Last summer, I listened to one of the Read Aloud Revival podcasts in which Sarah Mackenzie interviewed Ken Ludwig about teaching children Shakespeare. Before the episode was over, I had added Ludwig’s book, How To Teach your Children Shakespeare to my Amazon cart and bought it. I was sold that this was something that we needed to add to our Morning Time.
Why? Because Shakespeare is a genius and his work is legendary. Truly, you can’t read (or watch) a good comedy, drama, romance or tragedy without noting Shakespeare’s influence. Further, the language is beautiful and sparks the imagination in a way that only literary giants like Shakespeare can do. His work just seemed to fit perfectly into our goal of delighting in truth, goodness, and beauty in our homeschool.
While I knew why I wanted to implement Shakespeare into our school days, I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about doing it in a way that made the text accessible to my Pre-K, 2nd, and 4th grader. Admittedly, my biggest concern was that I would squash any interest or joy in Shakespeare. I had visions of a terrible class that I had taken in college in which Shakespeare was relegated to a series of true and false questions about the plot and section upon section of dialogue fill-in-the-blanks. I hated that class and truly hated reading Shakespeare. There was no opportunity for discussion, for delighting in the language, or learning about the literary devices that Shakespeare so masterfully executed in his writing. No, it was about plowing through endless plays in the course of a semester.
Ludwig’s book did a beautiful job of re-igniting my own love and respect for Shakespeare, and he gave strategies for helping children to memorize key dialogue passages, as well as homing in on the endless literary devices that Shakespeare so eloquently utilized in his works. But, I wanted something more—an outline that gave me step-by-step directions on how to pace a play with the kids, how to engage them in the challenging vocabulary, and how to not only follow the plot, but bring it to life in the imaginations of my children.
::Can you hear the Heavenly chorus of angels singing?::
After reviewing the SCM guides, I decided to purchase A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as starting with a comedy seemed like an enjoyable way to introduce Shakespeare to the kids. The guide suggests breaking down the play into three easy steps: read a re-telling, read the play, watch a live version or film version. I, however, approached it a bit differently:
- We began with a re-telling of the play in short story format in order to provide a high level preview of the story line. SCM provided the E. Nesbit version of the story in her manual, which my kids really enjoyed! By the end of the story, the kids were begging to begin the actual play. Success.
- We then watched a film version of the play. Shakespeare was intended to be seen, not just read, and so watching it before diving into the language and details of the play seemed like a better idea to me.
- Once we viewed the play, we began our weekly studies. We began each week reading a short overview of the plot for that particular selection. This helped to lay the foundation for the kids, so that when the text became challenging, they already had a sense of what was transpiring in the play.
- We previewed key passages to highlight important events, beautiful language, and specific literary devices being utilized throughout the scene. SCM provided 2-4 passages per scene. We simply read these selections and talked about them for a few minutes. The kids often practiced reciting these sections aloud.
- We then listened to one-two scenes from the play using an audio collection from Arkangel Shakespeare productions. I chose to have the kids listen to the text as opposed to read it aloud together simply because I wanted to set us up for success and reading the entire text seemed a bit too challenging this early in our exposure to Shakespeare. We followed along with the script and enjoyed listening to the audio dramatization of the scene.
- We added a final step on a few of the weeks: Memorizing key passages. I used the suggestion from Ludwig’s site: howtoteachyourchildrenshakespeare.com. We added these selections to our Memory Work binders and by the end of the play, the kids had these selections memorized.
In the end, an unexpected result happened from spending time with Shakespeare for a term: the kids began developing their own scripts, complete with stage directions and costumes. Periodically, they perform their latest plays in front of close friends and family. My daughter has since auditioned for and performed in two plays with our local homeschool performing arts group. Shakespeare not only ignited a love for beautiful language, but also sparked their imagination and God-given talents into a hobby that is creating so much joy and beauty in our home. I cannot think of a greater success story. Shakespeare for the win!
Hot cocoa and Shakespeare: the perfect addition to our Morning Time