migration” will better serve the purpose. Fly Away Home will also serve to introduce students to innovative efforts to repair damage to the environment. See Using Fly Away Home in Biology Classes.
The film takes the position that bending the rules and breaking the law is justified if the perpetrators are well-intentioned. This weakness can be turned into a strength through comment and discussion. See Discussion Questions #11. The father becomes a better parent through the story, but some would question many of his parenting practices. See Discussion Questions 6 and 14.
Young viewers may be disturbed by the auto accident shown at the film’s opening and the images of a young girl grieving. The character of the father, an artist who enjoys the risky sport of hang-gliding, can seem reckless in his willingness to allow his daughter to fly an ultralight aircraft alone, but she had trained rigorously for the experience and succeeds admirably.
Enjoy this film with your children. During the movie, you might remark that a Canadian named Bill Lishman discovered that ultralight aircraft could be used to help geese and other birds re-establish their migration routes. The technique is now used as far away as Siberia. After the film is over, remark on how Amy was able to get over her grief. She went to nature and, after a while, she allowed others to comfort her. Also, Amy undertook a major project that allowed her to commit to something in the future, rather than simply looking back at the past.
You can also point out how the movie shows Amy learning to take care of her motherless goslings while Tom, her father, is learning to take care of his motherless daughter. You may want to comment on the fallacy of the film’s position that bending the rules and breaking the law is justified if the perpetrators are well-intentioned.
Should your children be interested in migration, show them the first 45 minutes of “Winged Migration“. The entire film is too long for most kids. For an in-depth analysis of migration, see TWM’s Lesson Plan on Migration, Nomadism, and Dormancy.
USING THE MOVIE IN THE CLASSROOM
Choose the class type below.
This movie shows a child dealing with a grievous loss in a healthy manner with her family helping along the way. As such, it provides students with a model for working though grief which features: 1) going to nature; 2) accepting the love of others; and 3) embarking on projects outside of oneself. The information below, presented in a lecture or a student handout, contains more information about grieving.
DEALING WITH LOSS
A relationship breakup or the loss of a friendship; the death of a loved one; a significant illness (yours or someone else’s); unemployment; severe financial problems; a miscarriage; the death of a beloved animal; realizing that a cherished dream will not be fulfilled; loss of the sense of safety after being attacked or after an accident; being forced to leave your home: all of these events can trigger a process called grieving. Grief occurs when something valuable has been lost.
Some situations that are fortunate can also result in grieving. These include: graduating from one school and going to another or leaving one job and starting another. When these changes require leaving family or friends, changing familiar routines, or no longer seeing familiar places, it’s natural to have some regret.
Grieving is very personal and people experience it differently. There is no timetable for grief and no specific stages of grief that always occur or which take place in a particular order. People who suppress their grief because they don’t want to appear weak or because they have to continue working or because they need to support their family, often find that grief comes back to them later or expresses itself in unexpected behaviors. Crying is a natural and healthy way to deal with grief, for people of all ages and both sexes.
Grieving has been described as like being on a roller coaster. There will be times when life is almost normal and then there will be the difficult times when the anguish is so intense that the grieving person thinks that he or she cannot go on.
Grief is often multi-layered. For example, people who lose a close member of the family often have to change their living arrangements and they will grieve the loss of their old way of living as well as the loss of their loved one.
Some Common Effects of Grief
- disbelief — “This cannot have happened”;
- feeling as if in a bad dream;
- emotionally instability;
- profound sadness, emptiness, despair, yearning, loneliness;
- feelings of guilt for actions toward the person who died or was seriously injured — “I could have done more to help”, “I could have been nicer”;
- survivor’s guilt; when a loved one’s death has occurred by trauma or unexpected illness, relief at being the one to survive and guilt for feeling that way; conversely, a feeling by the person who survived that he or she should have been the one to die;
- anger — at the doctors, at God, at oneself: the anger can fixate on just about anyone;
- fear, anxiousness, helplessness, insecurity about what life will be like in the future; fear of suffering the same fate as the person who died or was injured;
- questioning long-held religious beliefs;
- jealousy of others who have not experienced the same loss;
- physical symptoms — strong emotions and stress affect physical health; some common physical effects of grieving are: difficulty eating or sleeping, nausea, bowel upsets, lowered immunity,fatigue, weight loss or weight gain; headaches, tightness in the throat, heaviness in the chest, and an empty feeling in the stomach.
The “Dont’s of Grieving”
1. Don’t try to suppress your feelings; on the contrary, acknowledge the legitimacy of the way you feel.
2. Don’t let others tell you how you should be feeling.
3, Avoid using alcohol or drugs to numb the pain.
4. Don’t make major decisions; grieving is a time of instability.
Healthy Coping Strategies
- Accept the loss as something real and something grievous; denial is not a good way to deal with loss.
- Give yourself space and time to experience your feelings.
- Give yourself permission to cry, especially if you are male.
- Accept and seek support from family, friends, support groups, and therapists.
- Experience nature: it can be incredibly soothing.
- Involve yourself in a project that absorbs your time, attention and energy.
- Express your feelings in art, music or dance.
- If you are grieving the death of a member of your family or of a friend:
- remind yourself that you will never stop loving the person who has died; and their love for you will always be there, a caress on your cheek, a whisper in your ear;
- It’s very natural to have regrets; no relationship is perfect; try to focus on the positive; your loved one deserves it; and
- find a special place in your heart for the person you loved and when the time is right, but sooner rather than later, move on with your life.
- Would your loved one want you to curl up and wither away or live a happy and full life?
- Keep yourself open for new relationships and new interests.
- Take care of yourself physically; get enough sleep. eat a healthy diet; get outside into the sunshine; many people believe that hard physical exercise releases chemicals in your brain that moderate emotions;
- When the first rush of grief is gone, plan ahead for dealing with situations that will trigger your grief.
- Grief is something that people can experience, pass through, and then take up their lives again. They will be changed, perhaps saddened, but all experience changes people. Grief need not cripple. A double tragedy occurs when a person allows grief to consume and defeat them.
Discussion Questions for a Unit on Grieving
See Discussion Questions three, twelve and thirteen in the ELA tab of this Learning Guide.
Assignment Ideas for a Unit on Grieving
- If the class does not read the student handout, groups of four or fewer students can be assigned to research and report to the class on the following topics: (1) different formulations of the stages of grief; (2) common effects of suffering loss; (3) healthy ways of coping with loss; and (4) examples of people who have dealt with their grief by taking up projects to help others.
- Students can be assigned to write an essay analyzing how Amy dealt with her grief, noting whether or not she used the ways of coping with grief described in the student handout or in any accepted description of healthy ways of dealing with loss;
- Students can be asked to research and present to the class a report on common myths of grieving using at least three sources;
- Students can be asked to write about a grieving experience that they have gone through or observed in another person.
To obtain cross-curricular benefits, a portion of the grade can depend upon whether students adhere to the standards for writing and oral presentations taught in ELA classes.
The Discussion Questions set out below are designed to stimulate thinking, Most are followed by an assignment providing students an opportunity to practice skills required by ELA curriculum standards.
The lyrics in the song that plays as the film opens and then again as it closes are important in terms of theme. Share the lyrics with the class and then ask the first three questions set out below:
10,000 Miles By Mary Chapin Carpenter
Fare thee well
My own true love
Farewell for a while
I’m going away
But I’ll be back
Though I go 10,000 miles
My own true love
10,000 miles or more
The rocks may melt
And the seas may burn
If I should not return
Oh don’t you see
That lonesome dove
Sitting on an ivy tree
She’s weeping for
Her own true love
As I shall weep for mine
Oh come ye back
My own true love
And stay a while with me
If I had a friend
All on this earth
You’ve been a friend to me
1. At the beginning of the story, the song ends two lines into the third verse while the camera focuses directly on Amy’s face as she lies in the hospital: “Oh don’t you see that lonesome dove?” To whom is the question directed?
The question may be asked of the father who has not been a part of his daughter’s life for several years and is now being challenged by circumstance to enter her life fully. The question may also be directed toward the film’s viewer, who will see the girl characterized as lonely and heartbroken.
2. In the final verse, the lyrics that have used only the second and third person up until that time suddenly change to the first person. What purpose did the songwriter have in causing this change in language and what purpose did the filmmakers have in leaving the final verse until the story’s end?
Using the first person directly links the singer and the audience. Listeners will feel the empathy as the lyrics tie first, second and third person together. The completion of the song at the end of the film once again focuses the viewer on Amy but this time allows for the progression of her grief. The words of the song and the change of person directly link the audience to Amy’s experience. Amy’s experience is shared; her loss and the handling of the loss-gain universal appeal.
3. How do the final lines in the song, “If I had a friend/ all on this earth/ you’ve been a friend to me,” suggest theme?
The “friend” is a lost loved one for whom the feelings of affection never die. When a loved one dies, resolution leads to a focus on the positive feelings of love and friendship. By the end of the film, Amy is well on her way to this resolution.
Analysis of poetry is a basic skill required in ELA curricula. Consider giving students the following assignment:
Write an explication of the lyrics of 10,000 Miles as if they were presented as a poem. Analyze literary devices such as diction, imagery, metaphor, tone, verse form, rhyme and rhythm to illustrate how the poet expresses overall meaning.
4. Characterization in the film comes through imagery, dialogue, and action. Identify a scene that reveals Amy’s character through one of these devices. [This question can be asked of several students.]
Here are a few examples. Imagery characterizing Amy as lonely is seen in several shots in which she is by herself in nature and when she curls up on her bed with a teddy bear. Amy’s despair is heard in the dialogue when she asks her father why all of this had to happen when she tells him she doesn’t care about what is going on in the environment, and when she says she would rather die than go back to school. Action reveals character when Amy rejects her father by storming off when he crashes his glider; when she is rude to Susan, who has brought her a gift, and when she looks through the old trunk filled with memories of her mother.
The following assignment exercises skills in literary analysis and essay writing:
As the film progresses, Amy begins to change in several ways. Select three scenes, one which relies on imagery, another that employs dialog, and a third that uses action to reveal changes in Amy’s character. Some scenes rely on more than one of these elements; however, you must discuss three scenes. Present them in a well organized essay which, as to each scene, first makes a statement about what kind of change is occurring and which element is used in the scene to demonstrate the change, then cites evidence from the scene that shows the change, and then supplies two comments linking the scene to the assertion of change.
This style of support is referred to as “cite, comment, comment” and is used in expository, analytical and persuasive essays. An example follows:
(i) Assertion: Action is employed to show how Amy, in the process of healing, begins to accept a relationship with her father’s friend, Susan.
(ii) Citation: When Amy freaks out in the shower after getting soap in her eyes, Susan comes into the bathroom and tells Amy that no one can ever replace her mother, but if Amy will allow it, the two of them can become friends. Susan adds that the first rule of friendship is trust. Amy then hugs Susan.
(iii) Comment: By Susan’s admission that no one can ever take her mother’s place, Amy is freed from the feeling that being close to another woman may be disloyal.
(iv) Comment: Amy hugs Susan showing that Amy is beginning to trust, an essential element in the process of healing.
This example could also serve as an instance in which dialog is used to reveal character.
5. There is a parallel in the growth of the geese and Amy’s growth. What happens in the story that shows how both the birds and Amy mature as the film progresses?
Both the geese and Amy move toward adulthood and independence. The geese mature from waddling to flying as Amy grows from behaving in a childlike manner to acting as a more responsible adolescent when she stops refusing to go to school, accepts her father’s instructions, and goes to her mother’s trunk to try on clothes and put on lipstick, hinting at new interests. The geese learn to fly following the ultralight aircraft as Amy learns to fly the plane; the geese fly through danger as does Amy, and eventually, the geese make it to the pond, and thus to adulthood, as Amy flies alone to the pond without being accompanied by her father.
Consider the following assignment to develop skills in essay writing and interpretation:
Write a formal essay in which you discuss how Amy feels as she matures. Feelings are an important component of theme in this film and Amy’s feelings are shown as they progress from loneliness to engagement to confidence. In your essay, focus on Amy’s change in feeling in terms of her willingness to trust, her willingness to grow closer to others, and her ability to accept risk for the benefit of others. Be sure to address how Amy feels at the end of the film as she basks in her accomplishment.
6. Tom, Amy’s father, has clearly made mistakes as a parent; he allowed his anger at Amy’s mother, or her anger at him, to prevent him from being part of Amy’s life for ten crucial years. Through the course of the film, Tom learns a lot about being a better parent. Describe some of Tom’s parenting decisions and evaluate them.
The first step that Tom took to becoming a better parent was to take responsibility for his daughter and to engage with her in a loving way. He does not judge Amy, nor does he use anger or impatience in the way he treats her, even though it is clear that he is often at a loss about what to do. He is patient and forgiving, yet he does have a few standards that he insists be maintained. Tom is willing to sacrifice his Moon Landing sculpture and take valuable time away from his work in order to help Amy save the geese. He admits to Amy that he has not been a good father in the past and apologizes. Finally, when Tom’s ultralight crashes short of the preserve where the geese are to spend the winter, he tells Amy fly on by herself. He is giving her permission to be independent and act on her own, a major step toward adulthood. In that conversation, Tom tells Amy that she has her mother’s strength, which not only gives Amy the confidence to go forward independently but signals that he accepts and approves of her love for her mother and values those parts of Amy’s character that are like her mother.
Consider the following assignment in persuasive writing:
Write a personal essay in which you express your ideas about what constitutes good parenting. You may refer to your own parents as examples in either positive or negative terms or you may refer to grandparents or to the parents of friends. Be sure to cite specific examples of good parenting rather than writing in only general terms. For example, should you determine that forbearance is a characteristic of good parenting, you may want to illustrate the quality of forbearance through mention of a particular time when you witnessed a parent exhibiting that quality. Consider in your conclusion how you hope to behave as a parent.
7. Two important backstories in Fly Away Home present values and information which increase the quality of the film. What are these back stories and how are they presented and resolved?
The first backstory addresses issues of environmentalism in its conflict with economic interests. It is introduced when the tractors tear up marshland and Amy’s father and Susan attend a town hall meeting addressing the issue. At the meeting, Amy’s father speaks in support of restrictions on development, a landowner explains how he cannot support his family anymore on farmland alone, and a park ranger asks the group to consider the future. These three views are presented fairly yet are not resolved; Amy and her father deal with one of the results of damage to the environment by caring for the goslings, but this is not an answer to the larger issue of ongoing habitat destruction. The second backstory in the movie involves the discovery that ultralight aircraft can be used to assist in the reintroduction of flocks of migrating birds. The film shows the progress in teaching a gaggle of geese how to migrate in much abbreviated, but reasonably accurate terms.
The first backstory in the film involves the destruction of habitat and the conflict between people who want to preserve the environment and those who want to use the land for development or to exploit natural resources. The following assignment will allow students to practice writing a persuasive essay.
Write an opinion piece for the school newspaper or for a paper published in [insert the name of the town in which the school is located]. Find a conflict between environmentalists and developers in your community, state or region or in the nation, and argue a position of your choice concerning how that conflict should be resolved. Your conclusions should contain a call for action based on your position.
The following information presented in lecture form or through a student handout will contribute to an understanding of the second backstory and enable students to see the value of a backstory in literature and film. It will also set the stage for the next suggested assignment.
It is important that students learn to write summaries of information they are given in a lecture, read in a book or handout, or see in a film. The following assignment provides an opportunity to exercise that skill based upon the following information which can be imparted to students through a lecture or through a handout.
In the 1990s, scientists recognized that the extinction of the entire population of migrating whooping cranes was imminent. Whooping cranes are rare even under the best of conditions and with the encroachment of humans into their habitat, their numbers were reduced to less than 200 birds living in one flock. Efforts to develop a second migrating flock met with failure until scientists teamed up with William Lishman, who had learned to lead Canada Geese chicks on migration routes using ultralight aircraft. Lishman’s efforts are alluded to with a good degree of accuracy in the movie.
When they are born, young whooping cranes, like most other birds, will “imprint” on the animals that they first see and hear. In the wild, these are the chicks’ parents. Imprinting is an essential step in the development of whooping crane chicks because they don’t instinctively know how to catch food, which food to catch, or how to fly; they have to be taught these skills by their parents. In the film, the goslings imprint on Amy, following her everywhere.
It was a complex undertaking for scientists to establish a new migrating whooping crane flock; this is not fully shown in Amy’s experience with her geese. Scientists had to secure wintering and summering grounds and rest stops along the journey. Government permissions had to be obtained. Since whooping cranes were extremely scarce, Sandhill cranes, a closely related non-endangered species, were used for the trials. A migratory path with stopovers for rest and feeding was established. The next spring, some of the cranes flew back to the hatching site in the north. However, the cranes had lost their fear of people and would land in schoolyards and other places where people congregated.
When they started the whooping crane migrating flock, the scientists caused the birds to imprint on the sight and sound of the ultralight aircraft. The people who took care of them donned non-human, crane type costumes. When the birds were ready to fly, they followed the ultralight aircraft on exercise runs and finally, on the migration to southern wintering grounds. The next spring, on their own, the birds retraced their flight to the location where they had hatched. As of 2005, the new Eastern whooping crane migrating flock consisted of 46 birds.
In Fly Away Home, the human element is very important and the birds bond to Amy, rather than the ultralights. This plot element facilitates the connection between the back story and the central story in the film.
Write a one-paragraph summary of the system used to teach a flock of birds to migrate. Use the information as it is presented in the handout [or explained in the class lecture] about the actual scientists who worked to create a new migratory route for whooping cranes.
8. An important part of every story involves the buildup of a series of events that lead to the climax. In literary analysis, these events are referred to as “complications”. What complications occur in this film and what purpose is served by including them in the story?
Here are several complications.
- When Tom and Susan come home from a town meeting to discover Amy missing, they search and find her in the barn with the goslings. This complication serves to illustrate the father’s increasing attachment to Amy.
- The wildlife ranger complicates the story when he insists that the geese belong to the government (the Queen) and he busies himself trying to get the birds either pinioned or taken away from Amy. This complication puts time constraints on the project of teaching the birds to fly with ultralight aircraft and increases tension.
- A complication occurs when Amy crashes the ultralight during her first effort to fly solo. This shows Tom that he needs to teach Amy to fly the ultralight by herself if the project is going to succeed and makes him aware of his deep love for his daughter.
- Another complication is introduced with Igor, the injured goose who falls from the flock. This shows Amy’s resourcefulness as she secures the bird in the baby carrier she found among her mother’s things. This complication also reinforces the symbol of Amy as the caretaker of the goslings and is part of a symbolic system for the story. Amy takes on the role of caretaker for the motherless goslings as her father learns to take care of his motherless daughter. Amy takes on the role of caretaker as she heals and matures and is able to incorporate her mother’s caretaking spirit.
- The time restraints that come from the deadline that had to be met in order to secure the site where the geese could land add tension and continue the idea that animals are threatened by human encroachment onto their habitat.
- The difficulties on the flight south are complications that show how luck and resourceful thinking are necessary for success. These complications involve the necessity of landing on the air base, the problem with the hunters, the father’s injuries, and his decision to allow Amy to continue the journey on her own.
Consider giving the following assignment to confirm the concept of complication in fiction and to allow students to exercise their skills in creative writing:
Write a new complication for the film that serves to explicate theme, advance plot, show character or develop one of the story’s existing symbols. This complication should be something that may have gotten in the way of the efforts to get the geese to migrate to their new location. Decide when this complication would best fit into the film and be prepared to explain how it would serve to add interest, appeal or idea to the story. These new complications can be shared with the class to determine which should be added to the movie were it the case that the film’s producers would allow only one more complication to occur.
9. On many levels, the story in Fly Away Home relies upon a dominant comparison to illustrate theme. What is this comparison and how does it illustrate the process of healing?
The dominant comparison that illustrates theme can be found in the juxtaposition of the helpless goslings who have lost their mother and a helpless girl who has lost hers. The healing processes for the compared parties are similar; each needs to begin to trust another source of parenting and to gain independence. The metaphor continues to the end of the film at which time both birds and girl have gained maturity and freedom.
Consider the following assignment to enhance students’ understanding of the literary device of comparison:
There are several comparisons in the film that are important but not necessarily dominant. Write a paragraph in which you identify a comparison being made and explain its value to the movie in terms of idea or art. An example can be found in pinioning, the process of trimming a bird’s wings to prevent it from flying. The wildlife ranger, in his attempt to pinion the wings of Amy’s birds, tries to pinion the wings of Amy herself. The authorities who try to block Amy’s uncle in his attempt to enter the U.S. at the border can be seen as another effort to pinion. Interestingly, the air force base commander, an even more powerful authority, first attempts to pinion the wings of Amy and her father but then changes his mind once he is promised they will not land on his base again. These events add tension, and in the case of the uncle, humor to the film.
10. In the process of healing, Amy begins to understand the value of family which is important in her ability to recover from the loss of her mother. Which scene best shows this value?
Amy’s family, which extends beyond the traditional concept of what defines a family unit, is shown in a happy domestic scene when they are outdoors conversing, playing musical instruments, adjusting a nose ring, laughing, carving pumpkins and posing for pictures. Amy, her father, her uncle, Susan, and her father’s friend are all present in the sunny and muted scene.
Consider the following assignment to provide students an opportunity to write a narrative:
Write a description of a time when you were together with your family, any way you want to define the term. Be sure to include images of setting, the people present, the action and the mood. Try to make the picture seen, heard, and felt by your reader rather than just told.
11. In order to free the geese and accomplish the daunting task of getting them to migrate to a new home, several crimes are committed and the perpetrators get away unpunished. What does Amy’s father say about these? Do you agree?
The crimes include freeing the geese, assaulting a law enforcement officer, and crossing national boundaries without permission. He suggests that there are some things more important than rules, especially when the intention of the people breaking the rules are to achieve an honorable result. This is an unrealistic approach because, more likely than not, there would be consequences for these actions. There would be no order in society if everyone could break rules just because the crimes were committed by good people seeking to do the right thing. There are times when laws should be broken for a good purpose, but then it should be in public with the willingness to take the punishment, as when protesters in the Civil Rights Movement broke laws enforcing segregation. They were put in jail, but that was also part of their strategy for social change. See Snippet Learning Guide to the Nashville Sit-ins.
Consider the following assignment to allow students to exercise their skills in writing a brief research paper:
Research, through the internet or history books, examples of important figures in history who broke the law in service of an important goal. Examples are: Mahatma Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, and Daniel Ellsberg. Write a brief summary of the intention, the law broken, and the result of the action taken.
12. In which scene does the film most dramatically illustrate the idea that the life of a loved one transcends death?
Answers may vary, but the closest the film comes to stating the idea outright occurs in a dialogue between father and daughter after Tom had crashed into a field on their flight to save the birds. Amy says she wishes her mother were with her. Tom responds by telling Amy that her mother will always be with her; she is all around her, all the time. He tells Amy that she has her mother’s strength and then insists that she continue the journey alone. This gives Amy the confidence to go on in life in spite of her loss.
13. Amy will miss her mother for the rest of her life, but the process of grieving that she experienced in the film has served her well and by the end of the movie, she is clearly able to go on with her life. What does the film suggest that this process involves and how are these suggestions shown?
First, an individual who has lost a loved one must be allowed to mourn. This can be seen when Amy sits alone and when she feels the pain of her loss. The film suggests that by getting close to nature, the suffering of loss is mitigated. Amy is often in nature, both when she wanders out of doors and when she is with the geese. The film also shows the importance of being close to others, trusting, caring and being cared for. Amy bonds to a new, extended family. Finally, the film stresses the importance of getting outside the self through a project or some kind of action that is of value not only to the self but also to the animal world, other people, or society as a whole. This is shown in Amy’s efforts to learn to fly the ultralight and to guide the geese to their new home.
Consider the following assignment to provide students an opportunity to write a memoir.
Write a recollection, using descriptive details, of a time in your life when you have experienced loss. The loss may involve an important person who has died or even the loss suffered when a friend has moved away. The loss of a pet can also be a source of grieving as can be the loss of a valued object. Clearly, there are losses that are of greater significance than others, but all losses share common types of emotional suffering, whatever the degree. Be sure that in your reflection the nature of loss is addressed along with what was done to help ease the pain. Conclude the reflection with a summary of what was learned in the experience.
14. It’s obvious that Tom wasn’t a good father when he didn’t see his daughter for years and years because he was angry at her mother. Nor does it set a good example when a father violates the law. Leading his daughter across an international border without permission was foolhardy and risky. However, through the course of the movie, Tom becomes, on the whole, a pretty good parent. He loves his daughter and helps her through her grieving. But being a parent often involves difficult decisions. After Tom’s ultralight had crashed short of the wildlife preserve where the geese were to winter, Tom told Amy to fly the last leg of their journey alone through unfamiliar territory. What if she had crashed in the swamp? In his last parenting decision in the movie, did Tom do the right thing? Support your conclusion.
This is a difficult question and reasonable minds may differ. Tom did allow his daughter to do something that was risky. She could have been injured or even killed if her ultralight had crashed or if she had gotten lost. However, Amy had been working toward a goal for a long time and she would have been devastated if she had not been able to take the geese all the way to the preserve. Allowing Amy to go on by herself fostered her independence. For parents of adolescents, it is very hard to know when to allow their teenagers to become independent and when to treat them like children. In addition, telling Amy that she has her mother’s strength signaled to Amy that Tom accepted and approved of Amy’s love for her mother and valued those parts of Amy’s character that are like her mother. This was another benefit to be weighed against the risks that Tom was allowing Amy to undertake.
An exercise in creative writing may get students to think about issues beyond the story, such as the risks that Tom was willing to allow Amy to take and the difficulties with the police that he may experience when he returns to Canada. Another important issue involves how Amy will return to daily life and to school, now that she has experienced the intensity of the events that enabled her to fly alone leading her goslings to a new habitat. This assignment can be given to groups of students or to individuals. The scenes should be shared with the class as a whole and discussed.
Write a scene that could be included in a sequel to Fly Away Home in which you present a resolution to one or more of the following complications that occur when Amy and Tom return to Canada: (1) the child welfare agency tries to take Amy away from Tom and place her in a foster home, claiming that Tom had endangered her welfare when he allowed a young child to fly on such a perilous journey; (2) the Canadian government charges Tom with criminal violations for destroying public property, assaulting a law enforcement officer, or crossing a border without permission; and (3) Amy returns to the routine of daily life and to school having experienced the intensity of the events that enabled her to fly alone leading her goslings to a new habitat. Be imaginative. Feel free to introduce new characters and new events. Use your scene to reveal something truthful about the human condition.
To stimulate creative thinking, teachers may want to suggest that students think about how the institutions of society would act and how Tom and Amy, their friends, and others in their community would act. Suggestions to start students thinking include: how would a courtroom scene play out in which Tom defends his actions? What would Amy’s first day back at school be like? What would she do? What would the other students do? What would the teachers do? What would happen on Amy’s first afternoon at home?
Fly Away Home is suitable for showing to middle school science students when a teacher will be absent from class or when, for some other reason, direct instruction in the biology curriculum cannot take place. For high school students and, in fact, a better alternative for middle school students, is to show the first 45 minutes of “Winged Migration” — the entire movie is too long for most kids. The film can be followed by a discussion of migration or a full unit on migration. See TWM’s Lesson Plan on Migration, Nomadism, and Dormancy. There can also be a discussion of recent developments in efforts to reintroduce migratory patterns in birds using ultralight aircraft and of other innovative efforts to correct for damage to the environment.
If this film is shown to a biology class, related assignments can include:
- Students can be requested to research and report on the current status of the Whooping Crane Eastern Migratory Flock from Operation Migration or other sources; and
- Students can be asked to create poster boards illustrating the process of using ultralights to create a migratory flock of birds.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
1. Evaluate the conduct of Amy’s father in this movie in relation to this Pillar of Character.
He didn’t obey the law when he freed the geese and assaulted the police officer. Nor did he fulfill his responsibilities to Amy while her mother was alive. However, after her mother died, he did step in and began to fulfill his obligations.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
See questions under the Parenting section.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
See the sections of this Learning Guide relating to the use of the movie in various subject areas: Health classes, ELA classes, and Biology classes.
BRIDGES TO READING
Father Goose, by William Lishman.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- Operation Migration Home Page; this site contains videos of whooping cranes and the process of training the birds to fly on the migration routes and a field journal with vocalizations from Sandhill and Whooping Cranes and much more;
- The Whooping Crane Conservation Association;
- Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership;
- Map of Migration Route of Whooping Cranes;
- Fifth Ultralight-led Migration, Hatch Year 2005 from Journey North;
- For excellent slide shows illustrating the creation of a second Whooping Crane migratory flock, see Booklets for Kids from Journey North;
- For other visuals and a multitude of teacher and student resources on Whooping Crane Migration, see Teaching Resources from the Journey North and Teachers and Kids from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.
- Coping with Grief and Loss from Helpguide.org
For additional links relating to migration, see Links to the Internet Section to the Lesson Plan on Migration, Nomadism, and Dormancy.
The links set out in the Links to the Internet section.