William Shakespeare. The name either thrills you or fills you with dread – there usually isn’t an “in between.”
Okay, maybe there is some middle ground there, but let’s face it: most of us grudgingly memorized line after line of his plays in high school – lines we didn’t particularly enjoy or even worse, didn’t understand. And the thought of having to teach Shakespeare to our own kids makes us cringe.
Yet, being the adoring and conscientious mom that you are, you realize that for your precious offspring to have a thorough education, you’re going to have to find a way for him or her to connect with the Bard.
Because Shakespeare is everywhere – especially if you speak English (or Klingon).
Shakespeare Is Everywhere
Shakespeare isn’t just limited to an English Lit class. I mean, even the Genie from Aladdin could quote Julius Caesar. And when Marianne Dashwood and Willoughby recited “Sonnet 116” together, in Sense and Sensibility, all of us Jane Austen freaks had to swiftly set it to memory as well. Recently, BBC’s Sherlock went on drug-induced tirade in which he quoted extensively from Henry V. And as I mentioned above, Shakespeare’s works have made it beyond our solar system to Kronos (the Klingon home world).
See, Shakespeare really is everywhere!
“Shakespeare is, indisputably, one of the…great bedrocks of Western civilization in English…Not only do Shakespeare’s plays themselves contain the finest writing of the past 450 years, but most of the best novels, plays, poetry, and films in the English language produced since Shakespeare’s death in 1616 – from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens, from Ulysses to The Godfather – are heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s stories, characters, language, and themes.”
If you want your kids to have a well-rounded, highly-cultured education, then the Bard is kind of important.
So, instead of waiting until your kids are in high school, why not introduce them to him early on? That’s what we did and all three of our kids have a strong appreciation for his works and great memories of seeing his plays. We always tried to make our “Shakespeare time” fun, which I’ll get to in a moment.
But first, let’s talk about some of the benefits of teaching Shakespeare.
Benefits of Teaching Shakespeare in Your Homeschool
Why is studying Shakespeare so important? Are there benefits of teaching Shakespeare to your children? YES!
- Language enrichment. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Shakespeare is credited with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language! Some have estimated his own vocabulary range was between 17,000 to 29,000 words, which is double the number used by the average person.
- Cultural References. Shakespeare’s lines are interwoven and deeply ingrained into our culture. According to the Literature Encyclopedia, Shakespeare’s works are the second most quoted (after the Bible) in the English language. In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare wrote close to a tenth of the most quoted lines ever written or spoken in English.
- The Human Condition. Studying Shakespeare can give you a great deal of insight into human nature. He seemed to have such a grasp of the human heart, mind, will, and emotions. There are many lessons to be learned within his works if you’ll take the time to do so.
- Brain power. Research shows that studying Shakespeare boosts electrical activity to the brain. It activates new synapses in your brain that wouldn’t be activated otherwise! Every new thing you are exposed to “turns on” a new part of your brain that was previously dormant.
Fun Ways to Teach Shakespeare
In our homeschool, our kids were introduced to Shakespeare from a very early age. Here are a few fun ways we’ve studied the Bard over the years:
- “Set the stage” in your home before you read his poetry. Make it a special time by lighting some candles, putting the kettle on for tea, and playing some soft classical music in the background. My kids absolutely loved having tea parties during school. Tea time and poetry just seem to go hand-in-hand.
- Because of the complexity of his plays (and characters), if your kids are younger, you will probably want to do what we did and read first from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, mapping out characters with stick figures to keep up (but stick figures can become a bit complicated to keep track of).
- A more fun way to “act out” the plays and to keep up with the characters is to let your kids act out the scenes with dolls, stuffed animals, action figures or Lego people. (A “beanie baby” Eeyore was once “Bottom” and we thought it quite apropros.) 😉
- After reading from Beautiful Stories, you may want to re-read each play from Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb since their stories are a bit more in depth.
- Watch the film adaptations. Around middle and high school age, our kids began to watch the film adaptations of certain plays (see below for our family favorites). Watching the film first helped them better understand each play.
- Collect extra copies of any Shakespeare plays that you find at yard sales and thrift stores so you’ll have multiple copies from which to read. Assign each family member various parts to read.
- Rather than just reading the play, allow your kids to act it out in full costume (um, it is a play after all).
- Teach your kids some Shakespearean insults. Isn’t it fun to call your brother a “crusty botch of nature,” or your sister a “poisonous bunch-backed toad”? (Well, maybe you don’t want to get that started…ahem…)
- You might want to invest in a set of No Fear Shakespeare editions which has the original text in Elizabethan English on one page and modern English on the opposite page. This makes the original play much easier to understand.
- If you have a local homeshool drama club, why not let your teens work through the book, Shaking Hands with Shakespeare? This book contains over 50 activities, including performing scenes in various acting styles, and writing and performing your own “Shakespearean” scenes with modern-day story lines. Our teens really enjoyed doing this.
- If at all possible, expose your kids to live performances of Shakespeare’s plays. Our family loves to go to The Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta on a regular basis. We have literally howled with laughter over several of the comedy performances (though Romeo and Juliet may or may not have bored the boys to tears). Nothing beats a live performance!
And finally, invest in the book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, by Ken Ludwig. Lately, my youngest son, Liam, and I have been using this book each day for our Shakespeare study. All three of my kids are writers and aspiring authors, so what better writer to study under than the greatest storyteller in the English language?
(A bit of trivia: Rumor has it that John Keats was so influenced by Shakespeare that he kept a bust of the Bard beside him while he wrote, hoping that Shakespeare would spark his creativity.)
Ken Ludwig is an internationally acclaimed playwright who had a strong desire to give his own children a thorough Shakespearean education. In this book, he teaches parents how to do the same thing with their kids. Although it’s written to the parent, Liam (15) and I have just read it out loud together.
We’ve had so much fun trying to outdo each other with our fabulous memorization skills. And we have laughed out loud at the author’s humor which is apparent throughout the book.
Ludwig has taken several of Shakespeare’s better known plays and created easy and fun ways to memorize passages from each of them. He starts out with a couple of comedies (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night – which are more “child-friendly,” then he moves on to Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet). After completing this book, you and your child will have memorized twenty-five passages from Shakespeare (plus a few bonus passages he sprinkles in).
Not only are you memorizing Shakespeare, but you and your kids are learning about the Bard, his writing styles, and gaining much more insight into his plays.
You must grab a copy of this book if you want to have FUN teaching Shakespeare to your kids!
After homeschooling for 18 years now, I truly believe this is one the the best resources to add to your Shakespearean library. Quite frankly, I wish this book had been available when my oldest two were still in school. I will say, however, that even though they have already graduated, each of them have listened in at different times while Liam and I are reading. Can you tell we are all enjoying this book?
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is a fun and affordable way to give your kids a well-rounded study of Shakespeare.
Our Family-Favorite Film Adaptations
Here are just a few of the film adaptations our family loves. Please read the parental guides and use your own discretion with younger kids:
More Resources to Add to Your Library
Along with How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, you may enjoy some of these books:
Beautiful Stories From ShakespeareTales From Shakespeare Student Edition Complete And UnabridgedThe Shakespeare Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained)Bard of Avon: The Story of William ShakespeareBrightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide To Six Shakespeare PlaysShakespeare’s Imagery and What it Tells UsWilliam Shakespeare & the Globe (Trophy Picture Books (Paperback))Shakespeare: His Work and His World
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Get to know author and playwright, Ken Ludwig, by following him on social media:
Finally, Ken Ludwig is generously giving away 10 copies of this wonderful book. Enter below for your chance to win!
Alisha Gratehouse is an artist, art instructor, minister’s wife, and homeschooling mom of three. Her days are filled with creating, painting, writing, drinking lots of tea, laughing with (and at) her family, and spontaneously bursting forth into song. Alisha is the author of several books including, A Life That Flourishes.