Thursday, February 4, 2016

Don't Fear Shakespeare: (Painlessly) Introducing the Bard to Young Children

 A couple of years ago during a discussion with a friend I mentioned our "Shakespeare study" in passing.  She immediately halted the conversation and said "WHAT? You're teaching Shakespeare?!!!!  Oh...I could never homeschool."

I realized I needed to clarify what I meant by this. 

So, here's how I'm painlessly introducing my children to the Bard of Avon.  I will add that my children are obsessed with Shakespeare!

1.  First we choose a Bruce Coville retelling (picture book!) to read and enjoy it together over the course of a few days. This helps introduce the characters and the plot.

Note: depending on the child's age, you can graduate from Coville to other Shakespeare re-writes/stories. Finn is currently engrossed in reading the "Macbeth" chapter of Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories.  Other good retellings are Edith Nesbit's Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare and Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb.  I think the key is to watch for age-appropriateness.  For instance, when we began reading "Macbeth'  on a whim, Annie broke down into tears.  The story was simply too advanced for her to understand (she's 5).  So I am re-writing the story of Macbeth for her--I'll print it out and we'll probably illustrate it together, and we'll also read the Coville version.

2.  Then I let the children do with it what they will.  I find that they often enjoy assigning characters to their Playmobil people.  They will "play" the play. They will perform bits and pieces of the play.

3.  Find an age-appropriate performance (either live or on DVD) and/or listen to the play read (I like Jim Weiss' simple retellings of "Midsummer's" and "The Taming of the Shrew"). I highly recommend contacting the director of the play if you wish to see it live; we were saved from total nudity at a local college performance of "Midsummer's" last year because I had the foresight to email the director.  She said that during the night the characters lose their clothes in the woods.

So.  That's not right for my family!

That's it.  See?  My children play Queen Titania and Puck but they aren't scared of Shakespeare, nor is the work of the Bard seen as dry or difficult in our house.  We love him.  In fact, we love him so much that today (when we finished reading the biographical Bard of Avon), Finn and I decided that we're going to throw a Shakespeare party in's already on the calendar.

Happy reading!


  1. Thank you for a beautiful glimpse into your gentle way of education. Your children are blessed indeed. And I appreciate this introduction to Bruce Coville's books!

  2. Shakespeare is a big hit around here, too. We started memorizing passages from different plays last year using "How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare," and it amazed us all that our littlest, who was 2 at the time, could say the lines along with her siblings, just from listening!