How to Use the National Film Board of Canada for Homeschooling

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) produces a wide array of documentaries, animations, and interactive projects that cater to learners of all ages, bringing subjects to life, fostering critical thinking, and providing your children with a deeper understanding of various topics. In this blog post, we’ll explore the NFB website, highlight some resources, and share tips on how to effectively use them in your homeschool.

What is the National Film Board of Canada?

The National Film Board of Canada began in 1939 with an act of Parliament to develop, promote, and create Canadian films for us here in Canada, but also the rest of the world. According to their about page on their website, the National Film Board has produced with more than 14,000 works, has won thousands of awards (including 12 Oscars!) and has provided many of them for free to the public. The content has expanded into a much wider perspective than just Canada now – there are voices from all over the globe, but it still focuses heavily on the people here in Canada.

Navigating the National Film Board’s Website

You can access the website at www.nfb.ca. Although you are able to access many of the videos on the site without an account, a general account is free. If you want, it’s also available as an app for many different devices such as Google, Android, Apple, and Roku.

The home page offers different categories to explore. At the time of this post, it has new releases and videos divided up into perspectives of different provinces – which I think is a really neat way to explore Canada.

Navigating around the website is very user-friendly. On the sidebar are the main divisions of

  • documentaries
  • animation
  • interactive
  • education

and there is an easy access search option if you are on the hunt for something specific.

Documentaries

The documentaries from the National Film Board range from biographies of Canadians like Leonard Cohen to unique life experiences of people such as the first Chinese women in Canada or the traditional teachings of various Indigenous communities. There are voices such as ink makers, criminals, refugees, musicians, artists….

Animation

Anyone remember the log drivers’ waltz?

Log Driver’s Waltz, John Weldon, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

This is probably the most familiar of all the National Film Board videos for Canadians.

The animation section features filmmaking styles such as more traditional hand-drawn art, stopmotion, and more. I found that this section contains quite a few Indigenous stories presented in unique formats.

Interactive

At the time of this post, there are 3 interactive pieces available. These are mobile experiences, because you need to use the touch screen in order to participate. Please note – at least one of these may not be appropriate for kids as it has to do with sexuality, but I tried the Neuroflowers app and it was interesting: a good message about challenging your brain – combined with pretty vocals, art, and a game that was a flower-like version of the memory game Simon.

Education

This is a separate section on the website designed intentionally for educational resources. Here you can find content that goes along with various videos on the website – including mini-lessons and study guides. The study guides differ depending on the specific film, but they can provide discussion topics, classroom activities, and additional resources.

There are also resources for professional development through recordings of various presentations on topics such as Asian history month and Earth Day.

This section too has interactive resources on a much wider variety of topics. While they aren’t necessarily games, they have unique formats like interactive documents, 360 degree cameras, vignettes, and interactive storytelling. There are also some apps – from serious historical storytelling about Japanese-Canadian camps after the war, to figuring out social innovation and sustainable economy in PotatoLand, and more.

The playlists, though, are the one the best features of the educational section. These playlists have been curated based on topics and themes, collections of videos marked with what their recommended age range is. Some topics are: Canadian history and geography, the Prime Ministers of Canada, mental health, language and communication, indigenous narratives, diversity, media literacy and more.

Another extra is something called OceanSchool – which takes kids under the waves to learn more about life in the ocean. There are 360 degree videos, virtual dissections of sharks, indigenous stories and knowledge, hands-on lesson ideas, and more. It’s designed for kids in grades 5+.

The educational section also has its own membership upgrade. It’s called Campus and as an individual user, the cost is only $39.99 a year. This offers some exclusive content – more videos and study guides – as well as access to their media school, which is an online program which teaches digital storytelling.

A Couple of Reminders

  • The actual content on the site varies in style, format, voice, and target audience. It seems that much of the content is safe for all viewers, and the ones that might have content which is inappropriate for younger viewers are marked with warnings, but it’s not guaranteed.
  • Please remember that just because a video is animated, it’s not always kid-friendly.
  • The NFB’s videos tend to be very wide in their perspectives. It’s important to remember that older videos may contain content that will require conversations about our perspectives and understandings today. There are also videos available on the website which might not be aligned with the values or opinions that you personally hold or want to expose your children to.

Because of the above, I would caution parents to watch any videos they would like to use in their homeschool first to make sure that it’s suitable for their family.

Using the National Film Board in Your Homeschool

So, as a homeschooler, how can you use this rich resource?

    Thematic Film Units

    • Select a theme relevant to your current curriculum (e.g., Indigenous Peoples, Canadian history, environmental science). Pick a few films that will cover or enhance your topic of study by checking the NFB’s search and filter option or their pre-made playlists to find appropriate content. You can then create your own playlists for quick access. After watching, engage in discussions about the film’s content, message, and its relation to the theme. Use open ended questions for critical thinking.
      • For example, if you are doing Canadian history this year and you have young learners, you might want to check out the Life in Early Canada series for kids ages 5-9 which are short animated videos about life in the 1800s.
      • Or, if you are doing Canadian history for high school, you might want to watch the videos in the playlist, Canada at War.

    Supplementary Educational Material

    • Use NFB’s educator guides and lesson plans adapted to work for you in your homeschool instead of a classroom setting – to complement your lessons.
      • If you are studying Astronomy in science for middle school, you can watch the video series “North Star” and then follow it up with the activities and discussions in the guide – from observing the sky with your naked eyes, to doing an experiment to understand light, to learning about Indigenous star stories, to research topic ideas to dive in more.

    Historical Documentaries

    • Use National Film Board documentaries to provide historical context for various topics in Canadian and world history. This can help make vague concepts and experiences more real because your children can see things instead of just imagining them.
    • Create or use a Canadian historical timeline, noting key events, figures, and outcomes.
    • Expand it farther by connecting the videos with related historical fiction.

    Creative Assignments

    • Write reviews of NFB films, focusing on critical analysis and personal reflection. One really challenging piece is to learn how to analyze media critically, examining the purpose, perspective, and message of each film.
    • Encourage students to create storyboards or scripts for their own short films based on what they’ve learned.
    • Have your students create their own projects inspired by NFB’s videos, topics, or interactive content, encouraging creativity and application of knowledge. This could be a great opportunity to dive into visual storytelling with your kids and trying their hand at filmmaking or stop-motion videos.
    • Use animated films as inspiration for art projects, allowing students to express their understanding through creative mediums.

    Connecting to Other Subjects

    • Pair films with literature studies. For example, watch a documentary about an author after reading their work, or write your own poetry after watching a video about a poet.
    • Use films to explain scientific concepts and spark interest in subjects like biology, ecology, and space exploration.
    • Explore films about different regions and cultures, enhancing geography lessons and promoting cultural awareness. The NFB really offers some great Indigenous perspectives and experiences, for example, which can offer a great change to learn more about the diversity and importance of our First Nations peoples.
    • Compare NFB films with other media sources, discussing differences in portrayal and perspective. It’s always important to consider other points of view on a specific topic so we can have a more fully informed understanding.
    • Connect films to current events and/or social issues, discussing their relevance and impact on today’s world. Discuss if older videos available have any value in today’s world or if the perspectives shown now different.
    • Invite experts or filmmakers for in-person or virtual talks to provide deeper insights into the film topics or to learn more about filmmaking in general.

    The National Film Board is a great resource for homeschoolers in Canada because it provides so many films on so many different topics from so many voices and perspectives. It can be a handy tool to have in your pocket. Have you used it before and how?

    This post was originally written in September 2010, but has been updated in July 2024 to offer more up-to-date information.

    Lisa Marie Fletcher
    Find Me On:

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *