The Art of Movie Magic
A Secular Homeschool Unit Study
Art can take many forms, and as a young secular homeschool parent it was easy to get caught in the “paint on a canvas” loop of art education; coloring recreations of the painting masters or learning to identify some of the great works. But art is vastly broader than simply studying Picasso or Rembrandt. Art is the expression of creative skill and imagination. It can be so many things, including movies. That’s right, I’m talking about films, cinema, motion pictures. The art of storytelling on the big (and little) screen.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, Art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form…” A great work of art moves us and makes us think. It stirs our emotions. After having experienced it, we are changed. Our understanding is expanded; our minds broader.
It’s easy to dismiss movies as a true art form and it seems almost blasphemous to put Spielberg in the same category as DaVinci, but both are masters of their art and both have something to teach about art. Don’t get trapped in the thinking that movies are just the throw-away fodder of modern media consumption. There can be so much skill and care that goes into creating and presenting them. Are there bad movies? Of course. Should all movies be studied to understand the craft? No. It’ll be a cold day in Hades before I do a unit study on the Puppy Buddy movies. Just like any art, there are examples of both masterpieces and train wrecks, and also like any art, the judgment of which is which is subjective. That’s part of the fun.
Teaching any art elective, including a unit study on movies can be daunting though. There are a million choices and a million opinions. Where to start? How do you study it? How do you keep “homework” from turning into normal, everyday TV time? It’s a tough balance, but with a little bit of direction and a few resources, this art elective can be a blast for you and your kids.
This summer I created a movie magic unit study designed to give an introduction to film and film history using movies that can be found online, articles, a textbook, and writing assignments. Each module in the unit begins with an introduction to a concept, structure, or idea, then letting your child write about their reaction to the movie including a short fact sheet. At the end of this articles is the PDF of the unit with the introduction, assignments and the first five modules on movie history. You can build the next modules any way you want, focusing on any concept you like using the same format.
The Art of Movie Magic: A Unique Art Elective
The Movies – Most of the earliest movies are free to access and easy to find in an online archive or on a film history site. Others, especially newer movies, have to be rented or accessed via a movie service. The services, like Netflix or Amazon Video, are sometimes limited and they swap out movies often. A larger rental library like iTunes or Vudu is the best. I do NOT endorse any sort of piracy or illegal access to movies. Sure, it’s easier and cheaper, but in the end, it’s still stealing.
The Book – I choose to use a textbook with this unit, Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film, 3rd Edition and I highly recommend it. I don’t follow the order that the book is written, nor do I use everything contained in it, but it does have some great information. I’ve added an affiliate link to order it at the bottom of this article.
The Unit Study– I’ve broken the unit up into one module per week for convenience, but you can break it up any way you want. I use four or five basic segments per module:
- Prereading – Add some articles or chapters from the textbook that introduce the concepts or era. Don’t include movie reviews here.
- Watch the Movie – Generally, I allow them to watch it on any electronic device they want but I always recommend the TV so they can see more and get the full effect.
- Write a Reaction Paper – These are short papers meant to capture their thoughts on the film and concepts they are looking at.
- Write a Fact Page – This reinforces the terms and concepts.
- Read Reviews – Only after they’ve watched the movie and formed their own opinion of it.
The art of film can be a fun and engaging study. It’ll give you and your kids a new appreciation for the craft and I guarantee you and your kids will look at movies through a whole new lens.
Jason Grooms is an author, adventurer, mountain climber, husband, dad of six and grandpa of two. Along with his brilliant and beautiful wife, he’s been homeschooling for over two decades (two graduated and four close behind). When he’s not being a teacher, adventure guide, and life coach for his kids, Jason is a Director of Learning and Development for an exciting startup by day and writes science adventure books for kids by night. He has his degree in Cultural Anthropology, is an ordained Humanist Celebrant, and is certifiably the biggest Disney nerd you will ever encounter. You can find his science books and activities at The Brainy Tourist and follow along with his mountain climbing adventures on his YouTube channel Geek on the Peak TV.