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Study American History with Movies

How to Study American History with Movies for Homeschooling Teens

Times are changing…History is being made

As a homeschooling family, you can meet your teens where they are–in a culture that is largely visual and video-driven. One way to do that is to study history with movies.

TL;DR Let me skip down to the Movie Lists

Twenty years ago homeschooling parents thought there was only one way their children would be strong readers.

And that was to stay away from screens and to focus more on reading books.

However, life is rapidly changing. I’ve heard bloggers say that 80% of the internet will be video-based by 2023!

Visual media is rapidly overtaking the written word in our society. There are a couple of main reasons for this, in my opinion.

First, most people can visually scan a set of pictures faster than they can read a description of the photos.

That’s probably why Pinterest is used as a search engine.

Second, it’s easier (and maybe faster?) for many people to watch a video than it is to read an extended article or story.

So how do you balance the more “traditional” skills that our kids need with the technical skills that are also essential for success in today’s world?

Four Ways to Teach History with Movies

I think we just need to be careful and intentional with how we choose to spend our time and resources.

Instead of letting kids passively watch a movie, think of ways to harness the power of visual media to our advantage as educators.

What can we do beyond the obvious reinforcement of “after you read The Lord of the Rings, you may watch the movie”?

1. Immersion

First of all, movies are popular and powerful because they cause the viewer to feel emotions that they will remember along with the plot.

Films set in the past can help students better understand how people lived, what they wore, and how they spoke during that time period.

Students could also research the time period in which the movie is set before watching to gain some background knowledge.

2. Action and Technology

Second, action movies that include blowing up of objects or gunfights could be used as an extension activity with a science or physics lessons in a “Myth-busters” style.

Your kids could also research what types of weapons were available then and how those weapons actually worked. Check out the Technology section in the Davy & the Alamo Unit Study for more information about flintlock rifles used in the early 1800s.

3. Literary License

Next, most movies take a lot of literary licenses and aren’t 100% accurate. Use those as an opportunity to discuss with your kids what really happened in real life. Or you can discuss how a director’s or producer’s bias affects the film’s portrayal of the events.

4. Opinion and Research-Based Writing

Finally, books that have been made into films have always been an easy way to incorporate the movie into your studies.

Plus, you can usually find coordinating lesson plans on the internet. (The unit studies on Whole Child Homeschool have movie suggestions to go along with the unit’s theme.)

Alternatively, you could have your high school student write an opinion- or research-based essay on the movie. Or have them write an essay on a related historical topic and knock out history and English together.

Study American History with Movies: Vetted Lists

The following movie lists are vetted for appropriateness for high school students (ages 14 and above). Some of the movies are rated R, mostly for violence, and they are noted.

There are several movies on this list produced by Disney. These “older” Disney movies are appropriate for all members of your family (these are labeled as well).

I recommend that you preview any movie that you feel is questionable for your children. Because every family is different, what’s right for yours, might not be for another.

If you are short on time and can’t preview a movie, you can look up reviews on Common Sense Media and Plugged In, as well.

I have not included documentaries or docudramas, only fictionalized accounts of actual events or times.

Click on the links below to view the movie lists:

Post-Modern American History: 1970 to 2001

More Ways to Study History with Movies:

Be sure to follow my Pinterest boards US History: Westward Expansion and Middle & High School History for more great hands-on activities and ideas to study American History with your homeschooled teens!

Don’t forget to pin this post so you can refer back to it later!

study american history with movies
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