Blu-rays and DVDs make great stocking stuffers as well as gifts for kids and families. Animated and live action blockbusters from throughout the year are on most families wish lists, and you can also find DVD compilations with episodes from kids' favorite shows or movies about kids favorite subjects.
My favorite movie related gifts to give kids or families, is a movie based on the book along with the book so families can read and watch together and discuss both storytelling devices. This year, families with older kids will enjoy reading and watching The Hobbit, and the next movie in the franchise comes out this December.
My favorite pick for animated movie this year is Monsters University. I love this movie for the gorgeous college campus and colorful animation, but most of all, I love the lesson the movie relates. The main characters in this movie actually had to face the consequences of their actions, but they picked themselves up and found a way to make their dreams come true through hard work, patience and dedication.
Here are a few more movie gifts ideas for kids and families...
And for a refresher on which kids' movies came out this year and might be on DVD or Blu-ray, check out the 2013 family movie calendar.
(Photo © Disney)
So, I don't know why, but my daughter wants the Disney Infinity game for Christmas. Really bad. Like, that's all she talks about. Why is this a problem for me? Well, because I've done a lot of research on the game, and I still don't get the value of it. And, what bugs me the most, is the amount of stuff I'll have to keep buying to add to the game. Thankfully, our About.com guide to X-Box wrote a review of the Disney Infinity game that has helped me to get the gist of it. But I think his opening sentence says it all: "Disney Infinity is basically the most perfect evil plan ever."
The initial investment in this game is enough, but then there are characters and discs you can buy to add to the game. Also, for my little girl, the initial characters available are a little odd, and I wonder why there aren't more character packs with beloved Disney characters from movies for kids, like all the princess movies or, you know, Mickey, Minnie and Donald? Sure, a lot of kids have seen movies like The Lone Ranger and Pirates of the Caribbean, but these movies are PG-13 and not necessarily geared toward the children who are most likely to play this game. Although, I will concede that pirates are cool and even if kids didn't see the movies, they'll enjoy making pirates part of their game play.
Thankfully, there are some new packs, that you have to buy in addition to the game of course, that include characters that will be exciting to my child. Namely, characters from the upcoming Frozen movie. Since movies so naturally lend themselves to games, there are a myriad of games based on kids' movies available for kids to play. My kids don't have a ton of time for video games, though, so the games we do have often sit around unused or forgotten about after a few sessions. I hope Infinity gets used, but not too much.
And, I hope my daughter will not want to spend all her future earnings on new stuff for this game. I mean, in a way, every future Disney movie will be a huge commercial for her. She'll fall in love with the story and characters, and she'll want them to play with in the game. On a child's allowance budget, that will get pretty expensive.
For any other parents wondering if this seeming lifetime investment of a game is worth it, I'll let you know how it goes for us...
(Photo © Disney)
While the premise of the movie, turkeys going back in time to change the "course" of history and get turkeys of the menu, isn't all that unexpected, it's still a fun idea, especially when you consider all of the potential of the setting. Now of course, we wouldn't want the movie to be a boring history lesson or anything, but this movie would be perfect for throwing in a few scenes from that first Thanksgiving or of the time period in general that would enrich audiences. Not only that, but the setting has the potential to be incredibly whimsical, lush and all kinds of delicious.
Did I fully expect Free Birds to live up to this glorious potential? Not fully, but I hoped it would tap into the rich heritage of the season a little. We took the kids to see the film and had a great time, but overall, the movie was not nearly as flavorful as it could have been. READ MORE about Free Birds in our Review for Parents...
(Photo © Relativity Media)
Have you invited the Croods over for a movie night yet? The animated movie about the journey of one hilarious prehistoric family is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Croods has a great storyline and features fabulous animation and imaginative characters. If you are deciding whether or not this is a purchase worthy Blu-ray, or if it's better just to stream this movie for a one-time watch, here is some info about the special features...
The bonus features available on The Croods Blu-ray are not abundant, and I was surprised by the lack of significant behind-the-scenes type featurettes (though the cut scenes section is interesting with the director commentaries). However, the "How-to-Draw" feature is one of the most detailed I've seen. My kids especially like how-to-draw lessons, because as long as they follow along with the artist, they really can produce an amazing looking drawing of the character. Kids who like drawing will probably want to watch this feature over and over.
I also really loved that at the end of the "Belt's Cave Journal" special feature, Guy encourages kids to try a picture journal of their own. Great idea! Kids can learn a lot from even telling a short, simple story or journaling just one day using pictures and no words. The exercise helps them think about non-verbal communication and the art of storytelling.
The Croods is a Blu-ray our family would choose to own either way, just because I know the kids will likely want to watch it more than once. But, I also appreciate that the bonus features add value by giving the kids actual hands-on activities and ideas.
More about The Croods movie and fun/educational movie-related activities for kids:
(Photo © DreamWorks Animation)
This year, my oldest daughter wants to have a few friends over to watch Coraline. Actually, she's wanted that every Halloween for the past couple of years, but the movie is dang scary, so I didn't want to invite other kids over to watch it. Finally this year, I feel like it's more age appropriate, so after contacting the moms and describing the movie in detail, I'll let her invite some friends over and make some spooky treats for an awesome Halloween movie party.
I mention Coraline every year about this time. The movie is one of our favorites. I took my kids to go see it on accident, actually. If I had know how scary it is, I would have left them home. That's the one case where I didn't do enough research before going to a screening of the film with my family. My kids are used to movies, and so they were fine. And I'm glad I slipped up in this case, because the theme of the movie is conveyed so well and I've used it several times to teach my kids.
In the movie, Coraline is a little girl who is tempted by an alternate reality she discovers behind a secret door in her new home. Though extremely tempted, she feels something isn't right. Instead of jumping in anyway, she walks away from the seemingly perfect world. I love it! How many times do people fall into trouble because they didn't heed that nagging voice and did something anyway?
So, if you are planning a movie party for tweens or teens, Coraline may be one you want to look into. But if you want something a little less terrifying, here is a list of Halloween movies perfect for kids movie parties that contains lots of options broken down by age level.
(Photo © Focus Features)
With all the recent buzz about Disney's 2014 release Into the Woods, I'm thinking that a year long fairy tale series is on the horizon. Fairy tales transport us to a world of fantasy that is exciting and adventurous. Did the Brothers Grimm have any idea what they were starting? I kind of think they did. They knew these stories they were recording had been handed down for generations. There is something special about them.
Into the Woods is our 2014 Christmas gift from Disney, so it better be a good one! The movie is a film adaption of the humorous and heartfelt musical, a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales. The story explores the consequences of the quests of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel--all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, and the witch who cast a spell on them.
What is really great about this, is that twists on fairy tales offer parents and teachers a fun opportunity to teach kids about storytelling. And, considering that Disney's origins story Maleficent also releases in 2014, it's a great year to explore the world of fairy tales and all of the movie twists on them. Pixar may have disappointed us by canceling The Good Dinosaur, but hopefully Disney will make up for it with some excellent fairy tales and new classics.
(Photo © Disney)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 opens in theaters this Friday. The movie is a sequel to the 2009 film based on the beloved book by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett.
Honestly, the original film was certainly not one of those movies that is just screaming for a sequel. I think, as a collective audience, we were pretty much good with the story and done with the characters. Our family enjoyed the first movie, and I loved the tie-in with the book and the opportunity to use the book and movie together to discuss stories and compare and contrast the book and film with the kiddos.
But, while little kids will likely enjoy the colorful sequel and the foodimal paradise setting, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 didn't leave a great taste in my mouth. I would have loved it if the movie had been a little heavier on the creative and clever and a little lighter on the strained humor.
*More about the book and movies:
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - Movie Review for Parents
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - Movie Photos
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs craft and activity ideas from our guide to family crafts.
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs book review by Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com's Children's Books Guide.
(Photo © Sony Pictures)
(Photo © Sony Pictures)
Premiering Sunday, Sept. 29, at 11 a.m. (ET/PT) on Nick Jr., this new series for preschoolers features adorable Paul Frank characters. You may have seen the Paul Frank monkey on children's clothing, accessories and even underwear. The simply depicted yet charming and fun characters naturally attract kids' attention, and now, these fun little animals will come to life.
Inspired by the creative inventor of the cute cartoon faces, the series will focus on creative problem solving. The show follows the adventurous Julius Jr. and his playful friends, who use a blend of imagination and inventive spirit to help each other overcome challenges. I love shows that inspire kids to think outside the box and get creative.
I was reminded of the importance of this topic while reading Parents Magazine at the kids' doctor appointment the other day. The article (not yet available online) is on raising a creative thinker, and it reminds parents of the importance of praising effort over results so that we don't stifle kids and make them think they have to get everything right. Instead, we should encourage them to think, try, explore and experiment.
With so much pressure being put on kids for high achievement, it's now wonder that high achievers sometimes don't do as well in certain real world situations, where a willingness to take risks and try things that are outside the box are needed. I've made it my goal to help my kids feel confident about taking risks and trying new things no matter the result, so this new show is right in line with what I have been studying about. And of course, Nick never lets us down with the online content. Go to the Julius Jr. website for games, activities and more.
More soon to come on Julius Jr, including reviews and ideas for expanding the curriculum and getting kids' creative juices flowing!
(Photo © Nick)
Continuing with our back-to-school theme of using TV and media in ways that are limited and effective, I wanted to discuss some ways that TV time can enhance curriculum for young kids.
Have any of you who send your kids to public school ever thought about home schooling? I have. I've thought a lot about it, but it has never quite felt like the right choice for our family. Still, though we live in a great school district and I am often amazed at the enriching projects our kids are assigned to do, I know there are some gaps in the system.
For example, my Kindergartener just started school. Her teacher is amazing (we've had her before), but in these beginning weeks as she gets to know students, it's impossible for her to have already tailored curriculum for each child and their different strengths and abilities. Teaching one-on-one or in small groups is very different than teaching a class full of 20 students.
Thanks to two big sisters who love to play school, my Kindergartener has been reading for a while. Right now, her class is learning their letter sounds. She isn't bored, because her teacher makes the exercises fun and she enjoys the social aspects of school immensely, but she's not going to be progressing leaps and bounds academically for a while. She's too tired after school to do any more heavy school-work, so I try to incorporate little things to challenge her into our daily routine.
Her only homework is to read for 20 minutes every night. So, I try to ask her discussion questions about the books or the each chapter she reads to get her talking about plot, characters, setting, identifying with characters, predicting what will happen next, explaining characters feelings or the motivation behind their actions and more. I also try to do this with any movies or TV shows she watches. We do this in a fun way, just conversationally, and she doesn't even realize she is practicing important communication and analytical skills that will help her for years to come. Using books and movies to learn literary skills is one way to help them form a solid foundation, especially with movies based on books, because then they can compare and contrast the stories in their different forms.
Another great way to use TV time to enrich your kids' school curriculum is through science programs. One of my favorites for Kindergarteners is the PBS show The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That. In this series, the Cat in the Hat and his friends tackle some great scientific concepts in ways that are simple for young kids to understand. Even better, it's easy to think of hands-on ways for kids to experiment with the subjects and get them talking about scientific concepts like prediction, results, data and more.
One episode of The Cat in the Hat has the Cat and friends take a trip to a cold place, for example. After this episode, you can talk with your child about the different states of matter. Let him play with some ice cubes and see how they melt into liquid. Fill a cup with water and have him predict what will happen if you leave it in the freezer and check it at certain time intervals. At this age, kids think these activities are games and have just as much fun, if not more, participating in "science projects" as they would playing a video game.
If your child is just learning to read, there are also a wealth of fun shows and reading DVDs that encourage the process. From learning letters, to early literacy skills, to actual reading skills, you can find the perfect show to make TV time worth while. My favorite reading based show for Kindergarteners is Super Why, a PBS show that encourages a wide array of literacy skills including focused sounding out and reading skills.
If kids are going to be enjoying a little TV time anyway, why not encourage fun shows that will also help them succeed in school? Young kids tend to enjoy these shows just as much as other less enriching fare, so it's just a matter of steering their habits toward better options. Here is a list of TV shows for preschoolers and early elementary age kids by subject. Many shows are available on DVD, On Demand, online, or through streaming services so you don't have to wait for the episodes to come on.
(Photo © PBS)
What are the three branches of government and what is the role of each one? Why did a second Constitution have to be created? How was the battle between states with large populations and those with smaller populations solved when Congress was formed?
These are some of the questions my daughter was asked on her pre-test for school. The teacher wanted to see how much the students knew about subjects they will be learning this year. Thanks to having watched the series Liberty's Kids over the summer, my daughter was able to answer all of the questions in great detail. Not only that, but she was excited about the history she knew and loves that she can understand it in context.
What I love about this is not that she was able to look like a smarty pants by knowing all about this stuff before having learned it in school. Rather, I'm excited by the fact that she understands the events from a personal standpoint after seeing the depiction of the thoughts and feelings of those who founded our nation. This understanding allows her to remember the events and apply them to different contexts, and now when her class is learning about this historical period, she can solidify her knowledge of the details and further expand her ability to analyze and discuss the events.
Limited TV time can be both beneficial and entertaining for kids. It is possible! Start kids off early by steering them toward shows they will love to watch and learn from. And shhhh.... don't even tell them about the learning part. Just get excited about subjects they love such as nature, science and more and offer shows that focus on their interests. Our kids started watching Liberty's Kids as part of our 4th of July week, and they loved it, so they just kept watching an episode here and there until they finished the whole thing and learned a ton of history in the process.
Here are a few more examples of TV shows that are educational and fun for kids:
- Nature Documentaries for Families
- Educational TV Shows for Preschoolers (by subject)
- DVDs that Encourage Reading and Early Literacy
- Also look for how-to shows that teach about subjects your kids are interested in. Cooking, design and handyman shows aren't geared for kids, but many kids love them just as much as adults do.
(Photo © Mill Creek Entertainment)