summer learning film studies classic movies with kids

Film Studies

Charter Moms Chats Watch Barry Brake’s interview with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats.

Too often, I hear about adults that think a film classic means something that was released in 1990. (Don’t get me started on folks that refuse to watch something filmed in black and white!) Here are some age-appropriate suggestions for film studies that will hopefully expand your child’s horizons beyond contemporary fare.

For more ideas about summer experiences you can do while learning at home with your kids, visit the main page, Charter a Summer of Learning.

As a film series programmer—Texas Public Radio’s Cinema Tuesdays—my kids have grown up watching old movies with me. Here are some suggestions for watching and activities.

Film Studies for Preschoolers

My daughter watched her first foreign film at age three. I took her to a screening of “The Red Balloon,” a 30-minute French film about a young boy whose red balloon seems to have a life of its own, following him around like a puppy. When a group of bullies pop it, all the balloons in Paris come flying to the boy’s rescue.

“That movie was great!” my daughter exclaimed after it was over. There is little dialogue, but it is subtitled, and your child will delight in the visuals. There’s value in talking afterward to your child about the film’s plot, exploring feelings the film illustrates, and explaining the subtitles and French language.

Activity: Have your child draw a scene from the film. “The Red Balloon” is available on iTunes, Vudu, and on DVD.

Film Studies for Grade Schoolers

Kids in elementary school respond well to silent comedy. Before both of my children turned 10 they had already seen multiple films starring the three greatest silent comedians: Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. Of the three, Chaplin is the most endearing to young viewers, as he gently thumbs his nose at the world while making his way as the “Little Tramp” character. All three carry off stunt work with balletic grace.

Chaplin’s films occasionally feature social commentary, and you may talk to your children about poverty, hunger, industrialization, or even depression. Plus, the films are all in black and white, leading to a new aesthetic appreciation beyond the flashy colors of modern movies.

Activity: You might even ask your child to “script” their own silent pantomime for the camera. Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd’s films are available on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as some streaming platforms.

Film Studies for Upper Schoolers

Teens are able to grasp more complicated and advanced visual language, picking up on subtler cues on screen. At this age, it’s a perfect time to introduce your kids to mysteries and film noir. Blow your kid’s mind by showing them movies where there isn’t a simple, happy ending. Yes, I’m talking about films like Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” and “Double Indemnity,” Elia Kazan’s “Boomerang,” or the classic B-picture, “Detour.” Besides being gripping stories, these films can double as cautionary tales about getting mixed up with the wrong guy or dame.

Slightly devilish activity: Ask your teen to plan the perfect crime. How would they get away with it? Then take turns poking holes in the plan.

Local Connections for Film Studies

Seeing a movie with an audience is the best way to experience it, and there are two great ways to experience classic film in San Antonio. First, there’s TPR’s film series, Cinema Tuesdays, which programs older films on the big screen at the Santikos Bijou (coronavirus permitting), and then there’s Slab Cinema, offering free screenings of new and old movies at outdoor locations around town. The San Antonio Public Library also hosts a monthly film club discussion at many of its branch locations.

Read More About Film Studies

Father/daughter podcast, Leonard Maltin on Movies

“The 55 Essential Movies Your Child Must See (Before Turning 13)” by Entertainment Weekly

American Film Institute’s Top 100

Charter Moms Chats

Watch Nathan Cone’s interview with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats.

For more ideas about summer experiences you can do while learning at home with your kids, visit the main page, Charter a Summer of Learning.

About the Author

Nathan Cone is the Vice President of Community & Cultural Engagement at Texas Public Radio, and the curator of TPR’s film series, Cinema Tuesdays. With his wife, Renata, he has two children, Samantha and Maximilian.


Jun 03 2020


All Day

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *