To infinity and beyond: the power of film for children

Films, for many of us, have become part of everyday living.

Movies infiltrate our popular culture by the quotes we use, the soundplays we listen to and even the understanding we have built on stories through history.

You could say most of our education and knowledge comes from what we have watched on screen.

So it begs the question, why don’t we embrace the use of film more as part of the national curriculum?

We know it is a powerful tool and yet we discard it from being a significant teaching aid, particularly in primary education.

I have talked about films that have influenced my daughter in many past posts.

When I speak to audiences about our journey, I often use the analogy of my daughter changing her name to Kevin after watching the film Home Alone.

At the time, it was assumed her behaviour resulted from feeling that she was born as the wrong sex.

However, her obsessive fascination with the character from a film (and her inability to draw the line between fantasy and reality) should have been seen as a potential signifier to her profile of autism.

She uses films to make sense of the world around her and it is fundamental to her development.

Films have been used to assist my daughter’s social and emotional understanding and helps her to initiate a conversation.

An example of this happened when she rejected a member of staff at school. The class teacher created a personalised book to introduce the teaching assistant by talking about her favourite film:

My daughter watched the film and it helped to create a starting block – eventually trust began to build slowly over time.

In fact, she soon dropped being the character of Kevin and instantly immersed herself as Dorothy.

Another use of film for my daughter is to learn about a topic and to continue exploring it so that she knows it with such level of detail that she could be an expert in her own field.

She was six when she moved onto the Titanic and became obsessed with transforming into the character of Jack.

I have an old post on ways we incorporated this into learning, as the potentials were multiple, but in brief she knew every detail of how the ship met her destiny onto the sea bed.

She sketched this picture, by following a YouTube tutorial, which I scanned and transferred onto a canvas:

Her fantasy-induced obsession with the Titanic opened up her capacity to not just learn, but to floor us with her hidden artistic capabilities as a small infant.

It’s like reaching the unreachable, when you think about how her brain is defaulted to reject everyday demands, she can really go to infinity and beyond when she has the power of film in her life.

Being ‘Jack’ even helps with dealing with ordinary demands that usually cause her to trigger.

Sitting at a table, to eat at mealtime, with a sibling is near on impossible in our house.

However, the photo below offers a glimpse of an occasion when it worked – as the two sisters role played eating on the boat as Jack and Rose:

This type of scenario was successful because my eldest ‘felt’ in control of the play and was able to act out the scenario she already had scripted in her mind.

Film can also help to create social stories – these characters have life and the child can feel like they already know them.

After watching Toy Story, my daughter was desperate for the figures so she could replay the plot in real life.

She can then explore social scenarios, that she might encounter, with the characters she feels connected with.

The photo below depicts a social story from her imagination; what would happen if new toys arrive in Andy’s house?

If I had given her a book and tried to encourage her to think about a situation when she faces something new then she would have told me where to go.

Adult led learning often gets rejected, as the more we try to control, the more the child feels they are being coerced.

When a child is born as an independent thinker, but we try to alter the way they view and experience the world, is it any wonder then why they resist through undesirable behaviours?

Parenting to me is now about utilising the resources around me and applying them individually, dependent on each of my children’s needs.

For my eldest daughter, using film helps to open her thirst for learning and accelerates the skills she requires for everyday living.

On the days I home educate, I can’t simply tell her to work on her handwriting, but I can pick up a film she likes and use it to stimulate and inspire her choices.

She has been practicing her handwriting and spelling after watching The Greatest Showman because she has the desire to learn the words to her favourite song:

In schools, for children who learn visually and can retain facts, film can often be a much better starting point.

Rather than drumming in the basics of phonics (which the reason behind it may be difficult to understand), stories on screen could mask so many other ways to learn language.

Surely it makes more sense to start at a point that gains their interest and the learning that follows is through curiosity and wonder?

The education system purports to be inclusive, but it’s simply draconian and expects all children to learn in the same way.

In reality the possibilities for learning should be endless, Or as Woody from Toy Story says, we could “reach for the sky!”

The use of film really can take us to infinity and beyond, if we just let it.


  1. Bird Natalie

    I totally agree! My now 16 year old son taught himself to read with movie subtitles and has learnt so much by watching situations on film. It is part of his daily life but neglected by mainstream educators so he refused to go to school. Too boring. Now if only we could work on getting him out of the house more!

  2. loonytoonz

    I’d not stopped and looked at it quite like that before, but that’s made a few pennies drop.
    Looking back to my son as a baby, there were indicators of his obsessive interests, initially it was theme music. He would stop everything, instantly relax, become super excited, hearing the opening bars of Jessica,the Top Gear theme tune. As he got to about 3, he had found his main special interest, Super Heros. Everything, absolutely everything has a link with his special interest, and a film or TV series with at least a tentative link to a specific topic to get his thirst for knowledge kick started.
    Now he’s that bit older again, just hit 13, he’s taught himself to use audiobooks and soundtracks to help propel him into “the zone” when watching isn’t classed appropriate

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