These popular films show how much fun learning can be.
All right, everyone! Listen up! Who’s excited for the new school year?
Okay, okay … parents. You can put your hands down. Now, how ‘bout your kids?
Just as I thought. Sure, a few children just can’t wait to get back in class: They’re testing the zippers on their new backpacks and sniffing their crayons even as you read this. But others … well, let’s just say that not everyone’s ready to give up the lazy joys of summer.
Maybe these kids don’t understand just how much fun school can be. Or how important. Or how rewarding. Or, frankly, how a little knowledge can make for a pretty good movie.
If your kids aren’t quite ready to return to the ol’ scholastic rat race just yet, if they’re worried about a particular subject or you’re just looking for an excuse to check out a great movie or two, test out these A-plus films for your family (specializing in several school subjects).
History: Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)
This animated film’s grasp on real history may be somewhat … um, light. But this fun frolic through time will introduce young viewers to plenty of historical figures (Including Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton) and shows just how lively history can be. It’s also a pretty sweet story about a dog and his boy, too.
Math: Hidden Figures (2016)
When I was a kid, I used to complain about math. “What good is math, anyway? Why would anyone ever need to make these complex calculations?” We find the answer in this inspirational, Oscar-nominated film: If your goal is to get to the moon, you’ll need math. Lots and lots of math. Hidden Figures tracks the improbable rise of three African-American women fighting discrimination and sexism in the 1960s. But it also showcases just how important — and how cool — arithmetic can be. Even if you’re a girl.
Music: Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
Many public and some private schools have ripped music out of their standard curriculum, and that’s a pity. This movie shows us why. Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) is a talented, successful composer turned high school music teacher who inspires decades’ worth of students. When his high school cuts the music program, Mr. Holland feels that most of his career has been a failure … until he sees that hundreds of his former students have gathered to honor him and play his greatest — and to that point, unheard — composition.
Reading: The Princess Bride (1987)
This classic fairy tale movie is charming for an almost endless list of reasons. But perhaps it’s at its most charming when it steps outside the world of Westley and Buttercup and shows us a grandfather (Peter Falk) trying to read his video-game-obsessed grandson (Fred Savage) a beloved book called — wait for it — The Princess Bride. The kid has very little use for the book at first, but as the book goes on, he grows ever-more engaged in the story… and the two experience a very special afternoon together. While there are loads of great movie adaptations of great books — many of which I’ve mentioned here — this is a movie that conveys how great it is to read a book. Nifty trick, that.
Science: The Martian (2015)
If Hidden Figures is all about using math to send someone into space, The Martian is about using science and gumption to get someone back. Sure, the actual science may be suspect in places: Windstorms like the ones we see in the movie wouldn’t generate on the thin atmosphere of Mars. But stranded spaceman Mark Watney makes full use of his botany degree on the planet while the folks back home use their science, engineering and math to figure out a way to get the guy back home safely.
(A word of caution for families with younger kids: This PG-13-rated movie does contain some language and content that may be unsuitable for littler movie lovers. If that’s the case, sub The Martian out with Fantastic Voyage, a 1966 adventurous traipse through the human body. While the movie’s effects are dated and isn’t all that scientific, it still may just trigger a young scientist in your own home to dream big.)
Spelling: Spellbound (2002)
This award-winning documentary follows eight competitors through the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee, navigating such perilous spelling pitfalls as seguidilla (a Spanish dance), hellebore (a flowering plant) and opsimath (a person who studies late in life). It’s a delightful, sympathetic portrayal of the charming kids who make competitive spelling a part of their lives.
Yes, school’s in session again. Teachers are scowling. Homework is beckoning. Students’ free time has been whittled down to a sliver of its summertime plenty. But these movies tell your kids that what they’re learning today can pay off big tomorrow — and that the act of learning can be anything but dull.