I used to know embarrassingly little about Shakespeare. I knew the plot of Romeo and Juliet, and that’s about it.
I was curious, but intimidated.
As we got into the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling, I was shocked that even 1st graders were being introduced to the iconic plays of the Bard.
I have been absolutely shocked by how my boys have taken to the plays. I thought everything would go over their head and they would groan every time I pull out the books.
Instead, my oldest is always begging for “one more page!” And one time, my four year old literally stood up and whooped when the good guys won in the end!
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I don’t suggest grabbing the full play and reading it act by act. Someday, yes, but here’s how to build up to that.
There are many great children’s versions of Shakespeare’s plays. These cover the plot of each play and present it in beautiful, engaging language. These aren’t “translations” into modern English, and they often include some applicable full quotes from the originals.
Two that have been recommended over and over are Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb and Shakespeare Retold by E. Nesbit They still use advanced vocabulary and sentence structure, but your kids (and you) will understand the plot a LOT better!
My new favorite kids version of Shakespeare comes from Usborne. It literally has EVERY play. And before each play is a gorgeous illustration of the main characters and the basic plot. It helps everyone “picture” it and the writing is pretty fantastic too! It’s a must have for your library.
Another go to is any Bruce Coville adaptation. His picture books are so well written that hardly any beauty is lost but a lot of comprehension is gained! And the picture will make it so your kids just can’t help but get sucked into the story!
P.S. If you’re feeling a little daunted by reading so much Shakespeare aloud you could try this: Audiobooks. I can’t believe how many books we enjoyed together in the car or with Audible during quiet times( Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks)! My oldest son can’t get enough of these stories and sometimes listening to them was a welcome break.
It’s important for students to understand the plot of Shakespeare, but most of his brilliance is in his actual wording and gorgeous poetic language. I wanted my kids to be exposed to syntax, vocabulary and just the straight up genius of it all. That’s why we use How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Shakespeare expert Ken Ludwig. Students will memorize small sections of plays, specifically chosen to highlight plot or technique or just the character of the Bard. Each chapter gives background to the quote and explains all sorts of things that are lost to the casual reader. I’ve been shocked at how well my young boys can do memorize these tough passage.
Listen to Podcasts
I am a HUGE fan of “The Play’s the Thing” Podcast, put on by an actor and playwright well versed in literature and classical education. The episodes are accessible to total newbies, deep enough to reveal new insights for the scholars, and utterly enjoyable and hilarious! I would suggest previewing them before letting your kids listen. While they’re not risqué, children aren’t the intended audience.
See the Plays!
But of course, Shakespeare wasn’t meant to be just read, but SEEN! So find local groups that are performing his timeless pieces! And in the meantime, search YouTube for performances. We’ve had good luck with recordings of local colleges.
We recently watched this version of 12th Night. It was done in the recreated Globe Theater and with complete historical accuracy. Stephen Fry and Johnny Flynn were in the cast! Had us rolling on the floor!
I’ve been so amazed to see my crazy, rough, messy boys get sucked into the plot of these plays and light up when they hear a line performed that they themselves had memorized. They giggle and gasp and their world of emotions and language continues to grow.
Have you introduced your kids to Shakespeare? What’s their favorite play?