10 Back-to-School Movies for Kids
Motivating kids to get excited about going back to school is a difficult task. But with all of the great school-themed movies available, a family movie night can be an excellent way to gear up for the school year and get kids energized and enthused.
"Movies and other media can offer great learning opportunities for both kids and parents," says Betsy Bozdech, executive editor at Common Sense Media. "It's sometimes easier for kids to talk about what's going on in their lives — especially when it comes to the tough stuff — when they're discussing a third party."
Most films manage to sneak a lesson or two into the plot, which makes for a smooth transition for talking to your kids about what they might expect from the upcoming year and the highs and lows of school life.
Nancy Friedman, co-founder of KidzVuz.com, says that "The best way to get kids thinking and talking about the issues they raise is to ask questions. How would you feel in that situation? Why do you think the character acted the way he/she did? What might you have done differently?"
Here are 10 movies for you or your nanny to watch with your kids before going back to school:
"Akeelah and the Bee" (Rated PG)
Starring KeKe Palmer, this movie illustrates themes such as setting high expectations for yourself, overcoming obstacles and doing the right thing — even if it costs you. A good depiction of perseverance and integrity, this movie is the classic feel-good story.
Talk to the kids about: Akeelah has to face some challenges on her path. How would your kids face similar challenges?
"Bridge to Terabithia" (Rated PG)
Based on the Newberry Medal-winning novel by Katherine Paterson, this story provides the chance to talk to kids about difficult subjects such as friendship and death. Paterson has said she wrote the story following the death of her son's friend in 1974. Showcasing an unlikely friendship between Jesse Aarons and his neighbor, Leslie Burke, this story is timeless. It showcases how to be yourself even when you stand out, as well as supporting friends who may are bullied.
Talk to the kids about: The movie also provides the opportunity to talk to kids about bullying, death and losing a close friend.
"School of Rock" (Rated PG-13)
Starring Jack Black as Dewey Finn, this story about a lazy, out-of-work musician who takes a prep school class and turns it into a band is fun and entertaining. The kids at the fictional school work hard and are used to excelling, so Finn imparts his passion for music onto the class. This movie illustrates that lessons can be learned in many places. There are also some tactics Finn employs to get out of doing his job, so a lesson for your kids about "what not to do."
Talk to the kids about: States Bozdech, "Point out words and behavior that are both positive and negative examples of what you want your kids to do."
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (Rated PG)
The Harry Potter series is credited with introducing 21st-century children to the joys of reading. The Sorcerer's Stone is the first movie in the series and a delightful film for kids. Says Friedman, "Harry Potter is a great story about how joining a school changed someone's life and became the most important thing in it." Watching Harry as he makes friends and navigates Hogwarts can help make them excited about school.
Talk to the kids about: Trying new things and interacting with kids they don't know.
"Freaky Friday" (1976 is Rated G; 2003 is Rated PG)
What better way to understand your mom than to walk in her shoes? Whether you choose to watch the 1976 version or the 2003 reboot, the theme remains the same. As Friedman states, "This movie is great for kids and parents to watch together to help them get where the other is coming from."
Talk to the kids about: Though you do things they may not agree with, you always have your kids' best interest at heart.
"Mean Girls" (Rated PG-13)
One of the trickiest things about being a girl is navigating the social hierarchy of school. Although "Mean Girls" is set in high school, it's also appropriate for older middle school girls, as this is the age in which many girls start to exhibit clique-ish behavior. It's also a good movie for girls entering high school, as the behavior, though slightly exaggerated, is actually quite common.
Talk to the kids about: How they would handle the social behaviors and bullying exhibited by the teen stars.
"The Clique" (Rated PG)
This movie features the same themes as "Mean Girls," but is geared toward a younger audience. The story revolves around Claire, an ordinary teen who moves into a posh New York town (think "Gossip Girl" in middle school). The clique in this movie is as mean as they come, and although Claire isn't fond of their behavior, she still wants to be friends with them.
Talk to the kids about: What to do when they are confronted with changing their personality to fit in.
"Mad Hot Ballroom" (Rated PG)
This documentary follows a group of kids in New York who discover a love for ballroom dancing. Friedman recommends the movie because, "It's a great documentary about NYC public school kids and how ballroom dancing changed their lives." It showcases how kids in tough situations can find solace in extracurricular activities. The kids in this movie are passionate and dedicated, which motivates them to excel in other areas of life as well.
Talk to the kids about: The lessons this special group of kids displayed and how they can apply it to their own life.
"The Breakfast Club" (Rated R)
Though made in the 80's, this John Hughes staple for older kids rings as true now as it did then. While technological advances have made modern schools a very different environment, the feelings of isolation, conformity and not fitting in are still prevalent -- if not exaggerated by cyber bullying.
Talk to the kids about: There are some potentially inappropriate scenes in the un-edited version, but Bozdech thinks these can provide good teaching opportunities. "With older kids, consider letting them watch something you don't agree with, but then have a conversation about why you don't like it. It's important that we help our kids think critically about the media they're consuming."
"The Little Princess" (Rated G)
This classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett has been made into movies several times, including a version in 1995. It tells the story of Sara Crewe, who went from being a popular student at a boarding school to a servant. It shows how life can change at a moment's notice and how important it is to stay positive.
Talk to the kids about: The importance of imagination in everyday life and how things can change quickly with no warning.
In the comments section below, share some of your favorite movies about school.
Alaina Brandenburger is a freelance writer living in Denver.