10. Chicken Little Yes, this flick focuses on the little chick who told everyone the sky was falling. But along the way, it nicely satirizes middle school cliques, the terrors of dodge ball, and droning, pompous teachers (listen for Patrick Stewart’s booming baritone from a sheep who teaches kids to speak “mutton”).
9. Finding Nemo This Pixar gem perfectly captures the anxiety parents feel as they send their kids off to school for the first time. Kids, hold your parents’ hands while they watch this. They may get teary at the idea of parting with you. Sniff.
8. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs This animated flick glorifies science, inventiveness and sheer geeky sweat. We watch lab-coated, awkward genius Flint invent a monkey translator, spray on shoes, and – – best and worst of all – – a machine that makes food rain down on his small, gloomy town. The scene where it snows ice cream will have your kids begging to go to science class.
7. Mad Hot Ballroom This “fun documentary” (I bet you thought you’d never see those words put together) tracks eleven-year old, public school students as they and their teachers prepare for New York City’s annual ballroom dancing competition. The film captures the grace, precision and sheer joy of ballroom, the students’ struggles to make it as “dance teams”, and the thrill of competition. Best of all are the doting teachers who sweat to make the whole thing come together.
6. Mr. Holland’s Opus A wannabe composer (Richard Dreyfuss) finds his true calling when he slums as a high school music teacher. He teaches a rhythm-challenged football star to drum, helps a future governor master the clarinet, and sends a young soprano off to Broadway. This feel-good, lump-in-the-throat movie is ideal if you are dying to watch a “non-kid movie” with your 10-year old.
5. Stand & Deliver This flick tells the true story of Jaime Escalante, played unforgettably here by Edward James Olmos. Escalante transforms a group of unruly, high risk Hispanic students into a disciplined team of math whizzes. This film glorifies academic sweat, persistence, and (who’d have thought it?) math. It’d be higher on this list, but it’s got too much bad language for the wee ones. Save this gem for the tweens.
4. October Sky Set in rural Tennessee during the late 50’s, this film shows how a coal miner’s son (a teen Jake Gyllenhall) and a few of his pals fall in love with rocketry after the Soviets launch Sputnik. Goaded on by their enthusiastic, but sickly, science teacher (Laura Dern), the boys design rockets, and one of them goes on to national awards and a career at NASA.
3. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban Most of the Harry Potter flicks use the classroom as a place for tedious exposition, but not this one. Professor Lupin’s lesson on how to handle a boggart is one of the best classroom scenes on film. But save this flick for kids 9 and up unless you want to wake up to hear your young ‘uns screaming about dementors and demanding chocolate (in fairness, chocolate does help with just about everything).
2. Monsters University This flick glorifies academic sweat as little, green Mike Wazowski studies hard to become a top “scarer” at Monsters University. The film showcases hard work without side-stepping the tricky question of what kids need more: talent or persistence? The answer is both.
1. Meet the Robinsons A genius orphan invents a memory-recovery machine in hopes of winning a science fair. This flick glorifies scientific pursuits, hard work, ingenuity, and – – above all – – persistence. It prepares kids to view failure as an opportunity and to keep moving forward. But parents, be warned, you may have to clean up some sticky “experiments” after your kids watch this one.