How to Study American History with Movies for Homeschool Families

Times are changing…History is being made

Homeschooling families need to meet their teens where they are–in a culture that is largely visual and video-driven. One way to do that is through teaching history with movies.

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 to be successful with the technology skills that are also essential in today’s world?

american flag star spangled banner

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 check out these ways to harness the power of visual media to our advantage as educators beyond the obvious reinforcement of “after you read The Lord of the Rings, you may watch the movie.”

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.

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.

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 IRL as well as how a director’s or producer’s bias affects the film’s portrayal of the events.

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 in the blogosphere. And if you want to add in some English, you could have your high school student write an opinion- or research-based essay on the movie and a couple of related articles and knock out history and English together.

old movie projector

American History with Movies: Vetted Lists

These 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, which would be appropriate for all members of your family (these are labeled as well).

Parents should preview any movie that they feel is questionable for their children. Because every family is different, what’s right for one, might not be for another. 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:

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

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

history movies

2 Replies to “Study American History with Movies”

  1. Audrey Bowden says:

    How do I watch these movies? Do I need a membership to Amazon Prime?

    1. Whole Child Homeschool says:

      There are lots of places to find these movies. Your local library may have the DVDs or you can buy them from Amazon. Or you can stream them using the different streaming platforms. I just included the links to Prime for convenience for those that have Prime. If you google the name of the movie + the word movie, the streaming platforms that have that movie will be at the top of the search. My family’s favorite thing to do is look for the DVDs on the list at garage sales in the summer!

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