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Parenting In Our Time – 4: Family-Friendly Entertainment

Family-Friendly Entertainment: Let’s Make Our Own

An abridged version of this essay originally appeared in Technorati Women.

Technorati Women [] recently convened an important conversation about finding online resources that provide responsibly stimulating programming for progressive families.

The Problem We Face
We all have learned how difficult it is to locate suitable family sites and to manage their use. There are many challenges.

The most severe, in my opinion, is that in common with many other forces and institutions in contemporary society, electronic media vendors commonly believe:

1. Children need incessant visual and auditory stimulation – the more glaring and deafening, the better.

2. Children possess a drastically limited attention span: stimuli are necessary every 30 seconds or less – the more garish and raucous, the better.

3. Children are inane: they need to be addressed at low levels of ideation, with minimal expectations of individual response.

4. Children are vicious: they need to be engaged by narratives that involve cruelty and violence – the more gratuitous and destructive, the better.

5. Children are materialistic: they are devoid of spiritual capacities, interests, and needs.

This is a self-referring and self-reinforcing set of delusions. Because visual and audio platforms are so addicting, and because their programmers are so skilled at their crafts, the electronic media galvanize ever-increasing audiences. This exponential growth persuades the platforms’ backers, executives, and promoters that their awful percepts about children are correct. The more they demean and diminish children, the larger the audiences become, the more time the children commit to the programs, and the more advertised products the children’s parents buy.

The only question modern media’s investors, managers, and marketers now ask themselves is: how can we make our incessant stimulations even more extreme – and therefore even more effective and profitable?

We Can Make Our Own
The parents who work with Technorati Women no doubt will identify numerous entertainment sites that are more wholesome than the prevailing norms.

Another option is to create on our own an infinitely expandable series of family experiences that capture the electronic media’s profoundly compelling properties, but convert them into completing beneficial learning and bonding opportunities.

For the past 10 years I’ve led weeklong workshops for children of all ages in which we utilize film and music recordings as texts to teach critical and creative thinking skills, and to anchor advanced training in expository and creative writing, verbal presentation, and forensics. Learners of all ages respond joyfully to our format and delivery, and grow in confidence and capability with extraordinary rapidity.

We employ a formal workshop approach in an institutional setting in order to achieve outreach. However, our concept and design would be even more effective – potentially far more effective – if it were adopted by parents and implemented at home as a sustained program of family entertainment.

Our Concept
Our concept isn’t radical. It only seems so in the unnatural contexts that currently dominate the marketplace.

We believe that:
1. Children rise to the level that is expected of them.
2. Children yearn to be inspired intellectually and spiritually.
3. Children learn with incomparable swiftness and depth if they feel passionately engaged, are invited to create their own ideas and emotions, and are encouraged to express their ideals, views, and feelings in their own voice.
4. These constructs work best when children feel safe in their learning community.

Our Design
We build our teaching around classic works of cinema and music that learners of each age group will cherish. We use DVD’s for our films, and CD’s or iPods for our music.

We screen our movies as if their individual scenes were chapters in a book. We pause the DVD at carefully chosen intervals, consisting usually of 10-25 minutes of total screen time. Then:

1. We talk together about the themes, characters, setting, circumstances, and situations we’ve just viewed.

2. We link these conversations with discussions about parallels in current affairs or past history.

3. We provide highly challenging prompts to stimulate a variety of critical and creative responses, and we ask our learners to write in response for about 15 minutes. Sometimes we invite them to draw, or to work with other arts.

4. Our learners edit their drafts carefully. Then some or all of the authors read their work aloud to the community; or they ask the discussion leader to read their work anonymously. [Quickly almost all the authors crave the right to read aloud and field discussion on their own.]

5. We provide our learners with public and private feedback. We root our commentary in positives. We tell our thinkers what their powers presently are; what specific birthright gifts they have; and how they can grow their existing skills and grace to greater and greater heights. [The children treasure their mentors’ advice and counsel, but by a large measure they learn the most from their peers. Like all thinkers, like all authors, they delight in audience approval.]

6. We break briefly for snacks and play. Then we return to our movie, screen additional chapters, and repeat our response process with new topics and new prompts.

7. We pause our film study from time to listen to works of classical and contemporary music, and repeat our process of connection, conversation, and individual response composition.

Family Entertainment Design
It takes considerable time to plan each sequence of film, music, conversation prompts, and individual response prompts. This is great fun to do, though. The programs that result are stunningly fun, fascinating, and fruitful. And the outcomes are momentous. For many learners, they have proven to be transformative of self-image, attitude, and behavior.

This always has been the case for students and teachers in our schools. It will be so much more the case for families in their homes. Our program will make a magical opportunity for caregivers and their children to learn from one another, delight in one another, and enrich and deepen their love.

Receiving great art together, thinking about it together, conversing about it together, writing about it together, reading writings to one another, drawing together, painting together, sculpting together – having soul time together. What could be more wonderful?

Any movie you love will work, as will any music you love. You just need to be mindful of your children’s ages and sensitivities.

We’ve developed full thinking and writing curricula around the following films, and can assure you that children of all ages have flourished with them:

Adventures of the Wilderness Family [original, & first sequel]
Akeelah and the Bee
Anne of Green Gables (original, & first sequel)
Apollo 13
The Black Stallion
David Copperfield [BBC version, with Daniel Radcliffe]
Fiddler on the Roof
Finding Nemo
Dances with Wolves
Great Expectations [David Lean version]
Lady and the Tramp
Pride and Prejudice [BBC extended version]
The Secret Garden (original & first sequel)
 Temple Grandin

Every work of music we’ve used has worked beautifully. We call them poems. It’s especially effective to vary poems among classical and populist compositions, and to move from western to international cultures.

You can expand your design in any number of ways. Your family can cook together, take your meal into your screening room, and eat while you watch, talk, write, and read together. You can link your family learning/entertainment program with your children’s schoolwork, expand and enliven the provided curricula and syllabi. Your family can plan trips to sites you’ve been watching in your films.

Above all else, you can give free reign to your own and your children’s spiritual identity. You can teach character and consciousness, goodness and truth, grace and beauty. You can explore to your heart’s content what you know, what you believe, into what manner of universe you think we are born, what you think we’re here for, who you are, who your children are.

You can laud thought and nurture emotion. You can honor spirit and enact psyche, substance and soul. As you do this hallowed work together, you quietly can demonstrate why and how the prevailing culture of vapidity and violence is so confined, and so confining.

There are no confines to how you can design your own Family-Friendly Entertainment. Nor are there any limits to how profoundly your children will love and grow from these activities.

Plus – you’ll get to thumb your nose at the craven media managers and crass marketers who would have us believe that our children are inane, and that we are indifferent!

Sample Prompts
You’ll know how best to stimulate your children’s thinking and expression skills. The more imaginative your prompts, the more engaged and emotive your authors will be.

Here are four examples of film and music prompts that have excited every child who has studied with us.

I. Film: Akeelah and the Bee [following chapter 5 > @ 0:21 minutes]

Akeelah and the Bee opens with Akeelah talking to us. She asks us a question: “You know that feeling where, no matter what you do or where you go, you just don’t fit in?”

Much of the film concerns Akeelah’s struggle to fit in with her classmates and neighbors. She tries with all her might to be similar to them.

It seems she can’t succeed, though. In her mind and soul she’s not like her classmates and she’s not like her neighbors, and they know it.

Please write 3 paragraphs in which you reply to these prompts.

Paragraph 1
Discuss several reasons why Akeelah doesn’t fit in with her classmates and her neighbors. What are their attitudes and behaviors? How does she differ from them? What is her true personality?

Paragraph 2
Why does Akeelah try to fool her classmates and neighbors? What does she think she’ll gain if she tricks them into thinking she’s just as rough and tough and careless as they are?

Paragraph 3
Have you ever experienced Akeelah’s problem? Do you feel that you fit in with your age group? Do you feel 100% free to express your own nature and needs?

II. Film: Akeelah and the Bee [following chapter 10 > @ 0:47 minutes]

Akeelah’s father has died. Her mom struggles to raise on her own four children in a dangerous neighborhood. She doesn’t mean to be harsh with Akeelah or neglectful of her. But she is harsh and she is neglectful – and her sweet, gifted daughter yearns for much more attention, recognition, and love at home.

Dylan has the opposite problem. His parents, especially his dad, suffocate him with crushing attention and unbearable pressure to excel. As we watch the film we think this boy may crack. He’s miserably unhappy. He has no friends. We fear for him.

Each family differs. Some of us live with both parents. Some of us live with one, or divide our time with our mom and our dad. Some of us live with other caregivers.

Each of us has a unique nature. Some of us need lots and lots of attentive, nurturing parenting. Some of us do better on our own.

Maybe we need our parents to pressure us. Or maybe we’d do much better – and feel much better – if our parents didn’t put pressure on us.

Using all your skills of organization, description, analysis, and persuasion write three or more paragraphs in which you:

1. Describe the parenting you’re presently receiving
2. Analyze what’s working well for you emotionally, and in your work life
3. Argue for changes that would help you become happier and more effective – or persuade us that everything in your life is perfect as it is!

III. Film: Lady and the Tramp [following chapter 14 > @ 0:54 minutes]
Music: Here Comes the Sun
Music: Mornin’

In a chapter called “The Next Morning,” Lady and Tramp awake on top of a hill after their idyllic night outdoors. They leap up with happiness and feel all alive with the excitement of a new day’s unlimited potential.

Most of us do this every morning. We awake with a feeling of instinctive happiness and high hope. For a moment we forget all our burdens and failures. Everything seems possible. It’s a brand new day. No wonder people all over the world call out “good morning” when they meet and greet one another.

We’ve listened to two exquisite poems that reflect this mood. George Harrison captures the universal human love of mornings in his much-loved song, Here Comes the Sun. Al Jarreau reflects this feeling and connects it directly with the idea of the sacred in his sublime work, Mornin’. [Attach copies of the two poems’ lyrics]

Write a poem or paragraph in which you describe the kind of morning that’s most dear to your soul.

To what kind of day do you most like to awake?

Be as detailed as you can in your description. Try to work with all five of your senses. Make us see, hear, feel, smell, and taste your perfect morning.

IV. Film: Apollo 13 [Following chapter 40, @1 hr:40 minutes ]

Many modern people imagine only human beings have meaningful life, intelligent consciousness, awareness, wishes, wants, and
needs. But many ancient peoples believed everything in the universe has being. They were certain every creature and every thing lives,
senses, has purposes, and can communicate – if only we knew how to listen and hear.

Pretend you are the moon.

Think, feel, and speak as if you were the moon. Do you want men to journey toward you, land on you with their machines, walk on your surface, dig up your rocks and take them away with you? Plant their flags on you? Build colonies on you?

Don’t necessarily choose the easy answer to these questions. Maybe the moon DOES want humans to land on it, and live there. Maybe the moon is lonely. Maybe it feels empty and purposeless all alone out there in the bleak, barren, harsh, desolate, austere reaches of space. Perhaps it’s bored. Perhaps it feels intrigued by the lovely blue and white Earth, by us and our doings. Maybe it would love us. Maybe it would feel overjoyed to be explored and populated.

Discuss this subject in your moon voice, in your moon way.