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family movie watching

Get to know your children through film. More often than we like to admit, parents use visual media (film) as a way to spend time away from their kids. We suggest parents use film as a reason to spend time with their kids. More than just a chance to spend a few hours together, this shared experience may lead to interesting discussions and discovery about the movie-making process, life, human behavior, and the consequences our actions have on our family, friends and the world around us.

Involve your kids in the film selection

Give everyone an opportunity to see something they like or introduce them to something new.
– Select films based on genre (e.g., adventure, animation, comedy, documentary, silent, Western).
– Pick a series of films based on a theme, such as the same director (e.g., Hayao Miyazaki) or starring the same actor (e.g., Judy Garland).
– Create a challenge (e.g., Find a movie with an animal as a main character or that takes place in France).
– Connect a film to a current news event (e.g., election/politics, global warming).

Prepare your kids before the film

– Discuss story/plot in advance. What is the movie about?
- Is the story based on fact or fiction? Adapted from a book?
– What year was the film made? Is it a current film?
- Is the film animated? Live actors? Computer generated images (CGI)?
– When does it take place? In the past, present, or future?
- Where does the film take place? Is it a real or made-up place?
– What language is spoken in the film? Are there subtitles?

Watch films together

Start a tradition, such as Friday Family Movie Night or Monthly Sunday Afternoon at the Theater, or attend an annual film festival. Watching movies with your kids is an experience you can share and it can be a launch pad for conversation. When you watch together, you can help your kids better understand the story or messages in the film. If you are watching at home; you can press the pause/skip/repeat button when necessary. Laugh together during the funny parts, comfort each other during sad or scary parts. When you can’t be there, ask them questions about what they saw afterwards.

Make connections

– Is there something about the film that your kids can relate to? Maybe it was about an animal they love, a film you saw as a child, it takes place in the country where their grandparents grew up, it reminds them of trips to the beach.
– If the film was based on a book, read the book and discuss how it is the same/different.
– If it’s based on an actual event, learn more about what really happened.
– Locate the setting on a map if possible.
– Recreate a meal from the film or prepare snacks that compliment the film you are about to watch.

Ask your kids their opinions

Talk to your kids after the film. Ask them their opinions and share your own. How much do you agree or disagree? You may be surprised to discover that you share more than you differ.
– Favorite character? Why?
- Favorite scene in the film? Why?
– If it was based on a book or real event, how was the film the same or different than the book/real event?
– If you could change something about the story, what would it be?

Film Glossary

  • Animation: visual technique that provides the illusion of motion by displaying a collection of images in rapid sequence (i.e., cartoons)
  • Character: person in the story
  • Cinematography: decisions related to lighting and camera position when recording photographic images for cinema
  • Documentary: movie that provides a factual record or report
  • Frame: single, still image of a film or video
  • Film/movie: a series of still or moving images
  • Plot: basic layout of the story
  • Setting: place and time at which film is represented as happening
  • Script/screenplay: written story (including dialogue) for the film
  • Sound: music, dialogue, and other noises heard (or not heard in a film)
  • Scene: continuous part or segment of a film


Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org): provides information, education, and reviews about the world of media and technology.

Kids-In-Mind (www.kidsinmind.com): films are rated according to how much violence, profanity, etc., they contain on a scale of 1 to 10.

Internet Movie Database
(www.imdb.com): includes MPAA ratings for all movies and space for parents guide. Includes plot synopses and trailers.

The Best Old Movies for Families
by Ty Burr
A great guide to watching classic movies with kids with age and plot summaries.

The Providence Children’s Film Festival:  Founded in 2009, brings high-quality independent and international children’s films, animation, and documentaries to New England. The festival is six days of movies, workshops, and presentations for children, teens, and families. Get connected: www.pcffri.org

flickflackmovietalk: Two 10-year-old brothers watch and review films (old and new) on their blog. They want to know what others think about anything related to film and often interview kids and adults about what they like or don’t like. Visit www.flickflackmovietalk.com

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