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When it comes to children, screen-based media gets a bad rap. Blamed for everything from encouraging violence to causing autism, television and movies are not the first things that usually come to parents’ minds when seeking out educational opportunities for children. However, we believe it is time to remind parents of the magic (and developmental benefits) of big-screen cinema. Ask any grownup the question: “What was the first movie you ever saw at the movie theater as a kid?” and a nostalgic smile is sure to light up their face at the memory of the awe-inspiring, life-changing experience. Films are magical to a child (and to adults!) — given their ability to transport young, imaginative minds to other worlds, engaging them in fantasy and grandeur, and giving them characters to root for and relate to. The experience of sitting in a darkened room with hundreds of other people in front of a huge screen only adds to the mystique and power of the cinematic experience.

In today’s society, which is filed with overscheduled kids running from activity to activity — texting, IMing, tweeting, Facebooking, using cell phones — the art of rejuvenating via healthy escapism by watching a film at the movie theater should not be underestimated. Parents should put movie-going back on their child’s “to-do” list, offering them a chance to slow down and enjoy childhood through this transformative medium.

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While there’s no doubt that excessive or unchecked media consumption can be detrimental to developing minds, entertainment that is┬áregulated and shared with thoughtful parents and siblings can be one of the ultimate family bonding experiences. Viewing film on the big screen elicits powerful emotional responses, and enables kids to make connections with larger than life concepts, and see and learn about people, places and things, real or imaginary that they couldn’t envision otherwise. Films can help educate and inspire kids, teaching them empathy and igniting their passions. Who doesn’t remember rooting for little orphan Annie, cheering for and being captivated by a high-flying Superman, aching for E.T.’s safe return home or being transported to another realm with The Last Unicorn? Parents should be giving their kids this same fabric that we all used to weave the cultural tapestry of our childhood. And as an aside, there’s no doubt that some childrens’ movies also inspire kids to slow down and read books — just ask J.K. Rowling.

In today’s quick-fix, fast paced world, blockbuster films are now released to DVD format in record time — and the joy of taking a trip to the big-screen cinema to bond with family and friends is replaced by an isolated viewing of a DVD on a laptop or television. But modern days kids should be privy to the same cinematic experience we had growing up — piling into a packed theater, eager with anticipation and shared enthusiasm to watch a movie with a community, while feeling like a small part of a larger whole. There’s no replacement for the intellectual stimulation and imaginative spark that come from seeing a movie on the big screen.

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Editor Jill’s favorite movie as a young child was The Last Unicorn. She says: I was really awestruck by this movie – the tragic storyline, together with gorgeous Japanimation, and Mia Farrow’s haunting voice left such an impression on me upon seeing it in the theater at age five, that my poor family was subjected to a relentless barrage of hundreds of unicorn drawings over the next 4 years or so. My family made the mistake of recording this movie from television on a VHS tape, and I watched the film over and over and over again, memorizing all the lines and re-enacting scenes from the movie with my little sister. I would later go on to follow the same obsessive trajectory with Gone With The Wind (go figure!), which my mom took me to see as a ‘matinee classic’ in our local small-town cinema. In college, I ended up making videos and majoring in film studies, so I think it is safe to say that those early movie-theater experiences made a profound and (I would like to think positive) impact on my psyche.

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My favorite movie, and first big-screen movie experience as a child was E.T. I remember entering a crowded theater, with my Reeses Pieces in hand and sitting next to my sister and mom in complete awe at the gigantic blank movie screen in front of me. Once the screen lit up and delivered this amazing film to me, I was enchanted and inspired and have become a life long movie aficionado. I laughed, I cried, I jumped out of my seat. Who knew it was possible to have so many emotions in such a short amount of time? My love of movies is what made me want to ‘grow up’ to become a writer. I longed to write stories that could move people and enable them to transcend their own reality and escape for two hours into a land of make believe — that they would then carry with them as a memory forever.

READERS: What was your favorite movie as a child? What is your child’s favorite movie? Please share in the comments below!

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