Videos for Children Reviewed

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:

 

Baby Bach

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.

Age 1-3

 

Once Upon a Potty for him

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.

Age 2-4

 

Preschool Power

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.

Age: 3-5

 

Baby Songs

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.

Age:3-5

 

The Spot Collection

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.

Age: 3-4

 

The Best of Franklin

Franklin is a young turtle who works his way through every-day situations. This video includes six short stories, each lasting about ten minutes. Some of the things he learns about are making friends, playing team sports, and the necessity of putting his things away.

Although the various animals are appealing, children could better relate to the story situations if the characters were children.

Age: 3-6

 

Blue’s Clues- Back To Basics

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.

Age: 3-6

 

 

The Jungle Book

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

 

The Adventures of Milo and Otis

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.

Age: 5-10

 

 

 

Swiss Family Robinson

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 South Seas. They set up a home in a tree with many ingenious innovations. Their adversaries are a band of pirates. Their battle against this group includes booby traps, coconut bombs, and cascading logs. The whole movie has a happy, positive outlook that is often missing from modern films.

Age: 5- adult

 

Beauty and the Beast

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

 

The Little Mermaid

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

 

The Parent Trap

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 U.S. from England.

This 1998 remake of the 1961Hayley Mills movie is a little more lively than the original and the chemistry between the characters is better.

Age: 6-adult

 

 

 

Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers

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.

Age: 6-adult

 

A Bug’s Life

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.

Age: 6-adult

 

Mulan

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.

Age: 6-adult

 

The Wizard of Oz

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

 

In Search of the Castaways

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. 

 

Back To The Future

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

 

The Miracle Worker

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.

Age 8-adult

 

The Secret Garden

 

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.

Age 8-adult

 

Toy Story

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.

Age: 8-adult

 

 

 

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

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

 

A Little Princess

 

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 New York while her widowed father goes off to war. When her father is lost in battle and she is considered a penniless orphan, she is forced to work as a servant in the school. She is poorly fed and treated badly, but continues to keep her spirits up and serve as a role model to other children until the happy ending. 

Age 8-12

 

Apollo 13

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 Lives Upstairs

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

 

The Princess Bride

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.

Age 10-adult

 

October Sky

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.

Age: 10-adult

 

 

The Sound of Music

In this musical, a nun has come to be the governess for the von Trapp children in Austria just as the Nazis are taking over the country. She develops a strong relationship with the children, encouraging them to explore and enjoy their lives. She and their father fall in love in spite of some miscommunication and another woman who is determined to marry him. After their marriage, they perform at a concert as a family. Using their musical talent, they devise a brave plan to escape to Switzerland.

Age: 10-adult

 

Stand and Deliver

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.

Age: 12-adult

 

The Rocketeer

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.

Age: 12-adult

 

Bad Day at Black Rock

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.

Age 12-adult

 

 

The Scarlet Pimpernel

          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 France, and she thinks he has changed from the noble man she married. This is an exciting movie, with a hero and heroine you can root for.

Age 12- adult

 

A Little Romance

          This film about first love features a young American girl and Parisian boy. They set off from Paris to kiss under a Venetian bridge and seal their love forever. The story is an amusing adventure as well as a sweet romance.

Age 12-adult

 

You’ve Got Mail

          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.

Age 12-adult

 

Blast From The Past

 

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 Los Angeles of the 90’s. He meets a girl who is at first skeptical, then charmed by his innocence and old-fashioned values.

There is some strong language and some sexual references, but in general the movie is benevolent, emphasizing the main characters’ honesty and integrity.

Age 14-adult

 

Lean on Me

 

This movie is based on the true story of Joe Clark, who became the principal of Eastside High in Paterson, New Jersey. Vandals, drug dealers and lack of discipline troubled the school. Morgan Freeman plays Clark as a tough, temperamental, man who cares very deeply about the children in his school. He clashes with the fire chief when he puts chains on the doors of the school to keep vandals out, and with a school board member who doesn’t approve of his methods.

 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.

Age: 14-adult

 

Coming To America

 

In this romantic comedy, a rich African prince comes to New York to look for a bride. He does not want the arranged marriage that has been planned, but wants to find someone he admires for her intelligence and loves. He sees the girl he wants to pursue, and gets a job mopping floors at her father’s fast food restaurant to be near her. This movie is not only very funny, but has a sweet romance.

Age:14-adult

 

Casablanca

 

One of the all-time great classic movies stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick, the owner of a nightclub in Casablanca. This city is a major transit point for people trying to escape Europe in the early days of World War II. The Nazis control the city, and are trying to recapture the resistance leader who has arrived in the city with his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman. Rick is torn between his long-time love for her and his desire to help this hero.

Age 14-adult

 

 

 

The Great Escape

 

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

 

Twelve Angry Men

 

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.

Age 14-adult

 

 

 

 

 

Books

  • Baby Einstein by Julie Aigner-Clark, et al.. Bright, cheerful, slow-moving images with a soundtrack of music and songs in several languages. The images provides simple material appropriate for an infant learning to perceive, while the exposure to the languages helps a child develop the ability to hear the sounds necessary to later speak those languages.
  • Blue's Clues. A boy, Steve, and his dog, Blue, explore the world while searching for puzzle clues. (ages 1 to 2)
  • Wallace & Gromit. Gromit, the intelligent, expressive and tolerant dog, lives with his master, Wallace the inventor. They travel to the moon for a cheese holiday in a home-built rocket, survive techno-trousers controlled by a diabolical boarder, and defeat a sheep rustling scheme that hides something even worse than its already sinister surface. (ages 4 to 6)
  • Toy Story by Disney, Pixar. Woody overcomes his jealosy and Buzz Lightyear his delusions when they realize that the values they hold in common are more important than their rivalry. (ages 3 to 13)
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Mary grew up in India, ignored by her parents and a tyrant to her native servants. Suddenly orphaned, she is brought to England to the home of her mother's brother, Misselthwaite manor, where she finds a cousin, Colin, even more spoiled than she is. But she also finds a neglected garden and a boy, Dicken, who helps bring the garden back to life. Mary, Colin and her uncle are all restored in the process of awkening the garden again. (ages 10 to 13)
  • The Parent Trap by Walt Disney. Two girls discover that they are twins, separated in youth, and work to reunite their divorced parents. (ages 7 to 10)
  • The Jungle Book by Walt Disney. Mowgli, the man-cub, raised by wolves in the jungle of India, has upbeat adventures with friends while defeating those who assault him. Great jazz soundtrack. (ages 3 to 4)