Now that summer is finally here, many schools have celebrated (or are about to celebrate) their last day of classes. During the hot summer months to come, an afternoon outing to a local movie theater can be a wonderful way to escape the heat and share a wonderful experience with your child as the movie transports you both to a different time or place. Also, many theaters throughout the United States offer discounted or free matinee movies geared towards young children, so take a few minutes to call the local theaters in your area and ask if they participate in any summer movie specials for kids. This makes heading to the movie theater with your child a fun—and inexpensive—outing!
Over the years, I have learned a few tips for making a movie-going experience with children fun, effortless and even educational.
Before the movie
- Choose a movie that you believe will interest your child, as some topics or characters will appeal to your child more than others. My grandson was very excited about seeing a movie that featured talking chipmunks and real people, but was not at all interested in a movie about gnomes. And he enjoyed the movie version of a picture book, but was not engaged by an animated film that was primarily a love story. So know your child - talk to him about his interests. Consider looking up the movie online and showing your child a trailer of the films you are considering. If he wants to watch the trailer again and again, chances are he will enjoy the movie.
- Discuss the primary plot of the movie with your child so that he will have some idea of what to expect. If he has any general questions, it is easier for him to ask them when you are not in the dark theater trying to stay quiet so others can enjoy the movie. Also, if he knows to expect that an evil witch tries to ruin a party in advance, he will be less likely to be startled when she makes her appearance midway through the movie.
- Plan ahead for a snack if you choose to let your child have one during the movie. I am not fond of the prices and the sugar content of the movie theater snacks, so I prefer to bring my own. Knowing that your child loves cheddar fish crackers, for example, and then putting an appropriate amount in a small plastic container will make both parents and children happy. Also, your child will know what he will be snacking on and will not have to whine or beg for a snack at the movie theater.
- Ask your child if he wants to take along a favorite stuffed animal or blanket that is soothing to him. Sometimes a dark theater can be a bit overwhelming for a child and having a favorite item or friend in his lap is all that is needed for comfort.
- Talk about movie theater etiquette. Let your child know that loud voices are not allowed in the show. Help him understand that he will need to remain seated while he is watching the movie. Knowing your expectations for his behavior before going to the movie will help avoid the need to correct or discipline your child at the theater.
During the movie
- Try to find a seat that is comfortable for your child and allows him a clear view of the movie screen. Many theaters offer booster seats for children to help raise them up so they can see over the seat in front of them. Also, give your child a choice of two different rows or two different seats in the same row. By letting your child believe he picked his own seat, he will feel more comfortable and satisfied and will likely stay seated during the movie.
- Watch your child as he watches the movie and do not get distracted by your blackberry or other electronic device you may be tempted to bring to the theater in lieu of watching the movie. If he seems confused by a twist in the plot, you can preempt a loud question by leaning over and softly whispering an explanation into his ear. Or if he is having trouble with his snack bag, for example, you can assist him before it becomes a big problem.
- Early in the movie, quietly whisper a question or comment to him to model appropriate speaking behavior during a movie. Let him know that if he has a question for you, he should use the same low tone when speaking.
- In the early stages of movie-going, it is not uncommon for young children to need to leave before the movie is over. Sometimes 30 - 45 minutes of sitting in one place is about all a little one can handle. If you suspect that your child may not get through the entire movie, try to sit by an aisle so that you can quietly slip out when needed.
- A little restlessness is to be expected. Partway through the show, your child may need to “change positions” to flex stiff muscles. Sometimes a few minutes sitting on an adult’s lap can do the trick. Moving back into his own seat then provides another opportunity to stretch without disturbing those around him.
After the movie
- Talk about what you saw with your child. Ask questions that can make him think about the movie. What was his favorite part? Did anything surprise him while he watched? Which character was his favorite and why? Did anything frighten him? By discussing the movie with your child, you can get a clear idea of his response to the show and help him process the information he saw.
- Visit the library and select a book that shares a common theme or character with the movie. By reading the book together after watching the movie, you can easily continue the dialog with your child about the story line of the movie or the characters’ actions or feelings. Movies are a wonderful way to learn about life during different time periods or in different places around the world, and you can further your child’s understanding of the themes covered in the movie by reading related children’s books.
- Recreate scenes from the movie with your child, where you each pretend to be one of the characters. You can use stuffed animals or other family members to round out the cast if you want. This activity is a good way for your child to practice his memory skills, as he tries to recall the dialog of the movie. Also, if your child realizes there will be opportunities to act out scenes from the movie after getting home, he will be more likely to pay close attention to the storyline at the next movie he goes to.
What can you share with other parents?
Have you taken your child to a movie? At what age was he first able to sit through an entire movie? What tricks did you find for making the most of the movie-going experience?
Image used under Creative Commons from Jessica @ flickr.