INTRODUCE CHILDREN AGES 3 – 15 to:
Ethical, Social, And Cultural Issues Facing Children As They Mature,
Works Of Music, Dance, Drama, Literature And The Visual Arts,
Extraordinary Men And Women Who Have Shaped Our World,
Major Events of History, and Principles Of Science!
Bring school curriculum to life!
Your children will learn while being entertained by some of the best movies ever made. Watch films recommended by TeachWithMovies as a family and talk briefly about the events they portray. Your family’s set of shared experiences will increase. Screen time will change from a passive void to a learning experience.
Our exclusive “Quick Discussion Questions” help parents stimulate family conversations about important aspects of the movie.
Read the “Description,” “Benefits,” and “Possible Problems” sections of the Learning Guide. If the movie is suitable for your children, go to the “Quick Discussion Question.” This won’t take you more than a few minutes. For more in-depth analysis, each Learning Guide provides helpful background, discussion questions, bridges to reading, and links to the internet. Many of these sections are long and detailed. They are intended for teachers and for those parents who want to make an in-depth study of the subject area covered by the movie. It isn’t necessary for most parents to read these sections.
Find the right movie quickly.
Each year the movie industry makes a few films of lasting value. Over the last 70 years, these films have accumulated into a cultural treasure. TeachWithMovies collects, organizes and evaluates this resource so that parents can use it effectively. The films are carefully indexed by Subject Matter, Social-Emotional Learning Topics, Minimum Age, and Ethical Emphasis.
Discuss the social and ethical questions raised by the films.
Most good movies explore moral and social issues. Each Learning Guide suggests methods to open relevant discussions that will enhance your child’s developing character. TeachWithMovies has arranged the Social-Emotional Learning themes into categories. Examples include Male Role Model; Female Role Model; Romantic Relationships; Father/Son; Mother/Daughter; Father/Daughter; Mother/Son; Breaking Out; Rebellion; Disabilities; Friendship, Grieving; Redemption and Leadership. Click here for a complete list of the Social-Emotional Learning Topics.
TeachWithMovies is a “Six Pillars Partner” of Character Counts, a nationally recognized, non-sectarian organization which teaches ethics to children. The authors of our Learning Guides are certified Character Counts trainers. Each Learning Guide has an “Ethical Emphasis” section which provides discussion questions on the ethical issues raised by the film.
Using films to inspire your children, expand their horizons, and teach Social-Emotional Learning is just one aspect of being an intentional parent.
Watching movies as a family is not a substitute for reading. Nor will it take the place of trips to zoos, museums, concerts, or any of the other myriad activities used by parents to enrich their childrens’ experience. But watching and discussing beneficial films can become a valuable additional enrichment tool.
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS!
Alexander was in the fourth grade, taking a unit on the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout the U.S., instruction on this subject emphasizes the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King and his advocacy of nonviolent civil disobedience. Alexander’s parents rented the movie Gandhi and told him, “This is where Dr. King got a lot of his ideas.” Watching this film, Alexander started to ask questions about the British Empire, India, and South Africa. He became acquainted with the life of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest men of the 20th century. The film demonstrated to him that the U.S. Civil Rights movement is used by movements seeking social or political change in many countries all over the globe.
Gandhi is a deeply engrossing movie. On his own, Alex watched the film three times, on each occasion drawing more from the movie and coming back to his parents with questions. Through their answers his parents were able to supplement what Alexander was learning in school and impart their views on the issues raised by the film. As a result of these discussions communication among family members improved and the family’s common frame of reference was enhanced.
Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a satire about the Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust. In this movie, a mentally ill U.S. Air Force general sends B-52s loaded with nuclear weapons to bomb the Soviet Union and provoke World War III. The movie describes the efforts of the U.S. government to recall the planes. Dr. Strangelove is a darkly humorous movie. Before watching the film and in between the laughs, or after the movie is over, parents can talk to their kids about the Cold War, the threat of nuclear holocaust, and the history of the fear of communists in the U.S.
The great spectacle Spartacus is a fictionalized account of a slave revolt that shook the foundations of ancient Rome from 73 – 71 B.C. Historians tell us that the movie successfully captures the sense of the time, the hard lot of the Roman slaves, the brutality of a gladiator’s life, and the barbaric decadence of the Romans. Watch this film with your children. Engage them in discussions about the Roman Empire and make comparisons among Roman slavery, the slavery of Africans in the Americas, and the slavery of the Jews in Egypt. The Learning Guide provides factual information to support these discussions.
Beautiful Dreamers was recommended by a high school English teacher. It is a delightful account of the friendship between Walt Whitman and Richard Maurice Bucke, a Canadian physician. The film gives the viewer a sense of what Whitman was like. The teacher told us that after her students see this film, their interest in reading Whitman’s poetry increases dramatically. When your children study Whitman in school, show them this film and boost their interest in poetry.
Some movies are themselves outstanding works of art. Oklahoma! and West Side Story, for example, display wonderful dance and music. Moulin Rouge and Lust for Life feature beautiful paintings, often against the background of the actual scenes depicted. These films also provide insight into the lives and times of the artists.
WE HAVE IDENTIFIED THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WORTHLESS
How do you tell the good movies from the bad? What about all those historically inaccurate films? To answer these questions, TeachWithMovies consults books in which historians evaluate the historical accuracy of films. For some movies, TeachWithMovies performs its own research. For other films, TeachWithMovies has consulted experts. As a result, this website recommends only films which are reasonably historically accurate or for which the inaccuracies can be corrected by a few parental comments.
In addition to determining historical accuracy, TeachWithMovies reviews films to determine whether they raise issues of importance to society or to individuals and whether they convey positive moral values. Movies are also reviewed for gratuitous violence, explicit sexual activity, depictions of drug use or other problematic scenes. Movies that are not beneficial, that are without substance, or that are not acceptable to a broad range of parents in the United States, are not recommended by TeachWithMovies.
AGE RANGE AND THE “POSSIBLE PROBLEMS” SECTION
The recommended age ranges set out in the Learning Guides often differ from the ratings published by the motion picture industry. If a child is mature for his or her chronological age, show the film at an earlier age than we recommend. If a child is less mature, wait a while. The Learning Guide should give you enough information to determine whether a child is ready to see the film.
Issues of graphic violence, displayed sexual activity, nudity, alcohol or drug abuse, excessive profanity, suicide, or negative stereotypes are described in the “Possible Problems” section. Our goal is to enable parents to make an educated decision about whether or not to show the film to their children, without having to take the time to preview the film.
The following subjects will be covered in the “Possible Problems” sections:
If a movie contains inappropriate or graphic violence, it probably won’t be recommended by TeachWithMovies. But if the violent scene is an isolated incident, or if the graphic violence is central to the overall positive message of the film, then the film may be included on the site. Whatever the case, you will be warned and can make your own decision.
An example is All Quiet on the Western Front, a classic that describes trench warfare in the First World War from the German point of view. The authors believe that this film should be seen (and the book read) by all children because of its depiction of the horrors of war and its critique of blind, unthinking patriotism. The Learning Guide to this film contains the following passage:
MODERATE. This is a war film with hand to hand combat, injury, and death, although there is little gore. When Paul, the main character, takes refuge in a bomb crater, he is attacked by a French or British soldier. Paul defends himself and mortally wounds the man. The fighting around them traps Paul in the bomb crater for many hours. Meanwhile, the enemy soldier is slowly dying. Paul begins to help the wounded man and is distraught when he dies. At the end of the movie, Paul is shot by a sniper while trying to reach across the trench to touch a butterfly.
For TeachWithMovies’ position on violence in film, see Statement on Violence
Displayed Sexual Activity and Nudity:
Movies that show sexual activity and nudity will usually not be recommended. However, if these scenes are isolated and innocent, and if the film is otherwise worthwhile, the film may be recommended and there will be a note in this section. An example is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The version of this film that we recommend stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. In one scene we see his completely unclothed backside and a fleeting view of Olivia Hussey’s breasts as she turns in the bed. This is all noted in the “Possible Problems” section.
Drug Use, including Smoking and Alcohol Use:
Most movies show people smoking. The fact that Hollywood has served as a public relations shill for the drug dealers who sell cigarettes is one of its greatest failings. When the use of tobacco is glamorized, the movie will be excluded or there will be a comment in the “Possible Problems” section. We believe that the most important factor in whether children smoke is whether their parents smoke. In addition, parents should discuss the dangers of smoking with their children and should mention the fact that vendors of consumer products, such as tobacco companies, pay movie producers to have their products used by movie stars. This is advertising designed to influence impressionable members of the audience, including children. Parental example and discussions should be sufficient to neutralize the images of movie stars smoking.
Alcohol use is accepted in our society. Consumption of alcohol in a moderate degree will not be the subject of comment. Films that glamorize alcohol abuse will usually not be selected. If such a film is recommended because it is valuable in other ways, the alcohol abuse will be the subject of a comment in the “Possible Problems” section. See, for example, My Fair Lady. Note that parental example and discussions about the dangers of alcoholism generally have more influence on children than movies. (Films that show the negative effects of alcohol abuse will be recommended. They are collected in the Social-Emotional Learning Index under the category “Alcohol and Drug Abuse”.)
Use of any illegal narcotic or drug will almost always disqualify a movie, but if such a movie is included, parents will be alerted in this section.
The use of profanity will seldom be a disqualifier. The isolated use of profanity in extreme situations will probably not be mentioned. However, parents will be notified of frequent or otherwise remarkable profanity.
No film glorifying suicide will be recommended. A movie in which an unsympathetic character commits suicide might be included, but again, there will be a notice to you, the parent. For example, the film Courage Under Fire describes the 1991 Gulf War and thoughtfully explores the introduction of women into combat, the process by which medals are awarded in the U.S. military, casualties from friendly fire, abuse of alcohol, and the effect of the military macho doctrine of “I can handle it without any help” on the marriages of army officers. But it also involves suicide. The “Possible Problems” section of the Learning Guide to this movie reads as follows:
Possible Problems: SERIOUS. This is a war movie with frequent profanity and some death. The brief view of the tank commander’s charred body is gruesome but there is artistic justification for this since the tragedy of his death is a driving force of the plot. Alcohol abuse is shown.
The villain, Monfriez, when confronted with his crime, commits suicide by driving his truck into an oncoming train. It should be pointed out to children who see this film that every time Monfriez is called upon to make any moral or life affecting decision, he makes the wrong choice.
Stereotypes and other Miscellaneous Objectionable Matters:
TeachWithMovies tries to identify and mention in the “Possible Problems” section stereotypical portrayals of minority groups and any other objectionable material.
Taking Advantage of “Problems:”
When faced with a problematic scene in an otherwise beneficial movie, parents can ignore the problem or they can bring the subject up and discuss it. Because Hollywood and television have given us so much trash, so many films that are sick, violent, destructive or just plain meaningless, many of the things that people see on the screen don’t make much of an impression. If they did, we’d all be sociopaths. Thus, if a parent is watching a movie with a child and comments on some portions of the movie, the scenes ignored may pale in comparison. If an isolated scene is objectionable, the parent can specifically comment on the scene.
If your child talks about a sequence or episode in the film, or when the evil, sickness or violence in a movie cannot be ignored, or if it provides an opportunity to make a point, a parent should bring the issue forward. Often the “Possible Problems” section will suggest a solution. An example is the Learning Guide to Gone With the Wind which includes the following entries.
Possible Problems: MODERATE. MODERATE. The worst problem with this story (both the film and the book) is that it accepts slavery and the way of life of the wealthy plantation owners without criticism. To counteract this see Quick Discussion Question.
All of the black characters are stereotypes who “just love their masters.” Alcohol use and abuse are shown.
[Quick Discussion Question:] Compare this movie to Judgment at Nuremberg. Assume that the administrator of a Nazi slave labor farm was tried under the Nuremberg principles. The evidence shows that the farm comprised thousands of acres cultivated by hundreds of Polish, Russian and Jewish slaves who were frequently whipped and who were separated from their families. Some slaves died from the conditions at the farm. If they tried to escape they were killed or maimed. Did the administrator commit a crime against humanity? How are these conditions different from those prevailing on plantations in the pre-Civil War South? What should have happened to the Southern plantation owners after the Civil War? If you decide that they should have been punished, was what actually happened to them an adequate penalty for their conduct? Is it fair to compare the owner of a Southern U.S. plantation before the Civil War to the German administrator of a slave labor farm a hundred years later? Tell us the facts and reasons justifying your answer to each of these questions.
ON OCCASION MOVIES CAN BE USED TO ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO READ
At TeachWithMovies we believe that the ability to enjoy books is essential to the development of a cultured and intelligent adult. Unfortunately, the advent of television, even programming which focuses on science, history and the fine arts, diminishes the incentive to read. Computer games only exacerbate the problem.
It should be a given in every household that reading books is the key to a treasure chest of knowledge and delightful experiences. If people don’t use the key, they’ll never get the treasure. Reading to a young child, suggesting books that relate to your child’s interests, discussing books within the family, and reading books yourself, are a parent’s best tools to transmit a love of reading. Many Learning Guides have a “Bridges to Reading” section which suggests books on topics covered by the film.
Used properly, there are several ways in which the films on TeachWithMovies can make a limited contribution to the effort to get children to read. While many believe that watching movies of works of literature only removes the incentive to read the book, the opposite can also be the case. When a movie is made from a book there are always details, scenes, events, information about characters, and even entire subplots left out. A parent should suggest that if the movie was enjoyable, the book will be more so because the author will tell more than the movie revealed. (A picture may be worth a thousand words and a movie worth a million words, but no film can contain all of the incidents, images, beautiful language and insights which are contained in a good book.)
Here is an example, using Alexander again. Alex is interested in politics and history. When he was 15 his parents showed him the black and white 1949 classic, All the King’s Men. The movie was based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Robert Penn Warren. The novel was based on the life of Huey Long, the demagogic governor and senator from Louisiana from 1929 until his death in 1935. Both versions of the story are riveting. 15 minutes into the movie Alex said, “This is a good movie.” Half an hour into the movie, Alex said, “This is a great movie.” He liked the film so much, that he watched it three more times and peppered his father with questions about Huey Long. His father then went to the library and checked out the book. The novel, All the King’s Men, is a classic of U.S. literature. It is long and the language is sophisticated … and Alex read it from cover to cover.
Films about the life of a famous person or an important battle or historic event can stimulate an interest in reading about the person or the event. In addition, a movie can acquaint children with an author and make them interested in reading the author’s works. An example is the film Beautiful Dreamers described above. By the same token, films about visual artists can make a child more interested in going to a museum or an art show. See Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh and Moulin Rouge. Films about the lives of musicians will make a child more interested in the artists’ music. See, e.g. Amadeus, The Buddy Holly Story, Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Bach’s Fight for Freedom, Bizet’s Dream, Rossini’s Ghost, Strauss: The King of Three-Quarter Time, Liszt’s Rhapsody and Handel’s Last Chance.
For literature that is complex and hard to read, a film version can serve as an excellent introduction to the book (e.g., Les Miserables) or the works of Jane Austen (e.g., Pride and Prejudice). Teachers have found that students who see a film of a Jane Austen novel have a better comprehension of the book than those students who haven’t seen the film.
Watch the film together and then read the book to them. This is particularly valuable for ages nine and under. Excellent candidates for watching the film and then reading the book out loud are Animal Farm, Gulliver’s Travels and The Wizard of Oz.
Movies can also be shown to children after they have read the book or studied it in school. This process confirms the experience of the book and often leads children to think more deeply about both the book and the movie.
Be creative and, if you find something that works well for you, pass it along to us.
- FIND THE RIGHT MOVIE;
- READ AT LEAST THE “DESCRIPTION,” “BENEFITS,” and “POSSIBLE PROBLEMS” SECTIONS OF THE LEARNING GUIDE, AND THEN ASK THE “QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION;”
- WATCH THE FILM WITH YOUR CHILDREN;
- DISCUSS THE FILM.
Watching the film with your children is essential. It automatically validates the movie and makes watching it into a special event. Before you show the film, you may want to tell your children what it’s about, briefly touching on the themes you want to emphasize. While watching the film, you can make a few short comments (usually no more than two or three per film) simply to highlight certain points or to make an analytical comment. Watching the film together allows you and your children to observe each others’ reactions. It enables you to discuss the film with your children at a later time, at the dinner table or during any shared activity.
Listen carefully to what your children have to say about the film and build on their comments. Be sure to share your enthusiasm for the subject matter of the film and the lessons that can be learned from it. Humor can help to highlight a fact or a theme. Bide your time. Months after you have seen the film, if something occurs that reminds you of a scene in the movie, point it out. Kids love it when you draw these connections.
THE “HELPFUL BACKGROUND” SECTION
Under “Helpful Background” we have listed interesting historical or background information to share with your children. For example, in The Sound of Music the Von Trapp children seek the protection of Maria’s bedroom during a thunderstorm. The “Helpful Background” section of the Learning Guide contains a brief explanation of the physics of lightning and thunder.
Neither the “Helpful Background” nor the “Discussion Questions” sections are designed to be imparted to children wholesale. If you convey about a quarter of the concepts described as “Helpful Background” and you have discussed the equivalent of two or three of the “Discussion Questions,” YOU’RE PROVIDING AN OPTIMAL FAMILY MEDIA EXPERIENCE!
The information in the “Helpful Background” section is not intended to be exhaustive. The facts included are those the authors thought that children would find interesting or might ask questions about.
Many of the inquiries listed under “Discussion Questions” do not have right or wrong answers. It is the process of trying to find the answer that is important. We have provided answers to some of the questions in the Guides. For some Guides, we have provided answers to all of the questions. We are working on increasing this number. The answers to most questions which are not provided can be found in the “Helpful Background” section.
After the first three or four movies you will develop a system that works for you and your children. After you select the film, there are only three things that you must do to make TeachWithMovies work for you and your children: (1) check at least the “Description,” “Benefits,” and “Possible Problems” sections as well as the “Quick Discussion Question,” (2) watch the movie with your children, and (3) talk to them about the movie.
Have a globe or an atlas in the room with the television so that you can easily show your child the location of the events taking place on the screen.
Allow your children to watch recommended films more than once. As a matter of fact, let them watch films recommended by TeachWithMovies as many times as they want, within the limits of permitted screen time. You do not need to be present at later viewings, but it’s a good idea to sit in for short periods at least. There is nothing wrong with doing something else while watching a subsequent viewing of the movie (but don’t do this the first time your child watches the film). After a subsequent viewing of a film you can mention facts or issues, then or later, which you did not cover in earlier discussions.
If something happens in daily life that relates to what was shown in one of the movies, point this out to your children. Draw connections as often as you can or better yet, lead your children to draw connections between the movies and life, literature or art, including other movies. For example, watch and discuss Amadeus shortly before you go to a concert that includes Mozart’s music.
Not all of the movies recommended by TeachWithMovies will appeal to your children, but most should. The mass audience, the target of the people who produce movies, does not suffer fools lightly. But if your child is bored with a film, if he or she is too old or too young for the movie, or if the film seems dated, turn it off. Don’t insist that your child watch anything. Soon your child will willingly accept your recommendations.
If you find a film that fits into the school curriculum, go to the teacher and suggest that he or she show it to the class or assign it as homework.
Serious filmmakers devote a substantial effort to making their scenes and sets authentic. Thus, a love story or a film about politics of a particular time or a particular place will provide a visual picture of life during the period and in the place depicted by the film.
Like any beneficial endeavor, using movies to educate your child takes some time and effort. The advantage of TeachWithMovies, is that it uses really good movies, an entertainment that most of us love and cherish, as the basis for the effort. It is our hope that this website will enable you and your children to spend many hours of pleasant and uplifting time together.
James A. Frieden
Deborah W. Elliott Frieden