Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Documentaries For Families

  • How we screen documentaries
  • About our documentary sources
  • A LIST of recommendations from Netflix & YouTube
  • Why we keep a list of do-not-see documentaries as well
  • You you may ask, Do we plan to always have documentaries in our daily schedule?
Finding educational, well-done, interesting documentaries for our children (and family) to watch has taken time, but I think we have a very good list to select from now.  Between mine and my husband's finds on the Netflix.com "Instant Play" list, YouTube.com, and the library, we have bountiful learning at our house for now while I prepare dinner each night.  *smile*  We try to make this a great opportunity for our family to learn about the world around them including natural science, technology, physical science, biology, history and geography, etc. 

I've been asked many times by our readers to share my current weekly family schedule, and after doing so this week some of our Facebook followers noticed that we have a regular documentary time for our children while I make dinner every night.  They have asked me to share a list of the documentaries that we make available to our children.  So here are many recommended documentaries, as well as information on how and why we select those.  I'll share with you: 

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Screening documentaries
Every parent needs to determine what is best for their own family's viewing, considering their children's ages and sensitivities, and for us we also consider what Scripture says about what we should put before our eyes.  We do not choose to have a TV in our home, but we do enjoy a good movie once-a-week, and documentaries while I prepare dinner each night.

We watch all kinds of documentaries:  nature, animals, science, history, how things are made and how things work.  But the nature and animal documentaries are the ones which really require the most amount of screening.  Here are some of the ways we screen documentaries for our family:
  • Creation not evolution - There are a several Christian documentaries which we would deem as the very best, however there are very good documentaries out there as well which are not specifically Christ-centered and creation-based, but which contain very, very little talk about creatures evolving from something else and we can ignore those few times.
  • A "young earth" not an "old earth" theory - The young earth theory being what scripture teaches and what ample scientific evidence supports (see Answers in Genesis for ample documented evidence), that the earth is about 6,000 years old; the old earth theory teaching that the earth is millions of years old.  But again, our children are educated in scripture's truths on this, so if a documentary mentions "millions of years old" a couple of times then we just let that pass; but if it is teaching this theory every couple of minutes (literally) then we turn it off and choose something else.
  • Overly graphic contents - We do not believe it is valuable or necessary for our children to be exposed to overly graphic content (i.e. the goring of animals on camera, repetitive killings of animals back-to-back through out the entire documentary, or mating scenes between animals through out the entire documentary or going on for long durations of time and from all viewing angles *shesh*).  So before letting our children view any animal creatures documentary from Netflix I first read the comments section there about that documentary.  This has proven to be an excellent resource to me.  People and often parents mention the overall quality of the documentary, comment on its accuracy, and especially comment if the footage is very graphic. We also generally avoid documentary films that are 100% computer animation and which position themselves as real. We are not opposed to simulation or other forms of visual media that use animation etc. to help communicate a point but it is important to us that there be clear indicators that what is being viewed is not actually real. ie: humans in the documentary touring archeological dig sites or museums mixed in with the animation. Visual media is extremely powerful and you can quite easily trip into heavy amounts of false teaching which even a well-trained child will not be able to differentiate.  
Now pretty much all animal documentaries have a little exposure to the killing of an animal and that is a realistic part of life, but it can be done tastefully, from a distance, or even with infra-red lights at night so the blood is invisible.  I appreciate this; we can get the idea and learn without having to be disgusted.

With animal documentaries there is also pretty much always some mention of mating between animals, which God designed and is perfectly good in nature.  However it can be brief, and doesn't need to be viewed from all different angles, or shown repeatedly through out the entire documentary, or even shown in motion with opera music to it (I kid you not - we've seen it)... Sometimes I wonder about the deep-down motivations of some film directors.

And one set of animal documentaries in particular actually shows beautiful scenes of animals, it moves people to love the animals, and shows it slaughtered by a predator...and that is the theme of the entire documentary over and over again.  After several views of this theme our children were scowling and saying, "I don't like this one..."  

Another point we cover with the children is the value of watching critically.  Just as is the case with written literature, film producers can say pretty much anything they want to and state it is as fact without accountability.  So just because something is seen "on TV" does not mean it is factual or true.  So we are fairly frequently saying throughout documentaries, "Oops, that's not true is it."  Or, "That is true; both scripture and scientific evidence backs it up."

Really the only perfectly accurate documentaries, needing no screening, are the ones that are Christian.  All the other ones have something in them that is not accurate factually - but we choose to select for viewing the documentaries with the least amount of objectionable content in them, and then we talk about the rest as it comes up.  And we have yet to have any difficulties with the children's knowledge or understanding from things they've watched.

Documentary sources
We get documentaries through several sources:  Netflix.com, Youtube.com, the library, and Vision Forum.  I always screen carefully from Netflix and the library, but they are still excellent resources.

We watch most of our documentaries through the Netflix.com "Instant Play" list.  Netflix has a vast selection of great movies to be received through the mail, which we also do, and it has a great selection of movies and documentaries that we can choose to watch any time we choose.  We pay $15 per month and have unlimited access to the Instant play library in our home.  We also receive great family movies from Netflix that are no longer available at local video stores, up to two at a time for this price (there are other packages available as well), and the cost of postage is already included in the monthly fee (so we just drop movies in the mail box when we're done with them, and they send us the next ones on our list automatically).  We love, love Netflix. *laugh*

On Youtube.com, there is an increasingly large library of documentary videos taken from T.V. and other sources of programming with the commercials edited out. Sometimes you have to watch a program in segments but more and more the whole program is in one complete video. One really great thing about Youtube is that there are many documentaries and other learning videos that are older which means they often don't rely so much on technical wizardry to keep a child's attention. There is often a much less pronounced political agenda being presented as well. This is especially the case with environmental and social issues where many modern videos always slide something in about global warming, over population, or explicitly anti-American and/or anti-capitalism messages. 

The children's department of our library as well as the adult section are also great places to find good documentaries.  From the children's section I find documentaries on nature and animals from around the world, science, history, about all of the local emergency services, the post office, road construction, farming equipment and about organic produce, grocery store tours, nutrition, and stranger safety.  From the adult section I find documentaries on far away countries and cultures, survival skills, exercise, historical figures, and cooking.

Another great and completely trustworthy resource is Vision Forum.  They have many good documentaries, but they are not inexpensive ($18+ each) so we have not purchased any as of yet. They offer a variety of DVD documentaries, how-to videos, science and technology, history, worldview, business, and homemaking (as well as action & adventure, and drama).

I haven't actually been too tempted to purchase and own a lot of documentaries because our kids (like most people) like variety and new learning all the time.  So the ones we own aren't the ones they usually want to watch; they like the variety from Netflix and the library mostly.

A LIST of recommendations from Netflix & Youtube
I will offer you a list of specific titles from Netflix that our family likes, and Netflix also offers to keep a list for each customer in their database, called your Queue, where you can keep lists of titles of movies or documentaries that you desire to watch again.  Netflix's Instant Play list, however, does fluctuate in what is available to be viewed instantly and what has to be ordered via the mail.  Sometimes they take off documentaries (and movies) from the instant play list, and make other ones available in their places.  So I would also like to give you some "buzz words" that you can search for in the search bar to bring up large selections of options.

Instant-Play documentary titles from Netflix:
(Remember, these come and go once in a while from instant-play availability)
  • *Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution, Vol. 1, 2, 3 (Christian)
  • *God of Wonders (Christian)
  • David Attenborough: Wildlife Specials (8 episodes: polar bears, crocodiles, leopards, eagles, humpback whales, wolves, natural wonders, wildlife show)
  • Lizard Kings - On the Trail of the Monitor
  • Shark Super Highway
  • Turtles - The Incredible Journey
  • Beavers - Imax
  • Dolphins - Imax
  • Bears - Imax
  • Coral Reef - Imax
  • Arabia - Imax 
  • Amazon - Imax
  • Deep Sea - Imax
  • Under the Sea - Imax
  • Living Sea - Imax
  • Africa - Imax
  • Caves - Imax
  • Discovery Atlas: Alaska
  • Discovery Atlas:Australia
  • Discovery Atlas: Italy
  • Discovery Atlas: China
  • Discovery Atlas: Brazil
  • Wild China (6 episodes)
  • Iditarod - The Toughest Race on Earth
  • Egypt's Golden Empire 
  • Egypt: Engineering an Empire
  • Monarchy (U.K.)
  • How It's Made
  • Fire Ants
  • Antarctic Wildlife Adventures
  • Vanishing of the Bees
  • Animal Atlas - Animal Mysteries
  • Tank Overhaul
  • Tigers of the Snow
  • Mount St. Helen's: Back From the Dead: Nova
  • Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West
  • Microcosmos (insects)
  • Greece: Secrets of the Past
  • National Geographic: Volcanoes
  • National Geographic: Hammerhead Sharks

NON-Instant-Play documentary titles from Netflix:
* Christian films
  • *Wonders of God's Creation (Christian)
  • *The Exodus Uncoded (Christian)
  • Planet Earth (13 episodes)
  • Africa: The Serengeti - Imax
  • Wolves - Imax
  • National Parks Creation: Grand Canyon
  • The Life of Mammals, with David Attenborough (10 episodes)
  • Rome: Engineering an Empire
  • Planet Earth: The Complete Collection (I think this was good)
  • The History Chanel Presents: The Sahara
  • Treasures of Peru
  • Japan: Dr. Merry's Nomad Travel
  • France: Dr. Merry's Nomad Travel
  • Italy: Dr. Merry's Nomad Travel
  • United Germany: Dr. Merry's Nomad Travel
  • The Sahara (History Chanel, vol. 1 only)
  • Galapagos
  • Hurricane on the Bayou (Louisiana) 
  • The Discoverers

Here are some good "buzz words" for Netflix searches:
  • "Documentaries"
  • "David Attenborough"
  • "How It's Made"
  • "Imax"
  • "History Chanel"
  • "Science & Nature Documentary"
  • "Discovery Atlas"
  • "Dr. Merry's Nomad Travel"

"Buzz words" for Youtube.com searches:
  • "History Chanel"
  • "Mega factories"
  • "How it's made"
  • "How they do it"
  • "Extreme Engineering"
  • "Extreme Machines"
  • "Engineering the impossible"
  • "Secrets of..."
  • "Greatest Discoveries"
  • Also biographies of people both current and historical, usually under the "History Chanel" flag

Keeping a list of do-not-see documentaries
I do also keep a list of Netflix documentaries that we have seen but did not like, and which I want to be sure we do not watch again.  There are so many documentaries available I could not remember which were familiar because they were great, and which were familiar because they were not good for us.  For whatever reason, I remember the ones from the library we didn't like and do not need to keep a list of those, but the Netflix ones seem to escape me, so I write them down.

Specific Netflix documentaries we did not like:
  • National Geographic - most all animal documentaries are way too graphic
  • Winged Migration (beautiful animals - always slaughtered)
  • Deep Blue (beautiful animals - always slaughtered)
  • The Lost World: Venezuela (all about cliffs)
  • The Story of India (talked a lot about...um...human reproduction)

Will we always have documentaries as part of our daily schedule?
No, I doubt it.  *chuckle*  Documentaries can be great, but I would prefer them for once-in-a-while learning, but not as part of our schedule for every day.  But I don't have a better plan yet for how to schedule that dinner-prep time of day with the current ages of our children.  I've had all of the youngest seven kids' day scheduled with great activities during homeschooling, but they need some time to just run and play freely, too.  But this has been a very difficult and stressful time to manage without documentaries included.

With having so many young children - ages 14, 13, 9, 6, 5, 3, 2, 1 & 1 - it has really been impossible so far to have them just play in the family room without the constant intervention, supervision, and guidance of the two older girls while I spend twice as much time as would normally be required on a dinner recipe while simultaneously managing the relationships and behavior of 9 kids.  Without documentaries, my usual commentary between about 4:30 - 6:30 pm goes like this, 
"Close that door, you may not unload the linen closet...Tyler get off the back of the couch...Spencer go out of the kitchen - No! That's hot! - Lacey you may not pull on the blinds...Brandon please close those windows...Karen, Lilly just pushed the "sleep" button on our computer keyboard again, will you please turn the computer back on and take the mouse from her...Brandon, please come get Spencer and Tyler out of the kitchen...Anna, put the play yard back up against the entrance to the kitchen...Tyler, you may not jump off the arm rests of the couch near the stereo cabinet!...Melanie please stop Lilly from biting Lacey!...Anna you may not get all those games out simultaneously and with the little kids around, put them away...Lacey and Lilly, go out of the kitchen...Spencer, stop screaming..."
So...*smile* Instead, we put on a documentary which is educational and fascinating to watch, and I feel like the children are learning something rather than turning their brains to mush in front of cable TV viewing (if we chose to have it; instead we watch documentaries on the computer monitor).  The middle 3 kids sit and watch most of the time, the youngest 4 run around playing, and the oldest 2 enjoy the documentary as much as possible while manage the youngest 4 for me while I cook.  (Bob's not home from work yet.)  It's somewhat survival mode right now with so many precious "littles".

We used to be able to do games and siblings chose to play in pairs around the house, until we had so many little people.  I dragged my feet at the thought of putting something on for kids to watch for 90 minutes every night...but I have yet to find a better plan while I'm trying to cook.  So for now we are enjoying great documentaries...with the hope of not needing to lean on them so heavily in the future.  *wry smile*  Hopefully in the mean time our children will expand their worlds, minds, and thoughts with great, educational documentaries.

After reading this post, it may seem like a lot of work to find great documentaries.  But really all it takes is looking up the documentary in Netflix, skimming the comments section to make sure it's good for us, and then deeming it good or not.  Or, reading the backs of the DVD cases from the library.  It's not a big deal, only takes a few minutes, but is crucial for our children so they can relax and trust that what they're about to see is mostly accurate, interesting, not a waste of time, and will not be disturbing to their hearts. 

Blessings on your family learning,

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