Get a Refresher on 5 School Subjects with these Educational Summer Movies
There’s an ever-looming threat to kids during the summer, and it has nothing to do with sharks. It’s the real and present danger of summer learning loss. Experts say students can lose as much as two months of math and English skills during these months out of school.
But kids still want to have fun and enjoy their summer break. And a little relaxation and recreation time can be beneficial, too. One way to sneak some learning into their lazy summer days and nights is to have them watch a few entertaining but still educational movies with you. Finding summer movies for kids that are well made and enjoyable but also provide an educational message isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort, especially during the summer months.
For each school subject, there is a selection of quality movies that provide an educational slant while still keeping even the most distracted kids entertained.
Here are a few suggestions from Learning Liftoff, depending on your child’s age, tolerance for serious or sometimes difficult subjects, and your comfort level with ratings and mature content:
The Theory of Everything (PG-13)
On the surface, this film which portrays physicist Stephen Hawking’s struggle with ALS, is a lesson in endurance in the face of physical hardship. But hidden within this inspirational story are some lessons in cosmology as Hawking explains his revolutionary Black Hole theory. The movie can both inspire children to persevere and also introduce them to this area of science and perhaps encourage them to learn more.
March of the Penguins (G)
This well-made film examines an emperor penguin colony in Antarctica, showing how they’ve adapted to life in such harsh conditions. The documentary offers an entertaining close-up look at the penguins in addition to explaining the birds scientifically. Lesson plans and discussion questions are available to further the learning potential of this film.
More Science-Related Movies:
While not a 100 percent accurate illustration of space exploration, Gravity, the story of two astronauts who struggle to survive after space debris hits their shuttle, still gets high marks for depicting the realistic physics of space. Educators and astronauts alike have praised the film for its educational value even as they are quick to point out any areas where the movie stretched the truth. Watching this suspenseful film will introduce children to the science of space and provide an opportunity to learn more as they can follow up the movie with some individual research on what was based in truth and what was not.
With star power like Matthew McConaughey and an exciting plot about astronauts who must travel through a “wormhole” in space to save mankind, Interstellar has plenty of entertainment value. But it is also surprisingly educational. In fact, some experts have suggested the film be used in school to teach physics. Dr. David Jackson of the American Journal of Physics confirmed that “the physics has been very carefully reviewed by experts and found to be accurate.” In addition to introducing children to the science of wormholes in space, this blockbuster movie also portrays the scientists as the heroes, which may help to reinforce the importance of learning and STEM to kids.
More Astronomy-Related Movies:
The list of movies that offer a brief lesson in history is long and keeps growing. You might choose a film that portrays the segment of history that your child has recently studied or will be studying to supplement his classroom learning. Or choose a film that opens up discussion on relevant current event topics. For a summary of some of the best movies that highlight American history, read Learning Liftoff’s The Best American History Movies.
Other notable and discussion-worthy films that teach history include:
This 2015 Oscar-nominated film about the historic march in Alabama led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will give young viewers a glimpse of a time in history that many may be unaware of. This Hollywood film succeeds in showing the injustices that existed in this country and the change that a courageous group of people were able to effect. Parents can use this film as a starting point for discussion of current events, some of which have sparked protests that also led to change. Lessons and other educational resources are also available for this film to further its educational value.
Schindler’s List (R)
Another film that illustrates how an ordinary person can make a difference in the face of injustice, Schindler’s List tells the true story of businessman Oskar Schindler who managed to save the lives of more than 1,000 Jewish workers by using his factory as a refuge from the Nazis. Parents can take advantage of the teaching resources available for this film and use it to further discussion on the importance of not standing by when witnessing injustice to others. It’s a lesson that can be relatable in school situations, such as when they witness a classmate being bullied.
More History-Related Movies:
The Crossing (The American Revolution): rated R for language
12 Years a Slave (slavery): rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality
Lincoln (Civil War): rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence and brief strong language
Glory (Civil War): rated R
The Grapes of Wrath (The Great Depression): not rated
Flags of Our Fathers (WWI and the Battle of Iwo Jima): rated R for sequences of graphic war and for language
All the President’s Men (Watergate): rated PG
Thirteen Days (Cuban Missile Crisis): rated PG-13 for brief strong language
The Imitation Game
Another 2015 best-picture nominee, The Imitation Game dramatizes how mathematician Alan Turing cracked a Nazi code during World War II, which shortened the length of the war, saving thousands of lives. While this film teaches a history lesson on the strategies used in WWII, it also provides insight into the importance and use of math outside of the classroom. Turing, who studied mathematics at King’s College in Cambridge used a revolutionary computation theory with a computing device he developed that resembled but predated modern computers.
It’s a baseball movie with Brad Pitt, but it also explores the use of mathematics and statistical analysis to contribute to the team’s success. The team’s number-cruncher mathematically analyzes the players’ performance percentages with unprecedented results. It’s a fun way to show kids how a little math knowledge can go a long way in every day life.
More Math-Related Movies:
A Beautiful Mind: rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, sexual content and a scene of violence.
Real Genius: rated PG
Rain Man: rated R
National Treasure: rated PG for action violence and some scary images
Sneakers: rated PG-13 for brief sexual references
Stand and Deliver: rated PG
Proof: rated PG-13 for some sexual content, language and drug references.
Of course, nothing replaces the time-honored hardcover book when it comes to learning literature, but movies may help spark a child’s interest in reading that book. Choose a movie that was adapted from a classic book and then encourage your child to read the book and see how it compares. And even if they don’t read the book, kids can still learn about literary devices and plot twists in movies adapted from books. Some of the best movie adaptations from equally great books include:
To Kill a Mockingbird: not rated
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone: rated PG for some scary moments and mild language
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: rated PG
The Perks of Being a Wallflower: rated PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material
Life of Pi: rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action
This is just a sampling of the many educational summer movies for kids that are out there. Do you have a favorite educational movie not on this list? Please share it with us in the comments section.
Elizabeth Street is a writer and managing editor for Learning Liftoff. For the past 20 years, she has written newsletter and website content for nonprofit and corporate organizations on such topics as the plight of children of prisoners worldwide, the lack of prenatal care for mothers in developing countries, and child mentoring programs. She has a particular interest in the importance of providing all children with a quality education regardless of their family’s financial status or background. A native of Virginia, Elizabeth is a graduate of James Madison University and loves animals, with particular fondness for her two cats, Oscar and Emmy.