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I’m about to tell you something that not everyone will agree with. Ready?
I think it’s NUTS that a great many teachers expect teenagers to open up a script for a Shakespeare play and plow through it with perfect comprehension.
The truth is that Shakespeare wrote hundreds of years ago. He used language that no longer exists in the vernacular of our time. He used language that had a different meaning from the one used in our time. He often wrote in verse that can add another layer of disorientation. When kids are thrown into the deep end of Shakespeare’s deep language without adequate help, it’s no wonder that there are so many people who shudder at the thought of Shakespeare.
When we get to Shakespeare study in the teenage years, it needs to happen with lots of guidance, patience, and handy dandy footnotes to help reveal the beauty of the language that gets a little confused over the course of about 400 years.
When our kids are little, I think it’s a great idea to give them an introduction to the man who was, arguably, the greatest writer in all of human history. This year I’m helping my kids learn about Shakespeare’s life, the times he lived in, and the plays he wrote. It’s great that they’re gaining so much knowledge about an important writer and his works, but my biggest goal is to create a lasting positive feeling about Shakespeare with the hope that when they’re older and we read the real thing, we’ll go into it with smiles on our faces rather than groans on our lips.
One of the resources that helped my kids get a good handle on what’s known about the life of Shakespeare as well as the culture that surrounded him in his time is Who Was William Shakespeare?. We enjoyed the illustrations, chapters that were the perfect length for kid-size attention spans, and text inserts that provided more information about history topics.
Here are 5 Ways to Make Early Shakespeare Study Fun and Fearless for Your Kids:
1. After you’ve read a storybook retelling of a Shakespeare play, set the kids loose in the dress-up box. Let them divvy up parts and devise costumes to recreate a scene from the play.
2. The bubonic plague was a big problem during Shakespeare’s time. Download this bubonic plague web scavenger hunt to help kids learn more about the science and history behind the Black Death.
Download the Web Scavenger Hunt here. Bubonic Plague Web Scavenger Hunt
3. After he became successful, William Shakespeare showed his appreciation for his father by purchasing a family coat of arms for him. Create a coat of arms for your family. (See pg. 70 of Who Was William Shakespeare?) Be sure to include a motto and animals that symbolize your family. Here’s a template to help.
Download the Coat of Arms Template here. The __________ Family
4. Build a model of the globe theater. Make it as architecturally accurate as possible. Kids might choose to use thick paper, cardboard, or popsicle sticks. There are so many imaginative possibilities!
Here are some other Shakespeare resources I’ve loved using with my kids:
Usborne’s Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare – This book is a collection of storybook retellings of some of Shakespeare’s more kid-friendly plays.
After we read a retelling of a play, my kids love putting together that play’s pages in the Shakespeare Sticker Book.
Kids love lifting flaps, and Usborne’s See Inside the World of Shakespeare has plenty of flaps to lift and illustrations to pore over.
If memory work is a part of your homeschool, Ken Ludwig’s How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is an amazing resource to help you choose beautiful passages and break them down in a meaningful way.
I’d love to see the Globe Theater models or Shakespeare dress-up outfits your kids come up with! Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.