by Susan Crawford, Runs the Rational Parenting email discussion group.
We all know that too much passive television watching is hazardous to your child’s health. Yet, selective television shows have many advantages. They are entertaining and enlightening. A child can learn about the world. He can see people solve problems and deal with emotional situations. He can be encouraged to develop new hobbies and interests, learn about careers, and may be encouraged to read more books.
Videos for toddlers can be educational, but can also be helpful in settling a child down for quiet time. As a child grows, he can find stories and documentaries that suit his interests.
Having videos on hand keeps you in control of what is on television. Watching these shows with your child will be the most beneficial. You can then talk about what happened in the story, express your values, and find out about your child’s observations and interpretations.
Here are some of the best available videos, and some that I would not recommend:
Toys and spinning objects set to music- these are things that a child should have “hands-on” experience with rather than watching on a video. Although the music is lovely and the photography attractive, I would not set my toddler down to watch it.
Once Upon a Potty for her
A short animated video explains to the child about toilet training. This can be very helpful in getting your child interested in the potty. There is also a parent’s guide with common questions about toilet training answered, which will be reassuring to the parent.
This series of how-to videos shows the young child how to do things independently, from putting on his coat to cleaning up spilled popcorn. Many of the activities are those used in Montessori schools to foster self-reliance and teach thinking skills.
This video consists of 10 songs, including Share, My Mommy Comes Back, and Today I Took My Diapers Off. The tunes are played to portrayals of real children. These show situations children will relate to. Parents will particularly appreciate “I Sleep Till the Morning, I Do Not Wake Too Soon”.
However, each video has a short animation after it, one with a baby floating away holding a balloon, one with a stroller changing into a car, and scary monsters which are inappropriate for children under three who could not understand that these are not real.
There are ten Spot stories in this video, all true to the books about the pup, Spot and his mother. Spot goes to the circus, has a birthday party, finds a key, sleeps over a friend’s house, and more. The stories are short and simple. However, they would be confusing for a 2 year old, seeing situations like animals talking, a snake in the closet, a lion under the stairs, and a rabbit pretending to be a birds. The pace of the stories is probably too slow for a 5 year old child or older.
Although the various animals are appealing, children could better relate to the story situations if the characters were children.
This Nickelodeon show for preschoolers uses solving puzzles with clues and simple activities to get young children involved in the program.
In Rhythm and Blue, songs and musical rhythm are the focus and a child must identify the difference between several sounds. This is done very well.
ABC’s and 123’s introduces reading skills and number concepts. Unfortunately, words are spelled and objects labeled with no effort to use phonetic sounds of letters. A child would have to already be reading to participate in this show.
In the numbers segment, there is counting of objects, simple addition, and counting two groups of objects to see which has more. However, the concept of which group has more is brought up without adding the concept of less. The idea of putting clues together to figure out the answer, and the fairly slow pace suitable for preschoolers make the show worthwhile.
This is a tale of friendship and adventure as a young boy lives among the animals in the jungle. Although there is no strong story line, the songs are great and the characters have strong personalities. This is one of the earlier Disney animated movies.
Age 4- adult
A farm cat is swept away by the river, and the farm dog comes to his rescue. Together, they journey to find their way back home. Narration explains the story along the way. There are no humans in this movie, but the animals are feisty, and the adventure is well paced.
This Disney movie made in 1960 continues to be an
entertaining story for the whole family. Set in the late 18th
century, this is a tale of a family who survives a shipwreck to land on an
island in the
Age: 5- adult
This Disney animated movie features a brave heroine, and a beast who learns a few lessons about human relations. Belle would rather read books than spend time with Gaspar, who is handsome but unintelligent. When her father is held prisoner in the beast’s castle, she bargains with the beast to let her take his place. This provides the opportunity for her to develop a relationship with the beast and look beyond his ugly appearance.
Age: 6- adult
Ariel is a headstrong young mermaid who longs to be human, especially after she sees Prince Eric. She trades her voice to Ursula, the Sea Witch, for a pair of legs. She must receive true love’s kiss to save herself from belonging to Ursula, but is thwarted in this task by the Sea Witch at every turn. There are scary moments in this film, as in all Disney films that have villains, but the heroine and her hero prevail.
Age: 6- adult
A pair of twins meet for the first time at summer camp and
vow to reunite their long-divorced parents. They devise a plan, and switch
places on their return from camp. They sabotage their dad’s plans to remarry and
plot to bring their mother to the
This 1998 remake of the 1961Hayley Mills movie is a little more lively than the original and the chemistry between the characters is better.
Wallace is a British inventor, and Gromit is his intelligent dog, often seen reading the newspaper. In this claymation story, Wallace’s automated trousers are out of control with Wallace in them, and Gromit follows a suspicious penguin to solve the mystery. There are enough clever inventions and amusing adventures to entertain both children and adults in this series.
A determined ant uses his inventive mind and the help of a troupe of road show performers to save his colony from being slaves to the wishes of domineering grasshoppers. Each year the ants have worked to gather food for the grasshoppers, and the hero works to end this tradition. This has all the qualities of Disney classic animation movies.
This Disney animated movie tells the story of a young girl who disguises herself as a man in order to take her elderly father’s place in the Japanese army. She proves herself to be a strong adversary to the villainous Hun, and courageous in the face of the prejudice against women.
Dorothy and Toto are carried away in a tornado to a strange land and must find their way home. They follow the yellow brick road to Oz to seek help, and meet the scarecrow, the tin man and the cowardly lion along the way. Their foe, the wicked witch, is a little scary but the characters prove themselves to be brave and resourceful.
Age: 7- adult
Two determined children track down their missing sea captain father. They secure the help of a French professor played by Maurice Chevalier, and the owner of the ship and his son. They travel to two continents, facing an earthquake, flood, tornado, murderous natives, and every other disaster you can think of.
Because this was made in 1962 with low-tech special effects, there is never any fear that they are in real danger. The characters themselves are scarcely afraid, and the professor smilingly encourages them to enjoy each adventure.
High-schooler Marty McFly is sent back to the 50’s in a DeLorean powered with plutonium. He sees his parents in their teens and accidentally changes the history of how they met. He must correct these events to ensure his existence. This is a time travel comedy that uses the difference between the 50’s and the 80’s to great effect.
Age: 8- adult
This film tells the true story of the early life of Helen Keller, who became blind and deaf as a result of rheumatic fever soon after her birth. Her parents are unable to communicate with her or control her. When she is 7, Annie Sullivan comes to her home to become her teacher. This is an amazing tale of the process Miss Sullivan uses to teach Helen concepts through sign language.
The best version of this story is the 1962 movie starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.
A young orphan is sent to live in a lonely mansion with her uncle, who travels and is seldom there. The girl discovers a hidden garden that she is determined to bring back to full bloom. Then she finds in the mansion her uncle’s bedridden son, who she encourages to come back to life along with the garden as they work on revitalizing it together.
A toy cowboy and toy astronaut are the heroes of this computer-generated story. The cowboy, Woody, is the favorite toy of a young boy and feels threatened when the new spaceman toy takes his place in his owner’s affections. When Woody knocks spaceman Buzz out the window the adventure outside the house begins. In his attempt to rescue Buzz, Woody comes up against the mean boy next door who likes to torture his toys. Buzz, Woody and their friends show courage and thought in figuring out how to get back with the family they belong to.
Warning: No parent is ever in sight to control the mean boy or to notice the destructive things he is doing. The scenes with this boy may be scary for younger children.
All children are fascinated with the idea of an alien coming to earth. In this film, a young boy befriends an alien, ET, who was accidentally left on Earth by his spaceship crew. He helps ET contact his planet so that they will come back to get him. The story is well done, and the young boy is brave in his efforts to help his friend. However, all of the adults are portrayed as incompetent or mean, out to analyze the alien even if it means killing him.
Age: 8- adult
Based on the book by Frances Hodgson
Burnett, who also wrote The Secret Garden, this is the story of a young girl who
is sent to a strict boarding school in
An explosion on board the spaceship bound for the moon creates an almost impossible situation for the astronauts aboard. Their bravery and the intelligent problem solving of the men on the ground at NASA make this a suspense-filled drama, even though we know the happy ending.
Age: 10- adult
Beethoven moves in as a boarder in the home of a woman, her 10-year-old son, and small twins. The son is suffering from the recent death of his father, and Beethoven is tormented by his deafness. Slowly, they establish a friendship where the young boy comes to admire his genius and sympathize with his frustration. The music, of course, is beautiful.
Age 10- Adult
Westley, a stable boy, pledges his love to the beautiful Buttercup, only to be abducted and reportedly killed by pirates. Buttercup is unwillingly betrothed to the evil Prince Humperdinck, but a mysterious masked pirate comes to her rescue. The pirate is revealed to be Westley, her long lost love and they run off together. Sudden twists in this story, physical slapstick, and gentle satire of swashbuckling movies make this story a lot of fun.
Based on the memoir Rocket Boys, this is the story of a boy who is inspired by the launch of Sputnik to pursue a fascination with rocketry. His father, a coal miner, discourages this interest and wants his son to work in the coal mines. There is a spirit of adventure as the boy and his friends experiment in building rockets, with many failures along the way, until they triumphantly succeed.
In this musical, a nun has come to be the governess for
the von Trapp children in
This is based on the true story of Jaime Escalante, a math teacher at a high school in South Central Los Angeles. His students, mostly Chicano, are apathetic about learning. He believes that “students will rise to the level of expectation”, and advances them from Math 101 to Algebra. After increasing dramatically the number of students who pass standardized tests, he then institutes a program to teach A.P Calculus. As the students increase in achievement, their self esteem rises, and this makes the movie a moving experience and great lesson for all viewers.
Right before World War II, a daredevil pilot and a mechanic stumble onto an amazing discovery, a backpack rocket engine. They are soon in very big trouble when they find that some gangsters have stolen the rocket from Howard Hughes. The gangsters and the F.B.I are after them, and soon a German spy enters the chase.
There are people killed in this movie, although very little violence is actually shown. There is lots of action, several characters to admire (even Howard Hughes) and a happy outcome.
In this 1954 movie, a man arrives in a small town and finds that all the townspeople are suspicious and fearful of strangers. World War II has just ended, and he is looking for the Japanese farmer whose son has saved his life. He must act courageously when he finds out what happened to the farmer at the beginning of the war.
This hero is well worth watching as played by Spencer Tracy, but the pace of the film is slower than modern movies and so may not always hold the attention of teens who are used to constant action.
The hero of this classic movie pretends to be a British fop while
rescuing many of the people headed for the guillotine during the French
Revolution. He thinks his wife has betrayed her friends in
Age 12- adult
This film about first love features a young American girl and Parisian
boy. They set off from
Based on the classic film The Shop Around the Corner, this is the story of a book mega-store owner who falls in love over email with the owner of a struggling childrens’ bookstore. While they are in the process of finding each other, they are competing for business. However, there is no blame for the success of one versus the other. This makes their relationship especially sweet.
The hero of this movie has been raised in a bomb shelter by
parents who mistakenly believe that a nuclear bomb has exploded. He arises from
the shelter at the age of 35, to face
There is some strong language and some sexual references, but in general the movie is benevolent, emphasizing the main characters’ honesty and integrity.
This movie is based on the true story of Joe Clark, who
became the principal of Eastside High in
There are a few violent scenes in the beginning of the movie. There is a noticeable gap in the story when the part of the teachers in the school is not developed, but the emphasis on dedication, self-esteem and individual responsibility make this a worthwhile film.
In this romantic comedy, a rich African prince comes to
One of the all-time great classic movies stars Humphrey
Bogart as Rick, the owner of a nightclub in
This is a classic war movie and a great adventure film. Based on a true story, it dramatizes the escape efforts of a group of men from a German prisoner of war camp during World War II. Some good guys do get killed in this film, but there is none of the gratuitous bloody violence seen in modern day films.
Age 14- adult
Made in 1957, this film shows how one juror forces the other 11 men to review the findings in a case that at first seems open and shut. It’s an excellent example of using observational skills and logic to come to rational conclusions.