Movie Nights with Merit

Ahhh, summer vacation. For kids, it’s a two-month break from school that’s brimming with opportunities for active play, creativity, exploration and family outings. Fresh air. Lemonade. Fireflies. And, of course, there’s nothing like a family movie night at the end of a long summer day.

The good news is that DVD moments can be more than just passive entertainment. In fact, parents can use some of Hollywood’s better efforts to connect more deeply with children. Why not use your next family movie night as an opportunity to keep kids learning during the idle weeks outside the classroom. The next time you pop in a video:

• Help children see how movies communicate ideas and beliefs. Ask, "What would you consider to be the main point of the story?" and "Do you agree or disagree with that point?"
• Find out what kind of personal qualities your child values by asking, "Which character did you admire most? Why? In what ways is that character like you?"
• Celebrate virtue while exposing wrong thinking with, "How do the morals onscreen compare with the values you’ve been learning at home, school or church?"
• Talk about real-world consequences by asking, "What might happen if you imitated the choices or behaviours of the people in this movie?"
• Encourage older children to ponder, "Do the themes in this story reflect reality? Do they reflect truth?" Share specific examples from the movie as you discuss the difference.

These are just a few ways you can segue movie-watching experiences into opportunities for meaningful dialogue. There are also specific films especially rich with teachable moments. We’ve turned these teachable moments into free, downloadable discussion starters called "Movie Nights." Visit to find 50 downloads designed as parent-teen interactions and another 30 or so geared toward younger children. With so many options, you’re sure to find one that’s a good fit for your family.

When your children come in from the great outdoors this summer, treat their desire to crash in front of a movie as a chance to connect on a new level and to give them tools to think critically about entertainment.

Top 5 Movie Nights for Kids

  1. How to Train Your Dragon
  2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
  3. Hoodwinked
  4. Ramona and Beezus
  5. Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie

Top 5 Movie Nights for Teens

  1. The Lord of the Rings
  2. A Walk to Remember
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  4. Alice in Wonderland
  5. UP 

This article appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2012 by Bob Smithouser. Used by permission.