By Homa Tavangar
I've discovered a not-so-secret weapon to diversify and improve the quality of media my kids consume, that I can enjoy too: family-friendly foreign films.
Good movies help transport audiences to places and experiences we might never have imagined. Foreign films can take us even farther—with an added benefit: we begin to appreciate and care about other cultures when we see them. The more we "see," the more we are likely to care. When our children view cultures through foreign films, they more naturally relate to the wider world and are transported to exotic locales—without even possessing a passport.
When you have a chance to see these brilliant films, "Don't just press play," counsels veteran media educator Nicole Dreiske. "Prime children for discussion before viewing so they look forward to talking about what they've just watched. Talk quietly to children while watching with them, just the way you'd talk to them while reading a book. This acclimates children to communicating what they're thinking and leads naturally to discussion." By watching and discussing these films, your child will open up their imagination. A desire for learning a language can be cultivated.
To get started, here are a few of my favorite foreign films for ages four and up. They're readily available through public libraries, Netflix, and independent film sites. Pair the film with a snack that goes with the theme for a memorable, multisensory experience.
For slightly older elementary children, see award-winners "The Secret of Kells" (Ireland), "Alamar" (Mexico/Italy), "Children of Heaven" (Iran), "The Great Match" (set in Mongolia, Brazil, Niger). Documentaries like "Babies" and "Winged Migration" transport all ages all over the world.
Looking for more films? Take a weekend trip to an international children's film festival. Annual festivals include those in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and others have sprung up in Danville, CA, Asheville, NC and many more places. If these aren't feasible, schools and community groups are launching their own film fests, with guidance from curators in Chicago and New York. With so much access to great, diverse, stimulating content, the whole world is just a screen away!
What's your favorite family-friendly foreign film?
Homa Tavangar is the author of “Growing Up Global,” the mother of three children ages 7 to 17, and a frequent speaker to audiences ranging from CEOs to K-12 communities.