We've all heard about the stereotypical social studies teacher, often a coach, who teaches mostly by showing filmstrips in class. I used to love filmstrip day because I could put my head down and take a little nap. Clearly, I didn't find them educationally useful.
As a homeschooling mom, though, I use a lot of DVDs and TV shows with my kids. On days when I don't feel well, having the kids watch a DVD is a great way for us to "do school" without my having to do much. The kids also get to see where historical events took place.
Here are the kinds of DVDs and TV shows that I use and how I use them.
1. Historical fiction
Just like historical fiction books, films based on historical events can be quite useful to help us understand historical events. We have watched "Spartacus" and "Ivanhoe", to just name a couple. These are great to let kids get a "feel" of a historical time period. The caveat here is that you need to be aware which movies may not be historically accurate. Using "Gone with the Wind" to teach about the Civil War may not be the best idea.
I love documentaries. We get to see where historical events happened, what the costumes were like, and often get to see recreations of historical life. We recently watched DVDs about knights and armor where we got to see how armor is made as well as the different kinds of armor. Another show about castles let us visit several type of castles throughout Europe. I usually preview documentaries because I don't make the kids watch shows that I find terribly boring (the ones I would sleep through in school). So, I just got a DVD about William Wallace that I'm sending back without having the kids watch it because even I couldn't get interested in it. Instead, we'll be getting the History Channel DVD on William Wallace.
We use documentaries for history, but also for science. When we were studying birds, we watched David Attenborough's documentary on the life of birds. We learned a lot of information that we didn't get from the book, but we also just got to see birds in action that we couldn't see here in the Great White North.
My favorite DVDs tend to be the History Channel and Discovery Channel DVDs. I also like Ken Burns, but his are all about American History and we are working on World History right now.
3. TV shows
Of course, we love TV shows like Mythbusters that can be easily translated into something educational. Mythbusters actually posts a little "Warning: Science Content" right before their scientific explanations. We also really enjoy watching the Food Network. We all enjoy the Food Network Challenge shows where several chefs compete to do something in a certain time frame - for example, make a wedding cake. Iron Chef America is also really fun because the teams of chefs have one hour to make a certain number of dishes using the "secret ingredient". One of my favorites is Good Eats, not only because Alton Brown is kind of funny, but also because he includes lots of "science" information.
We don't watch too many network TV shows, but we have developed a love for Monk. I know, you're thinking, "How is Monk educational?" It's really not terribly educational, but the kids and I do get a chance to talk about OCD and how living with it must be quite difficult.
And, let's not forget Animal Planet. We're not huge animal fans here, but we really enjoyed watching Meercat Manor. Not only did we learn about the meercats, but we learned about desert life, in general, and the Kalahari, specifically. We also enjoy Blue Planet and some of their other specials.
4. Instructional DVDs
Most of what I've described so far has not been specifically designed for teaching kids. In fact, the few times that I have turned on PBS or History Channel shows that are specifically for the classroom, I have found that they were pretty boring and didn't contain anymore "educational" material than the "regular" documentaries. But, there are a couple of DVDs that I would like to mention.
Those of my generation will remember Schoolhouse Rock. There are many of us who learned the parts of speech from "Lolly, lolly, lolly, get your adverbs here" and American Government from "I'm just a bill". These are now available on DVD and can be quite useful to help reinforce what kids are learning elsewhere.
The Standard Deviants collection of DVDs is another set of instructional DVDs that can be useful. These are DVDs that have been developed by educators about different subjects. They are more didactic than Schoolhouse Rock but are still pretty entertaining. The one downside is that they present a bunch of information on one DVD so renting them to use as the main part of your educational program probably isn't practical. What I have done is to show a Standard Deviants DVD as a review of something we've recently studied. For example, I'll probably get the World Geography DVD again soon to review the geography we've been learning in World History.
We really enjoy using DVDs and TV shows in our schooling. Not only is it convenient for me, but it helps to reinforce what we're learning elsewhere in the kids' minds. And, it's often lots of fun!