Fantasia (1940)

Fantasia (film)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Released: 1940

Rated: G

Length: 120 – 124 min. (varies depending on what version you have)

Age: some parts 3+, others 5+ (see below)  Commonsense Media sez: 6 +

Scary Factor: Mickey attacks renegade broom with an axe and savagely chops it to bits; battle to the death between two dinosaurs; a gigantic devil rises over a mountain commanding a host of demons, the dead rise from their graves

Also: some modest (dare I say artful) nudity among fairies and mythological creatures; much wine drunk by very tipsy god Bacchus

Interests: classical music, fairies, mythology, dinosaurs, ballet

Next: the movie Fantasia 2000; live symphony concerts for children; Nutcracker ballet live or movie version


Martin Scorsese on Visual Literacy

Here’s a great 2006 interview with the director, in which he makes the case for teaching young people visual literacy by watching and making movies. (courtesy of Edutopia)

With the increasing dominance of media imagery in our daily landscape, it’s important that our children learn how messages are put together, how their eyes are being directed, how their emotions are being played, and maybe even how to craft images themselves. After all, the rise of digital media has made image collection and manipulation available and affordable for everyone. The next generations are increasingly going to be confronted, pummelled, swayed and played by the media-makers, and basic visual literacy will help them negotiate this new landscape.

The Problem With the News


It’s been a bad week in the news. There’s never really a good week in the news, because the main function of the news is to tell you all the bad stuff, but this week was particularly awful. As adults, we can put these stories into some kind of perspective. Usually. Not always successfully, on a week like this one. Because it’s really hard to shake off the sense that threat is everywhere and disaster waits around every corner.

If it’s hard for us, think how much harder it is for children to process disturbing news stories. Not just the stories, but the relentless images that accompany them – distraught people, photos of the victims, disaster zones, war zones, fires, crumbling buildings, the wounded, the dead.

I stopped watching television news long ago, partly because I don’t have time for it but also because the reporting was becoming too sensational and, frankly, too stupid. The radio has provided me with ample information of current events, and in a much less disturbing manner.

Until this week. Whenever my daughter was around I found myself lunging across the room to click off the radio whenever a newscast began… every hour on the hour. The way the story was being handled just made me sick, so I wasn’t sorry to give up on my radio news entirely. (What put me over the top was a snippet I heard before shutting it off, in which a reporter was asking someone if any of the child victims suffered.)

I’ve come across a couple of helpful links here for parents who want to reassure their kids about recent events – some advice on how to console your children and make them feel secure and safe.

Fred Rogers on Tragic Events in the News

PBS: Talking With Kids About News

Commonsense Media: Explaining the News to Our Kids

As for us, we’ve been on a media fast for this week of tragedy. When I shield my daughter from newscasts, am I preventing her from learning about the world? Only if you think the nightly news is an accurate and balanced portrayal of that world. Until our broadcasters show a little more taste and restraint when reporting on the tragedies of the day, I am glad to just leave the radio off.

In a previous post I wrote about what scares children of different ages, and touched upon the effect of news reports – What Scares Your Child.

Make Your Own Tutu!

Thanks to Different Solutions on Facebook, here’s a no-sew tutu I think even I could make!

Great Link: How to Avoid Terrible Children’s Books

Here’s a link for parents, not kids (the language is a little, um, strong):

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, You’re F*#&ed: 10 Tips for Avoiding Terrible Children’s Books, on a site called Dadspin.

While the piece is written mainly for humour, the basic tips are oh-so-true. My only addition would be with regard to the repetitive books: when story repetition starts getting you down, just make your kids do the work. The repetition means they know what’s coming, and having them chime in the endings to the sentences will make Green Eggs and Ham simply fly by. It also helps to listen to the excellent, rather beatnik version available on CD which, thanks to narrator Marvin Miller and a bongo player, really swings.

(And I just finished raving about another CD in this Seuss series – see last post. They really are great.)

How to Be a Musical Family (and Why You Should)

I’m linking here to a terrific bit of advice, 10 Ways to Be a Musical Family by Nancy Salwen. Nancy runs workshops for kids and adults and her focus seems to be on helping non-musical adults bring music into their homes for their kids.

One aspect of family music-making that I think is very important is that your children get to see you – the infallible grownup – learning, fumbling a bit, making mistakes. Not always hitting the right note but persevering and having fun along the way. If we jump in like this we get to model what we’re always telling them to do in their classrooms and extracurriculars: don’t worry about not being good right away, have fun, keep learning, keep trying, and keep practicing.

Too often we stop trying new things as we get older, and stick to activities that we’re already good at. Our kids only see us playing sports or making art or playing instruments that we have some proficiency at. They may conclude that we never have difficulty with things like they do*, and this could feed their frustration when they attempt new activities with a significant learning curve.

Personally, I think every parent should take up a brand new musical instrument or difficult sport when their child hits about age six or seven, and is coping with new challenges daily!

I also think there is value in demonstrating the enjoyment of being an amateur at something. Just because a person doesn’t have Broadway-calibre talent doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy singing or dancing. These days any interest in the arts for the young seems inextricably linked to a pursuit of excellence and stardom – winning competitions and clawing your way to the top. It’s always valuable to re-emphasize the fun, camaraderie and joy of making music.

To put my money where my mouth is… we’ve been in our new house for almost a month now, and this afternoon I WILL unpack and assemble my looooong neglected drum kit, which I am spectacularly inept at playing. Woo hoo!

not my drum kit


* Of course I’m talking here about the younger years, pre-adolescence. Once our kids hit twelve or thirteen they know for a fact that we can’t do anything right.

‘Back to Basics’ When Teaching Kids to Write

English: School room.

English: School room. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are at all interested in literacy and education, you should find this article from the Atlantic really fascinating. It talks about correcting the pendulum-swing of faddish educational practices, and going back to teaching students how to write – how to build proper sentences and paragraphs and how to organize your thoughts into essay form. Nouns and verbs and prepositions and clauses and all that old-fashioned stuff.

It’s pretty convincing, and it’s quite interesting to follow the efforts of a staff of high school teachers in New York as they analyze why their students are unable to write effectively.

Unfortunately the issue is framed by some as a creative writing vs. essay writing battle. Emotions and self-expression vs. disciplined intellectual structure. I think the real sweet spot is in the middle, balancing both aspects of writing.

What Age is Right for Harry Potter?

My six-year-old is loving stories about magic and strange creatures, and it occurred to me that we might be ready to wade into Potter-mania. Maybe. I think. Or maybe I should wait. Isn’t it too scary? Too violent? Too intense?

Fortunately I’ve come across this succinct bit of advice on Commonsense Media re. what ages are best for all the Harry Potter books, movies and games.

Here’s the gist of it… At age 6 or 7 it’s fine to read first book to them aloud (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), and maybe watch the first movie.

After that the books and movies ramp up pretty quickly, agewise. You should check out the link for greater detail, but the last book, and the movies from Goblet of Fire onward are more appropriate for age 11 or 12.

Also included in the article are recommended ages for the various Harry Potter video games.

There really shouldn’t be any rush to put HP into your child’s hands, after all there are many, many fantasy books and movies out there more suitable for ages 5, 6, or 7, titles that are tamer, less violent and scary, and just not so grim. I’m working on a list of these right now, to be posted soon, I hope!

Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Summer Reading – Don’t Stress About It

This kind of thing makes me crazy. I followed a tweet to this link, presumably giving reading lists and tips to keep kids reading through the summer. Something I could get behind, and share with my readers, I thought. So what heads the page but the following dire warning:

MOMS & DADS, your kid could fall TWO YEARS BEHIND IN SCHOOL this summer!

Aaaah! What the….? Is that kind of drama necessary to get people to read your book suggestions?!

(Which I might add, seem cobbled from lists of Newbery award-winners and classics, with the blog author’s own books slyly inserted amongst and in between.)

A study is cited, but something tells me that there’s also a study somewhere about how students can get back up to speed in the fall, and presumably remember where they were in their reading.

Living in a high pressure kind of city, I am all-too-used to crazy marketing like this. I get countless brochures in my mailbox for private schools, tutors, summer camps, all trying to instill fear in me that I’m not working my child hard enough over the summer. Why should children get to take it easy and stop thinking for two whole months??

Umm, because it’s summer?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for summer reading, and will do my best to encourage it. What I won’t do is set a goal of x number of books for the summer, and establish a daily quota of pages to read to get to that goal, as this site recommends. A perfect way to suck the joy out of an activity!

(And I’m not doing it to myself, either. No “you must read these books before you die” or motivational reading lists for me.)

Summer is a time for unregulated thinking, extracurricular daydreaming, and blessed downtime. Keep books handy, sure, wander into the library from time to time, and be a role model (carve out quiet reading time for yourself), but don’t stress out or they will too. As in don’t be a bummer. Chill.

Websites and Apps for Kids – Recommendations

Here’s a grab bag of recommended sites for the technologically inclined parent and child.

ALA Recommendations

Some really interesting sites here on the American Library Association recommended websites for kids.

Commonsense Media

The Commonsense Media site covers a lot of ground, but I’ve just been checking out (and appreciating) its great listing of apps, complete with reviews, that is searchable by genre, age level, etc. Get the low-down on some of those ultra-popular games and find out if they are really age appropriate for your child…

Khan Academy

Math Topics, Grade 1 to Adult – Here’s one that a friend recommended for math practice, with topics well organized, and linked so you can do them in a logical order.  From the main page, click on Practice and you will see this chart of topics.  (Site also has videos on many topics for adults as well. As the website says, its goal is to provide a “A free world-class education for anyone anywhere.”)

Poisson Rouge

Preschool and up, all topics –  I’ve never plugged this website on this blog (that I can remember), but it’s been my favourite of the many we’ve checked out since my daughter first went online. Poisson Rouge is a non-profit educational site that is beautifully intuitive to navigate, has alphabets and vocabulary in several languages, as well as all kinds of learning games and entertaining animations and puzzles. I always loved it because she didn’t have to know how to read to explore it, and there are tons of surprises and oddities woven into the site. The games are lovely and stress-free (no points to earn, no high scores, no obsessive replaying). PLUS the art, music, and sound effects are beautiful and well-done. There’s something interesting here for any age of child. Some website games really wind kids up – I find this site to be more hypnotically transfixing…

Peep and the Big Wide World

Preschool Science and Math – If you’ve seen this PBS show you’ll know it covers basic science topics for the very young and inquisitive. The site has very simple games and is quite entertaining.

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.