Children’s Movies ~ Unique Films with Quality Content

How many times have you sat down with your child or children to watch a new kid’s movie only to feel like you want to vomit about 20 minutes into the film? I could focus on the horrors inherent in most children’s movies nowadays by listing all of the aspects of what is wrong with the genre, but instead, I’d like to share some children’s movie titles that actually offer high-quality content. If you are looking for some uncommon movies to share with your kids that take you off the conventional track, check out this list.

Song of the Sea ~ 2014 ~ Song of the Sea is an animated fantasy film from Irish director Tomm Moore. The beautiful artwork used to bring this family story to life is magically captivating and simply breathtaking. The concepts and themes are relevant to the realistic struggles of childhood. The plot, characters and soundtrack weave a tale accessible to children and adults alike. I highly recommend this film!

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My Neighbor Totoro ~ 1988 ~ Directed by Hayao Miyazaki ~ Miyazaki has created a multitude of animated films throughout his career, and My Neighbor Totoro is just one of the many kid-friendly films from his collection that I recommend. Beautifully animated with a focus on the natural world, the story is about a family living in the Japanese countryside. The two daughters explore their natural surroundings and discover the magic of the forest. The story also explores themes pertaining to difficulties in childhood and emphasizes the strength of female characters.

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The Red Balloon ~ 1956 ~ A French film directed by Albert Lamorisse. This is a short live-action film, running 35 minutes and is unique in that it does not have much dialog at all. There is a musical score and environmental sounds, but the absence of dialog allows the viewer to really focus on the action and feeling of the film. It tells a story of a young boy who befriends a red balloon that possesses a life of its own. Themes focus on childhood sensitivity, standing up to one’s peers and believing in magic.

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Babies ~ 2010 ~ A French documentary from director Thomas Balmes. This is another live-action film that follows four different humans from the time they are born up until they become toddlers. Watching this film with your children is a wonderful way to teach them about different cultures and ways of living in our world. It is definitely different than the standard fast-paced, over-stimulating, action-packed nonsense that most children’s movies throw at us these days. Children are fascinated with watching images/footage of other children, and this documentary provides a unique opportunity for world culture exploration.

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Wallace and Gromit: The Complete Collection ~ 2008 ~ I am recommending these animated shorts because I find that children’s attention spans can usually handle shorter films better than the standard 90-minute film. Nick Park released his four animated shorts as a complete set in 2008. Every title is unique and awesome in its own way, following the follies of Wallace – an eccentric inventor and his dog, Gromit – an anthropomorphic companion who helps Wallace escape his shortcomings. This British clay animation series is fantastic for young and older kids alike, and its clever storytelling will entertain adults as well. Good stuff!

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The Last Unicorn ~ 1982 ~ A fantasy film based on the novel by Peter S. Beagle, directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. This is an alluring animated film that follows the journeys of a magical unicorn who discovers that she is the last of her kind left in the world. She sets out on an adventure to find the other unicorns who have disappeared over the years and meets quirky, compassionate friends along the way. If you grew up in the 80’s like I did, you will appreciate the one-of-a-kind soundtrack that accompanies this film. A great story that emphasizes the importance of staying true to one’s nature and standing up to fearful circumstances.

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Well, this concludes my list of high-quality, unique movies to share with your children for now. I may decide to add more at some point down the road, but I think this is a good start! Feel free to comment and leave your own suggestions, as I am always on the search for something different to share with my own kids.

The Hypocrisy of Parenting or Just Buy the Big Ball

Okay. Seriously now. I have fully come to realize and accept the fact that — as humans — we are all inherently hypocrites. Sad but true. But it took becoming a mom and facing the daily challenges of parenthood for me to really embrace this truth about being human.

What is a hypocrite? I spent some time researching the various definitions of this word/concept and realized that there are several ways to look at hypocrisy. Some definitions of the concept suggest that a hypocrite is someone who pretends to have a virtuous character but does not truly possess it. But this perspective does not seem “right” to me for how I mean to use the word.

The definition I settled on for the purpose of relating hypocrisy to parenting is as follows: A hypocrite is someone who preaches one thing and does another.

In my experience as a parent, I find myself confronting my own hypocrisy on almost a daily basis. Other parents I know openly admit that they, too, struggle with saying one thing and then doing another. When I go out to public places and take the time to observe other parents interacting with their kids, I inevitably take note of hypocritical comments or behaviors being made. We just cannot escape it.

One of my biggest challenges as a mother and homemaker in our consumeristic culture is keeping our home clutter free. I am constantly nagging my 6-year-old daughter about how many toys and things she has and that we are not going to bring any more toys or THINGS into the home. And yet, just this week when we were out shopping for household items like toilet paper and soap, we walked past a display of big plastic balls and what did I do? I let her pick one out to buy and bring home.

As a family, we consistently talk about what it means to be healthy individuals and that one aspect of being healthy is to be mindful about how much sugar we consume. But after a particularly rough day, what do I do? I sit down with a handful of York Peppermint Patties or a big bowl of Breyers ice cream and indulge in the pleasure of devouring the succulent toxins.

I set 8:00 pm as a bedtime for my 6-year-old but then 8:30 rolls around and we are so engrossed in a Harry Potter movie or in reading one more chapter of a fantasy novel that I blatantly ignore the very rules I put into place.

I could go on and on listing more examples of hypocrisy that creep into my experience of being a parent. I never thought that this is the type of mother I would be — preaching one thing and then doing another.

But you know what? It’s okay. I HAVE to let it be okay, or I would go crazy. As parents, we need to learn to laugh at ourselves and our hypocrisy. Because sometimes getting through the day just keeping everyone in one piece is the best we can do. And sometimes, we have to just buy the big ball.

 

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What is Balance…Really?

Seek balance. Find your balance. Maintain a healthy balance. Balance your work, family and personal life.

We are surrounded in our culture by slogans and self-help manifestos that are constantly reiterating the importance of achieving BALANCE of some sort or another.

Balance, as defined by Google’s online dictionary is:

“An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.”

Or…

“A condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.”

As a working mother, a wife, an artist and ~ just a simple human being ~ I cannot help but feel like a massive failure on a daily basis for rarely experiencing this condition or state of being BALANCED.

Sure, I try to spend some time every day doing some bit of self-care like take a hot bath, do some yoga or go for a nice walk. I do my best to read books that speak to my own, personal interests. I make an effort to give my husband and kids equal amounts of time and energy. I cook good-tasting dinners, keep the house somewhat in order and get the laundry done when I realize I am out of clean underpants. I squeeze in time here and there to work on my current art piece. I attend school events, pack lunches, go to meetings for work, wipe dirty butts. I will even occasionally sit on my own butt and do nothing but stare into space for 5 minutes and focus on my breathing.

So, since I am doing all of this and more, that must mean that I am a well-balanced individual, right?

Then why is it that most days, I feel the exact opposite of being evenly distributed, upright and steady? And, why is it that I never experience a sensation or mental state of having elements in my life be equal and in the correct proportion to one another?

What is balance…really?

To me, finding balance is embracing the realization that we all fall down, we all go through moments and phases of feeling extremely unsteady. Balance is a dance ~ an ever-shifting, mostly unpredictable spiral of fleeting twinkles in time and space. Nothing is truly graspable. All we can do is take each moment for what it offers and… keep moving. Or… don’t.

Attempting to “maintain a balanced life,” in my opinion, is just nonsense. We can plan out every week, every day, every hour of our lives in an effort to create some kind of harmonious experience of this human life. But when it really comes down to it, maintaining an existence in which all aspects are counted, weighed and equally distributed is impossible. And that is okay.

Let’s instead think of this concept of balance as learning to be comfortable with imbalance, accepting that life is mostly a big, jumbled mess and that falling down and feeling out of proportion is just another facet of what it means to be human. And what the reality of parenting presents to us.86SDDZ8HS7

A Simple Listening Game

There is a simple game I like to play with kids I want to share with other parents and educators. I learned about this game in my Montessori educator training and still make use of it to this day. This game requires no special tools other than your ears and the ability to sit quietly for a brief period of time.

I want to share this game with you for several reasons. Firstly, playing this game helps teach your children the principles of body and sensory awareness. Secondly, this game helps children develop an understanding and appreciation of taking time to stop and notice sensory stimulation in their environment that may otherwise go unnoticed. And last but not least, this game allows us ~ the busy, multitasking, frequently stressed out adults ~ to remember what it feels like to sit and do nothing aside from listening. Here’s how to play!

Invite your children to sit with you and tell them you are going to play a little game. Depending on the age of your children, you can set a time limit anywhere from 1 minute to 3 minutes. The time frame for the game depends on how long you think your children can quietly sit still.

Explain to your children that you are all going to sit together, close your eyes, not make any noise and pay attention to all of the sounds you hear. Tell them that you will sit for 1, 2 or 3 minutes and emphasize the importance of not making any sounds with our own bodies.

Keep loose track of the amount of time that has elapsed and, at the conclusion of your sitting and listening “session,” share with each other all of the different sounds you heard while your eyes were closed. Some of your family members or students may point out that they heard other people making noise (even though they were supposed to be silent). Others who participated might surprise you by sharing the smallest of noises that normally go undetected, like one’s own breathing or a far-off airplane.

Playing this game serves as a simple reminder that taking even just a couple of minutes out of our often-times overly busy schedules can be quite refreshing. It is a great way to share the positive effects of mediation with your family or class. By sitting in silence and paying attention only to the sounds happening around us, we demonstrate the value of quiet contemplation that too often gets overlooked by our hurried, demanding culture.KAOQ6JML93

Acceptance

 

As a parent, I find myself questioning my behaviors, my approach and my decisions on a daily basis. Was that the right way to respond to my daughter’s temper tantrum? Is it a bad idea to let my child eat her dinner on the couch while watching a movie? Am I a horrible mother because it has been two days since I gave my 13-month-old a bath? Is this non-organic apple I bought going to negatively affect my child’s development?

I reach a point in my role as mother where I have to just STOP and tell myself that enough is enough. My overactive brain and my inherent desire to provide the best, be the best and create the best for my children causes more stress and anxiety than anything else. Constant self-criticism and self-questioning becomes a catalyst for negative thoughts and feelings to build up inside. It just isn’t worth it.

As a result of wanting to let go of this cycle of self-sabotage, I began to focus on the concept of acceptance and its many intriguing facets.

Acceptance is defined as: consenting to receive, to undertake something offered or the process of being received as adequate or suitable.

I want to explore some branches that compose the full meaning of acceptance and how these concepts apply to parenting.

Self-Acceptance

As parents, adopting a mindful perspective of self-acceptance is one of the greatest gifts we can give to both ourselves and to our children. Learning to let go of whatever images or ideals we are holding onto that make us think we have to strive for perfection is a process that can ultimately generate a calmer, more genuine family dynamic.

Self-acceptance is a daily practice that we can cultivate by becoming mindful of how we criticize ourselves or how we self-judge. Notice the moments throughout your day when you feel guilty or ashamed for something about yourself or your life. Notice your critical self-talk and do your best to stop, breathe and replace the self-critical thinking with positive reinforcement. Develop a personal mantra that you can silently repeat to yourself in your mind in moments of self-judgment or self-doubt. I like to repeat in my mind: “You are okay. I love you for who you are. Everything is working out the way it’s intended.”

Acceptance of Situations

Raising children in our modern culture puts constant pressure on us as parents. We can do our best to maintain control over our lives, the structure and ideals of our family, the ins-and-outs of our day to day existence. Nevertheless, life is inherently full of unpredictable occurrences and the course of our lives can take sudden turns for which we are not always prepared.

When we try our best to be more accepting of all of life’s situations – the ups, the downs and the sporadic elements of surprise – we open ourselves to a more flexible way of thinking and experiencing all that life has to offer. Accepting everything that life throws our way is not an easy task. But again, it is a process that we can integrate into our daily routines to help alleviate excess stress and guide us to a calmer state of existence. Even something as simple as choosing not to react in a negative way the next time your child accidentally spills a full glass of grape juice all over the carpet is a step in the right direction. Or, accepting that you have a flat tire when you go out to your car in the morning to take the kids to school. By accepting that what is just IS, we open a pathway to moving on to the next step of our day.

Acceptance of Others

For me, this is the most challenging form of acceptance. I struggle every day with my efforts to accept others and their behaviors. On a personal level, it is easier for me to accept disagreeable characteristics and behaviors of loved ones as opposed to complete strangers or people I am not close with. My guess is that this is often the case with everyone, not just me!

However, I remind myself on a daily basis that learning to accept that people are who they are and that we will always come up against behaviors or attitudes we do not understand and we feel repelled by is the only way to lessen my own struggle. This does not mean that I have to agree with behaviors or attitudes that offend me. The daily practice is to simply move on from these challenging interactions with others and do my best to focus on the positive relationships I cultivate in my life.

Choosing to react to other people in a way that demonstrates self-control provides a healthy model of behavior for your children. As I mentioned already, we do not have to go around every day pretending to like everybody in the world. We do have the choice, however, to exhibit mature responses to adverse interactions with others. Your children are constantly absorbing the way you handle yourself in social situations. By providing a model that emphasizes acceptance of others, we teach our children to develop open minds and open hearts.

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The Boss of ‘Mine-Self’

Do any of you have stories about yourself as a child that you keep tucked away somewhere in your mind and access every once in awhile — especially if something happens with your own kids that triggers a connection to your own childhood story?

One of my mom’s favorite stories to tell about me when I was a 3-year-old is when she asked me to do something that I clearly did not want to do. My mom will never forget the response that I gave to her undesirable request. I firmly planted my hands on my hips, feet apart in a defiant pose and boldly exclaimed:

“I am the boss of mine-self.”

Moments like these that occur with our kids throughout their continually developing childhoods can have one of two effects. Either we choose to respond in an equally defiant way by pushing our child to carry out our request despite their apparent distaste. Or, we can choose to pause and really listen to what our child is trying to tell us through these moments of resolute audaciousness.

The next time your child demonstrates outward defiance ~ whether he is a toddler just beginning to develop an understanding of his own independence or he is a preteen on the verge of new-found self-discovery ~ I urge you to give pause to your own reaction to the situation. Take a step back and ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. What is my child trying to learn through posing this specific opposition?
  2. What are the real obstacles my child is trying to overcome through this behavior?
  3. What is my child really taking a stand for or against in his protestation?
  4. How can I shift the focus of this confrontation to defuse the intense energy and allow my child to explore and learn through his own choices and actions?

By taking the time to reflect on what your child’s challenging behavior is truly about and what it is he is tying to gain through this behavior, parents can adjust their own behaviors, environments and attitudes to create a more harmonious connection with their child.DCA2AE8FA9

 

Choice and Consequence

Each day, each moment, we make choices. Through our actions and through our words, we create an idea of a “self” that becomes our tool for interacting with the world.

I have learned through years of parenting – struggling to become the mom who I always thought I “would be” – that all we can truly control in our lives is who and how we choose to be and how we choose to live with the consequences of our choices.

As a parent, I choose to begin every single day by setting an intention. Before I start each new day, I close my eyes and create an image in my mind of who I want to be today and how I want to collaborate with my environment.

We can never truly know what each day will bring to our lives. I invite you to join me in a collaborative effort to become more mindful of the choices we make as parents and the consequences we experience through our parenting techniques.