This year, February was the star of the show.
For this gray, bleak month, the Jones Homeschool goes into what we call “February School.” We lighten the regular school load, and Darren teaches a unit study around an interesting topic. Pass the popcorn: February 2017 was all about the movies!
There’s so much information available now, both from libraries or online, that Darren was able to create a month-long study around some core subjects. In a casually-structured format, he incorporated history, technology, art, and culture.
HISTORY. Darren started at the beginning of cinema. He showed the kids some of the very first movies, including 1902’s A Trip to the Moon by Georges Melies. They were both amused and bemused that the moon was home to weird alien beings, and not wildly impressed by the special effects. (Considering the time, the special effects are actually very good.)
A Buster Keaton silent film from 1922 was full of slapstick and hijinks. Ranger thought it was the pinnacle of comedy. More seriously, the clip of the Burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind at least had a good explosion at the end of it. (As side note, we didn’t show very long clips because the portrayal of “happy slaves” was such a terrible misrepresentation. Darren and I figured out that when Gone with the Wind came out in 1939, it was as far away from the Civil War as we are now from World War II. That really gave us the context for the original audience.)
TECHNOLOGY. From the rocket in Trip to the Moon to E.T. and Elliot soaring on their bikes in E.T. (1982), we talked a lot about camera effects, sets, green screens, and stunt doubles. The younger kids laughed at how the nursery cleans itself while Mary Poppins sings “A Spoonful of Sugar,” although both of them said knowledgably, “That was filmed and then played backwards.” We watched Snow White together and reminded them, “Computers didn’t exist in 1939 to draw this.” They were honestly impressed.
Darren found a stack of library books about movie monsters, costumes, and effects and assigned kids to read them. For instance, we learned that movie blood isn’t “just ketchup.” It’s mostly corn syrup. Now you know.
ART. Specifically, the music associated with movies. The younger children and I listened to music by John Williams and Andrew Lloyd Webber. We looked up award-winning songs like 1954’s “White Christmas” (not a hit in our household) and 1980’s “Fame” (Sparkler actually kind of liked that one).
One of our best successes was when we gathered them to watch several of the songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music. The kids really wanted to not like a bunch of people singing. But…they were charmed in spite of themselves. They loved the songs, loved the dancing, loved Julie Andrews. There’s a reason why some movies endure.
CULTURE. Specifically, the people who captured the public’s admiration in each era. Each day, the older two children filled out a short questionnaire about an actress, actor, or director—they chose the person from a basket of cards. The younger children and I looked up actors and actresses who were known for various roles (Harrison Ford and Julia Roberts, for instance). When Bookgirl and Gamerboy had trouble telling the actors apart in 1960’s The Magnificent Seven because “they all look alike,” I found pictures of different actors and actresses from different eras. It’s a quick, visual lesson in how a culture’s standards of beauty dictate what its celebrities look like.
The “schoolwork” was light this month. But if you think about it, movies are anything but a frivolous study. They reflect and shape history, technology, art, and culture. It’s a fun and interesting topic for a dull and gray time of the year.
So, folks, we got through February for another year. Shut down the lights, everybody go home. It’s a wrap.
NOTE: If you’re interested in the list of the people and movies that we highlighted, contact me at SaraRJones77@gmail.com.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.