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DVD Review: More Families of Mexico, Families of Guatemala, and Families of Panama (Families of the World Series)

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The Families of the World educational DVD series has added three new titles – More Families of Mexico, Families of Guatemala, and Families of Panama – to its 23 title (and growing) catalogue. Just in time for National Hispanic Heritage Month, parents and educators can invite their children and students into the world of modern day families living in Mexico, Guatemala, and Panama through the three most recent releases.

Each of the DVDs is approximately 30 minutes in length and contains an episode following a child living in a rural area of the featured country, as well as an episode following a child from an urban area. A wide diversity of living and economic situations are depicted throughout the series for a diverse exposure to life in the country being explored.

Each child’s daily life is captured on film as an English-speaking child shares observations, and explanations revolving around the daily tasks taking place in the film. The families all speak in Spanish and no translation for their conversations is provided. However, English subtitles for the English commentary are provided and can be turned on or off as desired.

Typically covering a period of two or three days from morning wakeup to evening bedtime, vast arrays of educational concepts are presented within a rich, living context. Children are able to see first hand what the families eat, what they do for work, how their children are educated, their religious practices, climate, history, and much more are all woven into the narrative that accompanies the video footage. With this information naturally woven into a child’s daily life it is much easier to absorb and seems far more relevant than dry facts in a geography textbook or atlas. These are living, breathing children whose lives serve to teach our children about their country and culture.

Ranging in age from seven- to twelve-years-old, the lives of the children featured throughout these new releases will appeal the most to those in approximately the same age range. With children their own ages to study, comparisons are easily made between their own lives and those of the children living in these families in other countries. That being said, even our youngest at one-year-old, and the adults in our home were fascinated by the first-hand depictions of life as it is lived amongst the inhabitants of the country.

When Families of Mexico was released in 2006 the positive response was great enough to warrant a second disc that follows the daily lives of Mexican children and their families, resulting in this month’s release More Families of Mexico. No familiarity with the first disc is required to enjoy this new release, as each episode stands alone.

Families of Panama captured our attention with a factual description of how the Panama canal operates during an explanation of how important rain is to Panama’s economy. I doubt that I’ll ever forget that the least amount of money paid to cross the canal was $0.36 for a man who swam the 50-mile canal in ten days, and the most was nearly a quarter of a million dollars. Somewhat obscure facts such as these become much more memorable when related in context. Parents may want to note that one of the episodes on the disc does contain a performance of some native dancers whose breast tissue is not entirely covered.

Families of Guatamala contained our family's favourite episode of all. Seven-year-old Marieelena lives on a farm in the mountains of Guatemala, and it is here that we were able to watch her family and their employees roast coffee beans, shell macadamia nuts, and milk cows. Mayan agricultural practices are explained, and her grandmother bags cream to sell in small, transparent plastic bags – extraordinarily interesting.

The production quality resembles that of an excellent home video or mediocre documentary. For the most part, this level of quality is more than adequate for the job, but at times when there is a noted contrast between areas of shadow and light, or there are large white objects, the glare in the areas of light can become nearly blinding. This heavy glare at times obscures details and makes some scenes difficult to watch. My six-year-old daughter was also somewhat bemused when the seemingly omniscient abilities of the child-narrators first appeared. “How does he know what his mommy is doing while he’s in school?” she asked.

A .pdf teacher’s guide is included on each disc and contains a full script of the episodes, discussion questions, quizzes, additional activities, recipes, and more for each country. A mini-unit can be quickly pulled together with the use of the materials provided on the DVD, or the film can be used as a supplement to any geography or social studies curriculum. I do recommend some time between the discs; due to the similarities in culture, climate, and many other factors between these Spanish-speaking countries it is easy for elementary-aged students to mix up the facts they’ve learned and attribute them to another of the nations they’ve recently studied.

All in all, these new additions to the Families of the World series are wonderful additions to the educational DVD collections of educators, libraries, and ambitious parents everywhere. I know that my children are invariably curious about the lives of other little people like themselves – it’s this curiosity that drives the opportunities for education found within each disc. I’m very pleased to use this natural desire to learn more about other children to develop a good general overview of the lives of other families around the world.

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