Watch your vegetables first, then dessert
July 16, 2013 12:17 PM   Subscribe

My ten year old wants to spend most of her summer days on the couch streaming TV over our roku. It is a zillion degrees outside with 200% humidity, so I sort of understand the couch potato impulse. How can I direct her so that her couch potato time doesn't spud her brain?

So every Summer weekday I give her a reading assignment, an online math review assignment, and couple of light chores. I would like to create a list of "First, watch this" items to leave her that she should watch before turning to her usual Nickelodeon laugh track pablum.

I want to leave her with age-appropriate cultural treasures that will at least expand her horizons if not be downright educational. Today I left her to watch:

The Red Shoes
The Red Balloon
Where the Red Fern Grows

Anything age-appropriate is fair game if it has some cultural merit to it. Movies and TV series. Whatever. Fire away.
posted by cross_impact to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This is more general advice: Maybe assign her an actor and have her watch all films by that actor; or assign her one book or play and have her watch all filmed iterations of that work? Then you could ask her to comment generally upon what she noticed, what she liked, didn't like, etc.
posted by resurrexit at 12:21 PM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

What about turning the captioning on? I'm convinced closed captioning on TV helped speed up my reading skills.
posted by Unangenehm at 12:25 PM on July 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

It might be interesting to pick a language, add that to her basic lessons, and then watch cartoons or age-appropriate movies in that language.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 12:28 PM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Netflix has a pretty impressive lineup of documentaries. Why not pick a topic and let her find things on that topic (within reason, so watching a bad movie set in Rome doesn't count)? That way she still gets educated but has some leeway in it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:37 PM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Daddy Long Legs, first the movie, then the book. Compare and contrast.

Sabrina (again, Audrey Hepburn, NOT that stupid one with Harrison Ford.) And then Sabrina Fair (the play)

Maybe watch That's Entertainment, and then see which movies look good to her and let her steam them.

A good film education is nothing to sneeze at.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:39 PM on July 16, 2013

Time for Miyazaki movies, with subtitles turned on. Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away would probably be the most "Japanese" of them, but they're all wonderful and would serve to familiarize her with concepts, ideals, or just the sound of a language from another culture. They have a different look compared to what you might think of as "anime", stylistically, as well.

If she's uncomfortable with subtitles, they have pretty good dubbed tracks, but I think ten is a great age to get used to them, and most of these movies are much more about the visuals than the dialogue.

They also often have lots of yummy food featured in them. If anybody in the house is good with cooking, they could cook with her to make things from the films. This delightful blog has recreated a lot of the food seen in Ghibli films, and you could use it as inspiration. The rice balls from Spirited Away would be quite simple, for example.
posted by Mizu at 12:42 PM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't know if they're available through roku channels, but watching Wishbone and Masterpiece Theatre at her age really helped me understand references to classical literature later. (Like when people use "Cyrano" as a verb.)

More generally, I think that picking specific "cultured" pieces is less important than teaching her to watch critically. Even Disney sitcoms can be intellectually stimulating from the right perspective. Maybe after asking her about her favorite shows, you could have a discussion with her about gender dynamics, race issues, product placement, beauty image, etc. You could talk about how sitcoms wrap up problems in 20 minutes, and how that compares to real life, and why that is appealing to us as viewers. What stories get used again and again and what character traits do the main characters share? How is that a reflection of what our society values? An example exercise might be for her to imagine an alien on Mars who is only learning about our lives through TV -- what does the Martian get right and what would they get wrong?

(Good for you for making sure she stays challenged -- summer brain drain is a real annoyance for educators I know.)
posted by tinymegalo at 12:55 PM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might not approve, but carefully-selected video games (portal? kinect games? wii games?) could be better than just watching and even improve reflexes and reasoning. You would need an xbox or some game system though. They might also help her relate to peers.
posted by meepmeow at 12:55 PM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

10 was the age I got hooked on classic films and cult TV, and I started with Powell and Pressburger so maybe she'll catch the bug. Don't be afraid to show her the black and white stuff too - I Know Where I'm Going is a riot.

I also had a gentle introduction to foreign language films by watching Jacques Tati. Mr Hulot's Holiday was a perennial favourite.

If the good British TV costume dramas are available on Netflix (Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch etc) then they kill many hours and encourage reading the classics too. Or maybe she could watch every available version of Little Women and compare them.
posted by dumdidumdum at 1:03 PM on July 16, 2013

Or maybe she could watch every available version of Little Women and compare them.

Not the June Alyson one. She's AWFUL!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:08 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Wishbone! So many classics I became familiar with through that show. For what it's worth, I went on to major in literature.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 1:10 PM on July 16, 2013

I was fairly averse to television at 10, preferring the exclusive company of books, but my mind was utterly blown by the early seasons of PBS' 3-2-1 Contact as well as Square One TV.

Both shows were created specifically to get kids excited about learning stuff, and I remember them especially fondly because they showed me that girls like me could be detectives, mathematicians, and scientists instead of just fashion models or mothers.
posted by divined by radio at 1:13 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was really into game shows around that age, especially trivia-related ones. What about finding things like Teen Jeopardy, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the Scripps spelling bee, etc? Here in Baltimore, there are a couple local game shows with school kids that air on the public access channels too, and those seem pretty popular.
posted by JannaK at 2:42 PM on July 16, 2013

Of Mice and Men might be a good choice. The film was very well received, and there's an associated book. It involves death, but so did Where the Red Fern Grows.

Not necessarily cultural treasures, but shows like NOVA or Bill Nye are educational. Mr. Rogers is another, though not so much science educational, though I don't recall what his age demographic is. I think Wishbone is perhaps the best option. I've picked up a decent amount of books because I'll come across them online, look at a summary, and realize: "Oh! I remember the Wishbone episode which covered this book!" Adventures from the Book of Virtues is somewhat like Wisbhone except animated and more about mythology than literature.

You could even require her to watch one Wishbone episode a day, and then have her pick out the episode she most enjoyed and have her read the associated book. The only problem would be that depending on her reading speed and skill, the books may not be appropriate. For instance, they did an episode for Journey to the West, and that's a four volume, 2000 page work.

While I think watching TV can have some benefit, it is merely in a supplementary way by reinforcing certain values or interests. Even shows like Wishbone or NOVA, or culturally relevant films, will still work as a brain drain on your child given the passive nature of TV consumption.

Perhaps an indoor activity like Chess or an instrument might be picked up?
posted by SollosQ at 3:05 PM on July 16, 2013

Whale Rider! The character in the movie is 11, so she might be able to relate to her struggles. She could also research the Maori people, whales, or New Zealand. There are a lot of tangentially-related interested topics that would be fair game.

We also like Cave of the Yellow Dog, which also has a great strong girl character. It's about a nomadic Mongolian family. Also has a dog. And subtitles, but there's not a whole lot of dialogue so she would be able to follow along easily. Very beautiful film.

My 8-year-old also enjoys the BBC planet Earth series and Mythbusters.
posted by Ostara at 3:26 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

This may not be quite the "classic" you're thinking of, but you could then spin it in an educational way - try "Time Bandits". I was about her age when I first saw it and I think that's just about the perfect age for it; it's "edgy" enough for someone on the low end of tweendom, but it's not too "grown up".

Then you spin that by asking her to delve into whichever of the history stories in the movie she hadn't known about. Napoleon? Agamemnon? Robin Hood? Not go too nuts, just a brief, "so was there any of those history stories you didn't know about? How about finding a book about the real [whoever] and see how much the movie was different?"

Actually, if you get into the whole "check the history" angle, there are other movies you could do that with; there's a book called "past imperfect" that has a series of film reviews written by historians. Picking out of that book and doing your own "is this what really happened" reading could get fun. And isn't too hard to accomplish (Wikipedia would probably cover most of it - some of the history films get things REALLY wrong).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:52 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love French in Action and they're all watchable on the linked site assuming you are in the US or Canada.
posted by town of cats at 4:37 PM on July 16, 2013

Anything narrated by David Attenborough. Pretty much all of his nature documentaries have beautiful, engaging scenery. He is genuinely curious about his subject matter. Plus his voice is so calm-inducing. He's like Mr. Rogers for grown ups.
posted by tllaya at 8:38 PM on July 16, 2013

How It's Made is kid-appropriate and really interesting. And there are zillions of episodes on Netflix.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 10:29 PM on July 16, 2013

My daughter sounds just like yours, with the added bonus that mine's rather sensitive and doesn't like anything that has too much conflict, which is defined, apparently, as interpersonal conflict.

She's recently started doing some Duolingo lessons on her Nexus 7 (there are also iWhatever apps, as well as the linked version) and so far is reasonably successful at it. I don't imagine that she's going to become fluent in anything, but I think that exposing herself to other languages is a plus, and Duolingo's gamification of the learning process has made it more compelling for her.

She's also gotten into cooking and food this summer--she's been watching old episodes of Good Eats (science! cooking!), Two Fat Ladies, and Nigella's Kitchen, as well as reading food blogs, then sending me links of things that she thinks we should make. Sometimes we make stuff together; other, for easier things, she's been sent into the kitchen while I do [whatever] in the next room--she's learned fried eggs, various grilled cheeses, brownies (from scratch), and crepes, off the top of my head. Lessons in cleaning up the kitchen have been less successful, but I figure it'll happen with time, right?

Bill Nye the Science Guy and Beakman's World might be science-y shows that she'd like. They're both from the 90s, but most of what's covered isn't the kind of science that changes a whole lot. Beakman in particular might be a little young, but my daughter (who started watching it when she was about seven) still loves it and watches it regularly, so it's worth a shot. Also in the possibly too young vein is Wishbone, which I know was mentioned above. It's pretty charming, especially if she's into animals. Though we've not yet watched it, a friend of mine recently recced WordGirl as a good one to keep an eye out for. I would argue that none of these are cultural treasures, quite (well, maybe Bill Nye) but they're all horizon-broadening and, imo, laying a foundation of cultural literacy.

As for books, I can't say enough positive things about the Dear America series, as well as the related series, of which there are many. We're also slowly working on reading all the Newbery winners--not in order, but starting with the ones that are age-appropriate. So far, Bridge to Terabithia, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Ginger Pye, The Graveyard Book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Sarah Plain and Tall, and Shiloh have all been very well received. (She has a much higher tolerance for conflict in books than in movies, obviously.) Holes, Number the Stars, A Wrinkle in Time, and Dr. Dolittle are all in her tbr queue.

Inspired by this FPP, I'm debating challenging my daughter to find and consume some form of media--a game, a movie, a television show, a book, whatever--from various countries. Probably not all of them, because that seems a bit overwhelming for a monolingual ten year old, but I think we could get a decent chunk of them in.
posted by MeghanC at 10:30 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd set her up with some movies based on classic kid books, then get her to actually read the books to see how they compare. Harry Potter, Stuart Little, Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte's Web, Roald Dahl, The Hobbit, CS Lewis, Animal Farm, etc. You guys can talk about the changes between the movies and the books, and it'll be like she's doing little book reports all summer without even knowing it. Stealth education is the best education!

You may also want to hook up a Wii, so she can get some fun indoor exercise and won't turn into a little butterball over the summer break.

Does she have friends? Let them come over and play, crash into stuff around the house, making an awful mess. I have visions of this kid indoors by herself all summer, watching TV, and it sounds so sedentary and glum. (It's also exactly how I wanted to spend my summer vacations!)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:39 PM on July 16, 2013

Twelve Angry Men? Never a bad thing to glamorize civic duty. Or how about film versions of Shakespeare? There are some great ones out there.

(Incidentally, have you considered watching these movies with her when you get home in the evenings? I think that at ten I would have taken to this a lot more kindly if it was presented as "family movie time" rather than as "brain vegetables.")
posted by ostro at 6:30 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Wizard of Oz. My 10-year-old is reading all the books, and we just watched the movie for the first time and he liked it. I was surprised, as he's resistant to books-that-don't-look-new, but he loves them as much as I did when I was his age.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:31 AM on July 17, 2013

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