Although most kids would be loath to admit it, many actually look forward to getting back to school come fall. You don't have to live in a cupboard under the stairs at the Dursley's, like Harry Potter in The Sorcerer's Stone, to crave a return to the classroom and all of your school friends. But for those who can't bear to see the long, lazy days of summer come to an end, an abrupt switch to a rigorous school routine can throw even the most grounded kids into a tizzy. The key lies in creating transition. Experts will tell you that establishing bedtime curfews a few weeks before school and possibly engaging in some academic review is a good start. But it's also important to keep things positive and fun. One way to avoid an end of summer lament is a back to school movie party.
Movies can often set the mood for holidays, milestones and rites of passage, so why not use a school theme to segue your kids into the proper frame of mind? It doesn't have to be a fancy event. Kids can gather together with as simple a plan as popcorn and a movie or as fancy as party favors and decorations. One fun way to bring more kids into the fold is to combine the movie night with a school supply swap, making use of all of the unused supplies from last year that are probably still sitting dormant in last year's backpack.
Anyway you do it, picking the right movie should be geared, as always, to the intended age group. A lot of very popular teen and high school movies are far too explicit to include here. After all, kids really don't need that kind of education from a movie. To keep the party fun and stress free, be sure to check the ratings, but don't worry too much if the movie isn't dubbed as educational. The great thing about back to school movies is that the intended lessons are usually subtle and are part of the entertainment value. There aren't any pop quizzes, but there's sure to be a laugh or two over a common experience shared on screen. When children know they are not alone in their fears and anxieties about school, bullies or teachers, it makes facing the real thing just a little easier. So sharpen those pencils, clap those erasers and get ready for another great year of school with our list of back to school movies.
Entering school for the first time or for a full day is a scary, momentous occasion. A big rite of passage in any child's life, the first day of school should be celebrated in style. These films are designed to help ease anxieties and expectations.
Barney: Let's Play School
Baby Bob is tired of watching everybody else trudge off to class, so the kids and Barney give the friendly yellow dinosaur a taste of life in school. A very easy introduction to the routines and expectations of school.
Eloise Goes to School
When Eloise's tutor quits, the world's favorite six-year old diva attends a world class private school along with a world class bully.
Arthur's Best School Days
A compilation video of three episodes of the award-winning show offers a nice slice of school life, especially when Buster finally discovers the joys of reading books.
Schoolhouse Rock: 30th Anniversary Special Edition
The songs are catchy and timeless, kids won't even know that they are learning about the different branches of government or how to diagram a sentence.
For the elementary crowd, the transition from summer back to school can be especially tough, even if they normally enjoy school the rest of the year. The emphasis here should be to remind them that they aren't necessarily giving up summer and freedom, but the gaining the opportunity to learn a whole new arsenal of playground jokes.
Akeela and the Bee
A determined young girl see her future in spelling contests, and with the help of her school principal and tutor, she sets and reaches her goals.
Recess: Taking the 5th Grade
The gang from Recess, the popular TV show, are graduation from 4th to 5th grade and are excited to grow up, but hesitant to give up too much of their childhood.
Will is the son of two superheroes sent to an elite school for kids with special powers. When he discovers he lacks the gifts of his classmates, heâ€˜s downgraded to sidekick with all of the other nerds.
Based on the Roald Dahl book, Matilda's love of books eventually bestows her unique abilities, and with the help the world's nicest teacher, Ms. Honey, she thwarts her clueless parents and school principal.
Little Man Tate
If you think it's hard to make friends in grade school, imagine if you were a 10 year old genius that has to go to college. Even gifted children still need time to be little kids.
A mother and daughter put themselves in each other's shoes for a whole school day and learn that nobody has it easy these days.
High School Musical
Very few high schoolers break out into song and dance at the cafeteria, if any, but the music and the messages are great.
How to Eat Fried Worms
Based on the popular book, the movie explores the extreme kids will go to in order to take on a school bully.
It would be easy to just consult the entire John Hughes oeuvre which includes so many classics such as Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Those are all fun films (although a bit racy at times) but tweens may appreciate a few lesser known films as well:
A shy kid from a private school is suddenly thrust into the tough halls of a Chicago public school and comes up with a unique plan to deal with the school bully.
Stand and Deliver
A great movie, with winning performances all around, about a teacher who believes in his students in a poor East LA High School when few others will.
Life at a boy's upper-crust boarding school is tough, especially if you are Jewish and trying to hide your true heritage from everyone.
Dead Poets Society
An unorthodox teacher inspires a group of young students at a boarding school, but not everyone appreciates his unique approach.
Tom Brown's School Days
If you think your school is tough, try attending an all boys' school in Victorian England. A classic tale with timeless truths.
A major crush reeks havoc in the school and on the gangly 14 year old boy who causes the stir.
The Karate Kid
Learning self control and self confidence comes from an unlikely source in this winning classic.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A flighty cheerleader trades in her popularity in order to save the world. Funnier than it is scary, it's a message movie with a bite.
A young boy enlists the help of his friends to build a working rocket for a science fair in 1950s West Virginia, despite his coal-miner fatherâ€˜s objections.
Life in a small Idaho town is tough, especially if you don't run with the popular crowd. Geeks rule with pride and promise in this surprise sleeper hit.
Finding the right film for teenagers can be a bit trickly. At this age, they're a bit more discriminating and will certainly bulk at anything stamped with parental approval. Still, these selections may get their attention:
The Chocolate War
A fund-raising drive to sell chocolate bars at an all-boys Catholic school takes on larger social implications in this classic based on Robert Cormier novel.
Friday Night Lights
Balancing school and sports can be tough, but it is unbelievable pressure in this small football-obsessed Texas town. Based on the celebrated book by H.G. Bissinger.
Mr. Holland's Opus
A music teacher with a dream of his own learns more from his students, and his own hearing-impaired son, than he ever imagines.
A young enthusiastic teacher uses lessons from history to help at-risk students to navigate their way out of their own troubled lives. Based on a true story.
The Battle of Shaker Heights
A history buff and war reenactor puts his knowledge of time-tested strategies to use to take on the school bully.
Remember the Titans
When racial segregation finally ended, the transition to integrated schools wasn't easy, especially in 1970s Alexandria, Virginia.
To Sir With Love
An evergreen classic about a reluctant teacher and the tough students who learn to respect him and themselves.
How I Got into College
A very funny take on the pressures and stress of looking for the perfect college fit not to mention studying for and passing the SATs.
A freelance writer and TV Critic for Daily Variety, Laura Fries has been writing about TV and film entertainment for more than eighteen years. She lives with her husband, daughter and a small menagerie of pets in Alexandria, Virginia.