I have always enjoyed classic literature, inspiring stories from history, and great works of art. Until recently, however, I did not consider myself a fan of Shakespeare.
Perhaps my displeasure with Shakespeare can be traced back to my introduction to his famous writings. Maybe you even share my story: I vividly remember my high school English class when the teacher gave us 2 weeks to read Hamlet and then presented us with a test to make sure we read it. I bombed the test – I didn’t understand most of what I read and I wasn’t even sure it was actually written in English!
Fast-forward several years to when my kids were young and we were beginning our homeschool journey. In our history studies, we learned about William Shakespeare and his theater in England. My kids loved learning about notable historical figures, so they started asking questions. I had to admit I didn’t know much about this man of many words, but for their sake, I was determined to figure out how to teach Shakespeare and maybe even learn a few new things myself.
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I started by finding child-friendly resources and gradually added in hands-on projects and activities. Over the past several years our interest in, and admiration for, Shakespeare’s works have grown in ways I never could have imagined. I can truly say it is thanks to my children’s enthusiasm and interest that I now understand and appreciate Shakespeare.
Below are some of the steps we have taken, the resources we have used, and the actions we recommend. We hope that you too can figure out how to teach Shakespeare to your children while building special lifelong memories.
Child-Friendly Versions of Shakespeare’s Stories
My kids have always enjoyed listening to great stories. Very early on we began to build a family library filled with interesting books. One of our favorite children’s book publishers is Usborne Books.
The Usborne Stories from Shakespeare book has been in our library for many years.
Included in this book are 10 child-friendly stories based on Shakespeare’s famous works including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and more. I began by reading the stories to my children and eventually they decided to take turns reading them aloud to our family (my younger son added in his own special style by making up different voices for each character and that made the adventures even more fun!).
We also found Shakespeare for Children recordings by Jim Weiss, one of our favorite storytellers. His recordings are both charming and dramatic, and completely draw my kids into the story (making them a lifesaver for car trips).
Link Learning to Other Subjects
My kids love history. When they were younger we used The Story of the World curriculum as the basis for our history lessons. I believe it was the storytelling style of this curriculum that added to their understanding and enjoyment of so many historical topics.
During our history studies of Ancient Rome, we decided to read The Young Readers’ Shakespeare: Julius Caesar.
When our studies moved to England in the late 1500s we read biographies about Williams Shakespeare. “As good luck would have it” my kids also got a kick out of learning about the many popular words and phrases that are attributed to Shakespeare.
Include Hands-on Learning Activities
Adding hands-on learning activities to literature lesson is something we have been doing for years! As the mom of two active boys, this was a perfect way to help them feel like they were a part of the story they were reading.
Often Lego figures or puppets would act out scenes from the stories we read. Of course, we also built unique swords (yet another use for PVC and Duct Tape) to recreate very special battles. For even more ideas, we used Shakespeare for Kids to find recipes, games, crafts, and more.
See a Live Production
As my kids have moved into the late middle school/high school years we began preparing to see stage performances of Shakespeare’s works. We are fortunate to have access to an amazing resource here in Central Florida – The Orlando Shakespeare Theater.
This year we made plans to see The Merry Wives of Windsor. In this version, Shakespeare’s comedy was brought to life as a 1950s sitcom. It was hysterical!
Before attending the performance we did a bit of research using The Shakespeare Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK Publishing. What a valuable resource! This easy to use but very comprehensive book offers background on the characters, a timeline of events throughout the performance, themes, and plot summary, along with an overview of the legacy of each show. I know we will be referencing this book for many years to come.
We chose to attend a student performance and this was beneficial for a few reasons – 1) the price was much less than a regular show, 2) the show was during the day and offered a nice field trip opportunity, and 3) the staff used the performance as a learning opportunity for the students by offering an overview of the show before it began and then inviting the performers to answer questions from the audience at the end of the show.
There are amazing theaters all over the world. The Shakespeare Directory can help you locate companies and festivals in your area.
As my children move their high school years our next learning efforts will include reading several of Shakespeare’s original works and attending even more live performances. I have no doubt they will understand and appreciate these masterpieces much more than I did at their age. I’m very excited about taking another pass at reading Hamlet too. I must admit, I’ve become quite a fan.