Learn about advertising, deconstructing fiction

You may home school all year, but there is something about summer that says, "Relax, take it easy!" The kids will have more freedom, they will spend more time with friends and family, you may seek some down time of your own, or be busy with gardening, canning, and other summer projects.

As a result, they may read books you haven't had time to screen, or watch television and movies at a friend's house. It happens. But it's not time to panic, it is time to prepare.

Home education isn't just about shielding kids from harmful influences, but helping them understand why certain messages, influences, and themes are harmful; how to handle situations when they are faced with subversive ideas; and how to decipher propaganda.

The place to start is with daily Bible study. Read together as a family, and encourage the kids to read on their own. Obviously, we can require them to spend time in their Bibles, but it is best if they develop their own relationship with Jesus Christ. In any case, comparing Scriptural principles with the messages they are bombarded with on a daily basis is the first measure of veracity and truth.

PBS Kids has a great resource for teaching kids about how advertising works - Get Media Smart. They expose advertising tricks, such as how food artists make a hamburger look mouth-watering with food color and superglue - Yuck! There are also discussion questions you can ask about commercials, like:

  • What sound effects or music does the commercial use? Do the sounds make it more exciting?
  • Are there celebrities in the commercial? Do you think the celebrity really uses the product?
  • Does the product look bigger or better on TV than in real life?
  • How do magazine cover models look beautiful and flawless?
  • How do musicians sell their songs to companies for use in their commercials.?
  • Why do 'designer clothes' cost so much more?

Answer these questions and more, and have some great conversations about materialism, and how the media attempts to seduce and even deceive consumers via advertising.

What about news broadcasts? Headlines are full of phrases that catch our attention because they raise questions and incite fear. How do you teach your children to decipher what is and isn't newsworthy?

My favorite resource is this article by Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear,  Protecting the Gift and Fear Less; Real Truth About Risk, Safety, and Security in a Time of Terrorism.

From his website:

Media Fear Tactics
It would be interesting if the standards of Truth in Advertising were applied to television news as they sometimes are to television commercials. In that unlikely situation, TV news writers would be required to use phrases and words that convey accurate information – as opposed to the phrases and words they use today.
I want to help you break the code of alarming newspeak so that you can more easily find the valuable information that may (or may not) be part of a story. . . I want to help change your experience of television news, help you actually watch it differently. I want to provide some tools you can use to ensure that when you watch TV news, only actual information gets through.

Learn and discuss the difference between

  • a claim or assertion
  • a supported argument or verifiable proof.

It takes discernment to know if a premise is valid or faulty, and how to avoid logical fallacies.

For general fiction, television shows, and movies, a fun and interesting site for spotting genre symbols, motifs, and themes is tvtropes:

"Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés."

Ask about the books your kids are reading this summer. Consider the purposes served by the setting and the characters.

  • What is the focus of the plot?
  • How do the characters, especially the protagonist, change and grow during the story
  • The theme is derived from what the story says about human nature, so are the portrayals in the story consistent with what we already know to be true?

Lesson guides for fiction can be found at Progeny Press (Christian POV) and for television and movies at Teach with Movies (secular).

It isn't necessary to have one's nose to the grindstone to keep learning a part of one's daily life. You can enjoy the time you have together as a family, and reinforce their mental walls of protection at the same time.

Do you use television shows and movies in your homeschool? Share how and why in the comments below.