Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Brothers
There’s been much begging and pleading in my house to go see the final shot of Harry Potter on the big screen -- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 -- and only some of the pleading is coming from my seven-year-old daughter. Ever since I took my first opportunity to share the saga of the Boy Who Lived with her, Katie’s shared my passion for all things Potter -- to the point where she spent a week at a “Magic for Muggles” camp this summer, and we turned our house into Hogwarts for her birthday party last week. (I make a mean Professor McGonagall.)
But Katie’s not ready for the dark and dramatic finale of the series, where many beloved characters take their last breaths. In fact, we’re nearing the end of where I feel comfortable sharing Harry’s story, at this point—we’re halfway through reading Prisoner of Azkaban, and will watch the movie soon.
We’ve gone even farther than the suggested ages/developmental stages recommended for each part of the Potter series by Common Sense Media, but Katie’s been able to handle it so far -- even with the dark and creepy Dementors making their appearance. I think the fact that we always start by reading the books helps -- and it’s the way that many experts recommend introducing kids to Harry, since it opens up the opportunity for conversations about the action and the messages behind the books. We’ve had lots of great talks about how Voldemort and Harry share similar backgrounds, yet have very different outlooks on the world.
Here are some general guidelines, courtesy of Common Sense Media -- though you should keep your kids’ maturity level and ability to deal with scary material in mind as you’re gauging whether they’re ready.
Ages 3 to 5: Common Sense Media says Harry Potter's too much for this age bracket, but my 4-year-old daughter has seen the first three movies and sat with us to read most of the first three books, without any ill effects. (And I know my two nephews have also been long-time Potter watchers, since my youngest nephew was in preschool.)
Ages 6 to 8: They’re ready to begin with reading the first two books and movies (Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets).
Ages 9 to 10: Kids who can handle the scarier elements can start moving onto the next two books (and the accompanying movies), Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire.
Ages 11 to 12: Your kids should be ready to take on the darkest books and movies of the series: Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows -- along with the four movies they inspired. (You can read their review of the new movie here.)
Common Sense Media Editor-in-Chief, Liz Perle, thinks starting with the books also allows kids more freedom to enjoy the stories on their terms. "Nothing beats Harry Potter at bedtime. Every kid will always remember his or her parents reading Potter to them —it's one of those magical experiences that last a lifetime. Save the movies, and let their imaginations lead the way."