From fantasy creatures and heroic adventures to lighthearted fun, movies are magical to children. But they can inspire more than just play time.

A Lancaster University study shows that inspiring movies can increase children’s critical thinking skills and encourage them to be more imaginative. These visual parables teach children a variety of lessons and serve as catalysts for budding imaginations in the years to come.

Many of my kids’ favorite characters solve problems by thinking outside the box, which I love. Children learn from these stories that their differences are special, unique, and often rewarded. This is a valuable lesson to learn in the times we live in.

Inspiring Ideas From the Big Screen

When my brood goes to the movies, we go out for dinner or dessert after. We talk about our likes and dislikes, favorite parts, or how the movie made us feel. If we watch a film at home, we talk about it then.

We don’t have to force movie discussions; if the kids were impacted, conversation and creativity will flow — one of my kids draws pictures, while the other may build Lego characters. You can tell right away whether a movie was engaging because you’ll get encore requests!

A story is one of the best ways to teach a lesson. Here are three recent cinematic tales that can spark conversation and insights:

1. Disney’s “Zootopia”: Racism, stereotyping, and using differences to infuse fear in society are some timely themes in this 2016 hit. The main character shows that, despite our differences, we all want the same thing and can happily live amongst one another. As a family, we discussed how people can bully and discriminate against one another, but it’s crucial to take a stand and do what’s right.

2. Disney’s remake of “The Jungle Book”: This movie illustrates how differences make us special, emphasizing that different kinds of people (or, in this case, species) can live together. Mowgli is a little boy who’s protected by his animal friends; in turn, he protects them. After watching “The Jungle Book,” my children observed that family can be more than genetics; what’s important is that family members love and care for each other.

3. Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur”: This is an unlikely story about a young dinosaur named Arlo and a little boy named Spot. Throughout his journey, Arlo realizes not only his own potential, but also acceptance and the value of his new friend. My kids were challenged and encouraged by the idea that even though Arlo wasn’t the biggest or strongest dinosaur, he was even braver and more capable than he realized when he gave himself a chance.

For your family’s health, it’s important to engage — whether it’s through a movie or any number of other activities. Provoking conversation and imagination helps our kids build the critical thinking skills needed to make the world better. With enough inspiration, they can become the heroes of their own lives.