Our Friday night family tradition began before my first child made his appearance. After a long week at our respective jobs, neither my husband nor I was up to entertaining or leaving home. We simply wanted to curl up and check out for awhile. So, we started pizza and movie night.
Fifteen years later, this is an established tradition in our household. Only now, we have added three kids (and sometimes stuffed animals) to the viewing crowd.
It gets tricky to find good family viewing every week. We’ve watched all the Disney/Pixar animated films and often revisit favorite movies (e.g. The Princess Bride, The Sound of Music) multiple times. We have hit some real duds, but we have found a few treasures.
We are lovers of history, and often we find movies that support what we are studying at the given moment. Occasionally, we watch a movie that doesn’t align with our values, and we take the opportunity to talk about our beliefs and how they differ from those of the characters portrayed in the movie. I’m most interested in helping my children learn from the mistakes of others rather than in shielding them from knowing about sin. But we do avoid those things that would damage their minds and hearts. My kids range from 8 to 14 and we are thoughtful about what is appropriate for those ages, paying attention to anything that would raise their levels of anxiety.
Our library system has a lot of DVDs we can check out for free; we also stream from Amazon and Netflix when we are paying for one or the other.
Here are some of our favorites that teach something important that we value:
- Akeelah and the Bee: This is a story of a girl who has a gift for spelling who goes to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It teaches the value of learning, hard work, and not giving up despite long odds. (PG)
- Invictus: I love the story of Nelson Mandela, and while this film underplays his spiritual conversion during his time in prison, it bears a strong positive message on forgiveness and on taking control of one’s own thoughts. It includes many great lessons in leadership and the value of teamwork. (PG-13 for brief strong language, but I didn’t think it merited the “13” rating.)
- The Journey of Natty Gann: Set during the Great Depression, this movie highlights the difficulty of that period. It has some gritty scenes, and I opted to not show it until my youngest was 8. It is a beautiful film, highlighting the love of a father and daughter, as the daughter journeys across the U.S. attempting to find her dad. (PG, but probably would be PG-13 today for a few violent dog fight scenes and some language.)
- Little Red Wagon: A little more obscure and more of a docudrama, this is the true story of a young boy who watched news coverage of Hurricane Charley and started gathering supplies in his little red wagon. This movie is excellent viewing for young philanthropists, and I loved the lessons it taught on doing what you can, no matter how small. (PG)
- Miracle at Midnight: This made-for-TV movie is one of many films you can watch on the Holocaust. Many of them are excellent but just too sad for children. This movie is my choice for families because it tells the story of the Danish evacuation of the Jews and ends well. It touches on appropriate themes: discrimination against the Jews, the decision to put oneself at personal risk to save another, and the story of a family who decides to make a difference. (PG)
- Night Crossing: The true story of two families that escaped East Germany in a homemade balloon, I watched this as a child and was excited when it came to DVD and streaming. There are so many sad stories set during the Cold War, but this one ends well. I want my children to understand the value of the liberty we are inclined to take for granted; this movie shows families risking everything for freedom. (PG—a violent shooting early in the film during an escape attempt.)
- Queen of Katwe: This is a true story of a young Ugandan who discovers the game of chess and changes her family’s lives. This movie demonstrates the value of making good (vs. bad) choices, respecting your parents, and working hard to overcome the odds. (PG)
Perhaps, like me, your family enjoys a good movie night. What are some of your favorites?
Photo Credit: iStock. Following image courtesy of author.