social and emotional learning family movies, family videos, family films intentional parenting
verbal, social and emotional learning

Intentional Parenting                                                             Family Movies

Talking and Playing for Growth With . . .



Subjects --- Literature (Fairy Tales);
Social-Emotional Learning --- Friendship; Courage; Self-esteem;
Moral-Ethical Emphasis --- Responsibility; Respect; Caring.

At a Glance --- Age: 6 - 12; MPAA Rating -- PG for mild language and some crude humor; Animated Drama; 2001; 90 minutes; Color.

Description --- "Cars" is the story of a talented rookie race car named Lightning McQueen. He is so obsessed with winning that he can't be a friend to anyone. McQueen's career is threatened when he accidentally winds up in a small town off the main road. Trying to make it to the racetrack for a big race, McQueen damages property. He is arrested and forced to repair the damages before he can leave. In his travail, McQueen finds true friends and learns that winning isn't everything.

Benefits --- Talking about this movie and playing games based on it are excellent ways to interact with your child. For car-fanatic children, it is great fun to look for all the different models. In addition, "Cars" can help teach kids how to be a good sport, work well with others, take responsibility for their actions, and be a true friend.

Possible Problems: SUBSTANTIAL. This movie has a subplot of ridiculing short people. There are some other minor problems. There is some mild language (i.e., using "ass" to refer to Donkey, a background song with "damn") and some gross-out humor, but it's pretty harmless and amusing to kids.

For more suggestions about how intentional parents can use family movies to foster verbal, social and emotional learning and teach lessons in character education, see Ideas for Talking and Playing Using Family Movies.

New Words: tow truck, tank, fire engine, semi-truck, gasoline, tires, headlights, engine, oil, racetrack, fame, victory, sportsmanship, defeat, responsibility, pit crew.


CONVERSATION STARTERS --- Which character was your favorite? --- If you could have any of the characters in the movie as a friend, which would you choose? Why is that? --- Why was Lightning McQueen trying to get to California? --- Who wound up winning the Piston Cup race? --- If you could drive any of the cars in the movie, which would you choose? How come?
(Just talking with your child fosters verbal, social and emotional learning. You can talk about a movie at any time: right after it is over, in the car on the way to school, during quiet time, or before bed. --- Ask about the story, the characters, and the plot. Keep it light and fun. --- Always encourage your child to form opinions and to share them. --- Exercise memory skills by asking about plot details. --- Open-ended questions will help get a discussion going. --- Young children love Story Time.)
DISCUSSIONS BASED ON THEMES IN THE MOVIE --- Select questions appropriate for your child.

Theme #1:   "There's a whole lot more to racing, than just winning." --- Sportsmanship, Friendship
    1.   What did Radiator Springs teach Lightning? What did Lightning teach Radiator Springs? Talking about it --- Radiator Springs taught Lightning that winning isn't everything, that it's important to have a good team behind you, and that it's important to have friends. Lightning had too much pride and Radiator Springs didn't have enough pride. Lightning taught the cars of Radiator Springs to have pride in their town and themselves. When they saw how nice the new road looked, all of the cars chose to improve their houses and stores, too. This made the whole town look great and Doc decided to be proud of his past!

    2.   Was Lightning McQueen a good friend at the beginning of the movie? How about at the end? Talking about it --- He wasn't a good friend to anybody at the beginning of the movie. Not only did he fire his pit crew, but he also let Mack down by falling asleep and making him drive overnight without a nap. Because of all of this, Lightning actually didn't have any friends at the beginning of the movie. However, by the end, he had found good friends in Radiator Springs and he also made up with Mack.

    3.   How did Lightning show that "winning isn't everything"? Talking about it --- At the last race, Lightning decided to help The King get to the finish line, instead of taking first place himself. Everyone was proud of Lightning because he did the right thing, and put the needs of someone else before his own. Because of this, Lightning was the hero of the race, even though he didn't win.

    (The Golden Rule is basic to morality and ethics. Here is a modern formulation of the Rule. Have your child memorize this or another version. Repeat it to your child often when a decision about how to act must be made: "In every situation, act toward others in the same way that you would want others to act toward you." Show your child how to apply it in his or her own life. Let your child see you apply the Rule in decisions that you make.)

(One comment by a parent taking a concept from a movie seriously will start a child thinking about the lessons of a film. Don't try to cover everything contained in this Guide, a few questions or comments are more than enough. However, if you allow your child to watch the movie more than once, on each occasion start a new conversation or pick a new activity. This will enhance your child's verbal development and increase the number of lessons your child takes from the film.)
Theme #2.   Teamwork Helps Us Succeed! --- Teamwork, Friendship
    1.   Lightning McQueen didn't listen to his pit crew, and wouldn't change his tires during the Piston Cup Race. What were the consequences of this decision? Talking about it --- Though he was in first place and going very fast, two of his tires blew out and two other cars were able to catch up with him. Because he didn't take the advice of the pit crew (the cars who knew best) he didn't win the race. As The King said, "You ain't gonna win unless you got good folks behind you".

    2.   What did Doc learn from Lightning McQueen? Talking about it --- He learned that you are always yourself, and you can't hide who you are or were. He learned he shouldn't be ashamed of his past; his Piston Cup victories and his bad accident made him into the person he is today. In the same way that Lightning's pride was causing problems, Doc was very bitter towards lots of people.

    3.   At first, Lightning looked down on "rusty, old cars". What did he learn from Mater? Talking about it --- He learned that different people can be friends, and that just because someone looks odd and run down doesn't mean they are less of a person. Mater taught him all of this, and also how to be a good friend.

Theme #3.   Our Actions Have Consequences. Responsibility, Citizenship
    1.   What actions did Lightning McQueen take that made him wind up in Radiator Springs? Talking about it --- He wouldn't let Mack take a nap, and Mack fell asleep while driving. This caused Lightning to fall out of the back of the truck.

    2.   Did Lightning have a responsibility to fix Radiator Springs? What do his actions tell us about Lightning? Talking about it --- Yes. If you break or destroy something, even by accident, you have an obligation to fix it, replace it, or pay for it. McQueen didn't demonstrate responsibility by constantly running away. If he had just focused on doing the job right the first time around, he probably could have made it to California in time to talk to Dinoco. His actions tell us that, at first, he was very self-centered and only cared about his own problems. In the end, he became more caring, responsible and mature, and put others before himself.

    3.   Did Lightning McQueen always keep his promises? Talking about it --- At first he didn't, and he wasn't a very good friend because of it. Even though he fixed the road, Radiator Springs still felt a little betrayed by Lightning. But he did keep his promises by the end of the movie; he even got Mater a ride in a helicopter!
"Respect", "Responsibility", and "Caring" refer to elements of the Six Pillars of Character developed by Character Counts. is proud to be a Character Counts Six Pillars Partner and to stress character education, intentional parenting, and social-emotional learning through family movies.


    1.    On a sunny day, break out some buckets, rags and sudsy soap. Have your child help you wash your car. As you work around it, explain what all of the different parts do (the headlights light up the dark road, the trunk holds shopping bags, etc). Also explore under the hood. If you don't know all of the parts of today's automobile engines, you might look at How Stuff Works or Family Car with your child before looking at the real car. 2.   Sit outside in the front yard, or go to a place where you can sit and safely watch a busy street (like a coffee shop or a park). Bring along a notebook and some pencils. With your child, count how many cars go past. Classify them into groups, by make, model, color, size. Draw some of your favorites. Talk about what makes cars different from each other (two doors/four doors, convertible/pick-up truck, etc). See if you can spot some cars from the movie (like a fire truck, tow truck, police car, or even a Porsche!).

    3.   You can hold your own "Piston Cup Race" in a backyard or at a park. With your child, make your own piston cup (you can print out and color a trophy, using a blank color sheet like this). Get your family and friends involved: have each person wear a different colored shirt. You can even put racing numbers on the back with masking tape. (You can get as elaborate as you like, with checkered flags, start/finish lines, etc.) Pick what kind of race you want to have (three-legged, running, hopping, sack race, etc). Then, ready, set, go! The winner takes the cup!

    4.   Create a do-it-yourself racing game board. You can find some instructions under Magnetic Race Track. If you don't have metal cars, you can draw some small cars, or print out some blank coloring pages of cars (you can get them here or you can visit the showroom at the Cars home page). Color them together, then cut them out and glue a small magnet to the back of each picture.


Stories are essential tools for verbal development, social-emotional learning, and character education. Intentional parents can use family movies as a basis for story telling.

Repeat the story of the movie at bedtime, on a rainy day, or at any quiet time. Let your child correct you if you make a mistake and, better yet, encourage your child to tell you the story. Both of you can invent new adventures for Babe and his friends. The incidents in your stories should explore the themes of the movie.

Here is a bedtime story about the characters in "Shrek":

Radiator Springs had turned into the hottest little city on the map. It became so popular that Lightning McQueen started up a summer camp for younger cars that wanted to race. Everyday, he would take them out onto the track and teach them the basics of racing; how to make a sharp turn, how to brake quickly, how to pass safely, and most importantly, how to be a good sport.

One little car, named Zippy, was especially talented. He was always the first one on the track, and the first one at the finish line. Lightning spent a lot of extra time with Zippy, teaching him special moves.

At the end of the summer, there was an all-camp race. Everyone expected Zippy to win. The race went on as expected, but on the last lap, a little brown car named Dusty zoomed past Zippy, winning the race. Zippy got very mad, stomping around in the dirt, revving his engine and yelling mean things at Dusty.
You might want to pause here and ask your child what he or she thinks about the way Zippy is acting and the best way to deal with being upset.
Lightning saw what was going on and called Zippy over. "Look, Zippy," Lightning said. "You're a wonderful racer, probably the best kid car I've ever seen. But when you get upset after losing, well, you just look like a poor sport." "But I should have won!" complained Zippy. "No. Dusty won, fair and square. You both tried your hardest. You both should be proud of your accomplishments." Zippy pouted. Lightning said, "I know it's a hard lesson to learn, Zippy, but winning isn't everything." Zippy kicked at the dirt. "I suppose you're right, Lightning. I just wanted to win so bad," said Zippy. "I know the feeling, but just learn from your mistakes and try harder next time! Now, how about you and me have a quick little race! Ready, set . . . go!" And the two cars sped off to congratulate Dusty on his big win.

Bridges to Reading: --- If your child has a favorite car in particular, head to the library and find some books about it. You might also try looking at car-oriented magazines. Ask your local librarian for books about cars, driving, and racing.

Talking and playing based on family movies is an excellent way to enhance verbal skills and foster social and emotional learning. It's also a great opportunity for character education and increases communication between parent and child. When fathers and mothers make entertainment an engine for their child's growth and development, they are practicing intentional parenting at its best.

Check out TWM's Index of Guides to Talking and Playing for Growth. For all of the indexes, click here.

This web page was written by James Frieden and Lauren Humphrey and first published September 10, 2007. © 2007 & 2008 by, Inc. All rights reserved. DVD covers are shown by permission of The brands "", "Talking and Playing for Growth", and the pencil and filmstrip logo are trademarks of, Inc.

social emotional learning