A visit to a movie theatre doesn’t have to be only about entertainment. Children can learn plenty from a movie treat, even as a learning field trip. Let’s take a look at four ways in which going to the movies can be educational.
#1. Going to the movies can teach children about optical illusions
At first, movies were stored on a plastic reel in the form of frames with still images in them. Thanks to the optical illusion of the phi phenomenon, the images seem to move “when viewed in rapid succession,” (Wikipedia).
To teach kids about optical illusions using movies and the phi phenomenon, ask them to draw a simple figure of a man on each bottom right corner on the front of 20 pages. Now tell children to draw the man as if he were walking, making him take a different pose on each page. Then ask the children to thumb through the sheet of paper. When they get the knack of this, let them experiment with other drawings! With phi phenomenon, the objects can not only appear in motion, but also seem to get closer or farther from the observer.
See our related article on teaching optical illusions to kids:
Optical illusions: A hands-on science activity for kids
#2. Movies can teach children chemistry
We already know the first movies were stored as thousands of frames on a reel. Each frame contained one image – just one! But how do we actually get an image onto that plastic reel? Using photochemistry.
Photochemistry studies “chemical reactions that go with light” (KidzSearch). There are substances that change colour or translucency when they are exposed to light – any light. This is how paper photographs are made on special paper, and also how film is made into a special plastic that can ‘capture’ images based on the amount of light it gets exposed to.
Movie reels are made of thin plastic coated with silver halide crystals. When the sensitive movie reel is exposed to light, the chemical processes burn an image into a frame. Going back to the 1800s, one of the first chemical processes to produce permanent still images (without hand-tracing) was coined as the “Daguerreotype.”
This is important when learning about the history of chemistry used in movie-making. You see, the Daguerreotype was a preceding technology to it all. Further inventions that made modern movies possible, as always, were based on the concept of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’
Side note: If your local high school has a photography lab, you may be able to take students to see a real Daguerreotype being made! Be sure to ask what type of equipment is available at your school for learning on this subject. If the Daguerreotype is not available, a photography lab may have other chemical equipment to teach kids about photochemistry.
#3. Use movies to teach kids about light and the history of cameras
Following the above lesson, you can continue by explaining that photochemistry is a very important process in our everyday lives. Our vision depends on it. The discovery of light reflections through small pinholes also explained how the human eye works. Our eyes can be thought of as cameras themselves!
In history, light was experimented with using objects like the camera obscura. This ‘box camera’ is actually a fun experiment to teach kids about light. It can be made with materials as simple as a shoebox and tracing paper. Or, you can turn an entire room into a camera!
This extremely simple discovery about light’s journey was the first camera, which eventually led to movie-making. Of course, there were many steps for mankind to make before “moving pictures” were invented (like the magic lantern, for example). This teaches kids that history is important to science and modern inventions.
Taking this to the next level, you can introduce kids to the concept of light travel, and objects that bend light, such as glass lenses. This is how bacteria were first discovered, using early microscopes. From there, it’ll then be easy to explain why all modern-day cameras have curved lenses. It’s all part of show biz!
#4. Movies can teach children about analog vs digital
While film and light effects are cool to learn about, they don’t explain everything about the movie theatre experience in the 21st Century. Most of the movies we see at the movie theatre today are fully digital.
Digital cinematography is a very interesting concept to explain to children. By necessity, digital video recording uses binary data, which is a series of ones and zeros. And to make video ‘viewable’ to us, it has to pass through analog to digital, or digital to analog.
So this now brings up the lesson on the difference between analog and digital. This is an important concept for young kids to learn in today’s modern age of ‘gadgets’ and technology. Teaching analog vs digital also stems into other media formats, which kids may be interested in (like their music!).
Here’s a nice handout on how to explain binary numbers to children in an easy way.
And here is a great resource on teaching binary numbers with activities and subjects of interest to young kids.
Introducing your children to binary numbers can be a nice starting point to teach them how to code. We’ve written about why this is important on our blog here.
As we’ve seen above, going to the movies can be an educational experience. The science of the movies can teach children about optical illusions, chemistry, and even math. Now make your next trip to the movies a nice entertaining lesson for you and your kids.
As another fun project, maybe kids can learn about movie making itself! Check out this site for a fun learning resource on how to make movies with kids: www.minimoviemakers.com
But remember, movies aren’t the only way to learn. In fact, they can be harmful in some ways. See our article titled, “How much is too much screen time?” for more info on this subject.