- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Opportunities abound this summer for combining entertainment with the chance to learn. For those who haven't seen it, the movie "The Patriot" definitely is worth a family viewing. (The rating is R because of the sometimes graphic violence, but it still is a better movie than many with a PG rating.)

The movie deals with many of the actual events of the Revolutionary War and with the motivations of many of the brave people who participated. The central character is based on Francis Marion, known as "The Ghost" or "Swamp Fox," for those who remember the television series of that name.

Marion won many battles against the British with his guerrilla style of fighting. He and a small band of men hid in the woods, fields and swamps of the South Carolina lowlands and targeted the British supply lines as well as the fighting troops. They used their intelligence and speed to defeat the larger, better-supplied British troops.

Like the hero of the movie, Marion quartered his militiamen in the dank swamps, where mosquitoes and the fetid atmosphere created a natural barrier for the comfort-loving British. To ward off malaria, he drank only vinegar, which he swore made him immune to the fevers that plagued others.

Despite the losses the militia visited upon the British, the enemy still considered it a ragtag bunch of amateur soldiers. The militia used this scorn to its advantage. In the crucial battle of the war in the movie, the militiamen pretend to retreat, followed by the overconfident British. The apparently easy victory is overturned when the major force of the American troops surround the enemy.

The movie is an exciting peek into our nation's history through the medium of a fictional character and his family. It's a great way to get your children to see history in a new way.

After watching the movie, get some books on Francis Marion or other stories of the Revolutionary War, such as "Johnny Tremain." Invite your children to find similarities among the stories. This combines their reading skills with their enjoyment of an exciting movie, and it makes a natural introduction to other historical fiction.

From there, it's a short step to biographies. Wonderful books are available that recount the lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams and my personal favorite, Benjamin Franklin. Check your video store or library for movies about the time period. I love the musical "1776" for a humorous and dramatic presentation of the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence. Check the family and children's sections because historical movies often are hidden away there.

If you want to study the Civil War, try the movies "Glory," "Little Women," and "Gone With the Wind" to give differing perspectives on that era. My favorite movie about the causes of the war would have to be "Amistad," which incorporates most of the arguments of that time for and against slavery and has a very positive message.

For reading, I recommend introducing older children to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Frederick Douglass. Biographies of Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee also might be illuminating.

This is a process that can turn summer fun into summer education. If you pick interesting movies and watch them as a family, your children will start asking questions. Each question can lead to a path of inquiry, and many fascinating discoveries can be made.

For instance, we live close to many of the key battlegrounds of the Civil War. You easily could take a day trip to Gettysburg, Antietam or Richmond and see the actual places where the battles were fought. Many are national parks, with wonderful maps and stories everywhere. Try to imagine, with your children, how the events took place and what your children would have felt if they had been there.

Although I have been describing ways to bring history alive during the summer months, the same process can take place with other academic subjects, too. Math games, scientific exploration you name it; summer is a time to push the limits. Even running and skidding on a lawn water slide can become a way to learn about friction, momentum and gravity. Playing ball can lead to understanding arcs and the apex of a trajectory. So, have a lot of fun together this summer with your children; you'll reap increased curiosity and love of learning in the coming year.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

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