Shakespeare with Kids

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One of the best things about our homeschool co-op is the very high quality drama program. Kids in roughly grades 1-3 all take drama as one of their required classes. They perform a short skit in an end of the year drama night. This year John was one of the Blind Men in the Blind Men and the Elephant. It’s a fantastic opportunity for kids to have a chance to perform in a nice low-key setting.

The older kids have the opportunity to take acting electives, culminating in a Shakespeare class in the senior high. They put on an extremely high-quality Play Festival at the end of the year that includes one Shakespeare play (slightly shortened) and two shorter plays. It is a wonderful night and exciting for all of those who know the performers.

It’s also been a great way to introduce Shakespeare to my kids. This year and last, we read abridged versions of the play being performed before going to the performance so the boys had a general idea of the storyline. This year the play being performed was Twelfth Night, which has a fairly convoluted plot so it was especially helpful to know the basic outline. One thing I appreciate about the Colville and Williams books as well as the performance that our co-op does, is that they are abridged but not dumbed down. They both include some of Shakespeare’s original language just in a more accessible version.

The Shakespeare Can Be Fun! series by Lois Burdett was new to me this year. Burdett is a teacher who has been doing Shakespeare with her elementary students for many years. These books give the plot of the Shakespeare play but rewritten in rhyming couplets and accompanied by drawings from kids in her class. I appreciate the concept here but I wondered why not introduce kids to Shakespeare using his own language. I love the idea of a teacher who shares her love of Shakespeare with kids, but it just feels like an essential part of the beauty of Shakespeare is missing here.

What has impressed me about seeing the plays at our co-op is that Shakespeare can be fun in the original. They do shorten the play a bit but the language is all original and the staging is fairly traditional. The quality of the actors and the genius of Shakespeare had my 5 year old and 8 year old enthralled. Granted, David started to get really tired around 9:15 but he perked up when the swordfight started. And John absolutely loved it. At one point he was laughing so hard I thought he was going to fall off the pew, at another I looked at him and his eyes were big and shining and he was just mesmerized. I’ve always loved theater and it makes me happy to share that love with him.

4 thoughts on “Shakespeare with Kids

  1. Amy @ Hope Is the Word

    How wonderful to have access to such a fabulous co-op. I love theater, too, and I love taking my girls. The best thing we’ve seen by far has been Peter Pan at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival last year. We’ve been to many local productions, though.

    I haven’t read any Shakespeare to/with my girls yet, but our day is coming! Thank you for sharing these resources!

  2. I am actually developing a multi-media program that would allow parents and teachers to teach young students about Shakespeare. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent Shakespeare experience and I want to share that with more students. Adults all to easily forget how capable children are of learning complex vocabulary and stories. I think if active learning, much like Lois Burdett does is used to teach Shakespeare more and more students will grow to love the Bard.

    I love that you are teaching your students about this. I will also be posting some resources as I come across them during my resource. Please follow my blog and help me better develop my program! :)

  3. Actually in the UK, kids routinely start reading Shakespeare in the original at 11 or 12, in school. I think the language is less of a barrier at that age, because kids are still more open to new kinds of literary experiences – they just take the language for granted, and pick up on most of the general meaning, rather than getting distracted by worry because they can’t understand every word and rejecting the whole thing. Great that your kids have such a positive exposure to Shakespeare already!

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