If you have kids, one easy way to prepare them for life is to always ask one simple question:
What have you learned?
Learning isn’t limited to classrooms. If we’re open to learning, we have opportunities to learn all around us, but our kids have to be taught to look for learning everywhere. They won’t develop this skill naturally.
You can help them and yourself by simply asking this question of them everyday, and especially outside the context of formal school.
An easy way to start asking this question is at (or after) the movies.
Yes, there are the mindless car chases, and shoot ‘em up violence in many of Hollywood’s movies, but there are also many moving stories with profound life lessons.
Your child could learn
• the value of never giving up and teamwork from Apollo 13.
• about prejudice, fear, compassion, and love from Remember the Titans, Phenomenon and Crash.
• the value of facing their fears, taking small steps to success, and finding and accepting help from The King’s Speech.
• about the perils of jumping to conclusions and judging other people from Doubt.
Or they could learn nothing from these movies if they’re allowed to have sounds, sensations and feelings wash over them without thinking about what they have seen.
If you’re lucky.
At worst they’ll be easily led and corrupted by bankrupt ideas.
Your asking the question “What have you learned?” or some variant e.g. “What do you think about that scene?” will develop a practice of thinking about and discussing the possible meanings of stories being told to them on the big screen or on TV.
Your children will learn and practice how to think critically, argue a position, and detect propaganda simply from asking and answering this question.
even from super heroes
For younger children (like me) who are into superheroes and villains there is inspiration and life lessons to be found in the latest marvel heroes.
For example look at Tony Stark in Iron Man using his computers to create technology that helps instead of hurting people.
Look at Spiderman realizing that what he believed about his Uncle”s death was not true and then forgiving the man who killed him (the Sandman).
And look at Thor having to learn humility and listen to his elders before he could become king.
There are also profound lessons for parents
You can learn a lot from the animated movies you watch with your kids.
How to Train Your Dragon is a brilliant example of how stories, even baseless stories, are passed down generation to generation and can cause one group to hate another. Lesson: Learn to question what you’re taught, and what you believe.
Finding Nemo is a brilliant example of how you can’t protect your child no matter how hard you try. Lesson: Let go and trust that your child will be OK.
And TV shows work as well
There’s a lot you could learn about certainty, doubt, perceptions, truth, motive, and jumping to conclusion from watching Law and Order.
My personal favorite is of course South Park.
Firstly, because I have a twisted sense of humor (did you see the one about marijuana and Kentucky Fried Chicken?), and secondly because the South Park writers always manage to tie the show’s story into a real moral or life lesson at the end of each show.
The show can really confront you with your prejudices and the hypocrisies we tolerate in our lives.
But don’t let my choices dissuade you from a healthy practice. Pick your own shows.
The importance for the child who dislikes school
Developing a practice of asking your child “What have you learned?” is even more important if s/he is turned off by his or her teachers, the school system or because s/he learns differently than most.
If your child falls into any of these categories there is a real danger that s/he begins to associate any learning with only formal education (school).
This makes it more likely that they will avoid new learning opportunities later in life because for them learning is not fun or rewarding.
The value to you
You get value also from engaging with the question “What have you/we learned?” after watching movies with your kids.
The value to you is in the guidance you will have readily available to your child the next time s/he is struggling with some life issue; you will be able to reference a relevant story that s/he saw in a movie (especially if it was based on a true story).
You will have examples to demonstrate the consequence of inaction or inappropriate action as well as demonstrate the rewards of courage, purpose, perseverance and teamwork.
So start looking for the lessons in the shows you watch with your kids
For sure, many movies or TV shows have almost no nutritional (learning) value but I’m sure you can identify them yourself.
For the rest, try getting in the habit of looking for the lesson in each, and ask your child the question that will set them up powerfully for success and happiness in life.
“What did you learn?”
That’s the best way to ensure that your movie and TV hours are not wasted.