The Play’s the Thing…Approaches to Teaching Your Kids About Shakespeare

I’ve dabbled in exposing the kids to Shakespeare here and there in our homeschooling journey–you can’t read far into Charlotte Mason or classical education without at least stumbling on the how and why–but I was recently inspired to make it a bigger part of our year.

First, I read Susan Wise Bauer’s book review of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, and even though she sort of pans the book, naturally I wanted to read it.  Sadly, I have to agree with Bauer’s assessment–the author, Ken Ludwig, waxes hyperbolic about Shakespeare, the passages selected are not all appropriate for a young kid’s memory work, and the descriptions of Shakespeare as being virtually omniscient and whatnot are a bit off-putting.  However, the ideas for helping your kids memorize passages are great, and Ludwig does mention a few of the passages in context of teenage memorizers, which might be more appropriate.  I’d recommend that you read the book with some caution, and use the parts you find useful, while leaving the parts that are weird or over the top.
Next I read Brush Up Your Shakespeare!: An Infectious Tour Through the Most Famous and Quotable Words and Phrases from the Bard.  This helpful volume contains excerpts from some of the most famous passages of Shakespeare, with explanations and helps for understanding them.  This will be especially helpful if you know some phrases are from Shakespeare but aren’t sure in which play to find them.

Reading these books helped me to crystallize my thinking on Shakespeare for this phase (I’m sure I’ll have a different approach with older children).  I concluded that while I can appreciate the overweening zeal of Ken Ludwig, my own appreciation of the Bard is not nearly so all-consuming.  Certain passages are helpful for broader literary understanding and cultural literacy, and I prefer to focus on those.  So I borrowed some helps from both books.

Making it Happen: Shakespeare Fridays

As I was going down this path, I stumbled on a great page about “Shakespeare Fridays” from Elizabeth Foss.  Since our Tapestry of Grace group only meets one Friday every 2-3 weeks, I thought it would be fun to change up the other Fridays and give them more of an art, music, and Shakespeare focus.

To that end, I picked Henry V for our play of the year (it falls smack in the middle of the time period we’re studying this year, plus it contains very rousing speeches and turns of phrase that are referenced in other literature).  Both How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare and Brush Up Your Shakespeare contain helpful sections on Henry V.  Our library contains several DVD versions of the play, which I may have to research before allowing the kids to watch, but at least we can see how different actors do the speeches we learn.

Memory Work

For memory work, we’re learning The Rallying Cry (“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more!” etc).  It’s a fairly long passage, but the kids are used to memorizing and Jack is especially really into this speech.  We memorize by repeating, echoing, copying the passage in nice handwriting, tracing it, drawing pictures of it, watching actors recite it on YouTube, and so forth.  After we get this speech down cold, I think we’ll also memorize the prologue to Scene 1.

Literature

Although we’re learning passages from Henry V, my favorite retellings of Shakespeare don’t include it, so on Shakespeare Fridays we’re also learning about other plays.  First, we read a folk tale from Shakespeare’s Storybook: Folk Tales That Inspired the Bard, and then we read a retelling of that play from Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare (note: free on Kindle!) or Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare (note: look for an unabridged version) and talk about how the folk tale and Shakespeare’s story are the same or different.  Both Nesbit and Lamb do a great job of summarizing the gist of the plays while preserving some of the original language and I highly recommend them.

History

Obviously you could tie in Shakespeare study to history when you’re learning about Elizabethan England, or when you’re studying a time period in which a particular play is set.  For example, we’ll certainly use our Henry V speeches when we study him and the Battle of Agincourt, and we’ll do more about the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare’s times when we hit the 1500s.

Do you do anything different with your kids on Fridays?  If you cover Shakespeare, how do you do it?

 

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3 thoughts on “The Play’s the Thing…Approaches to Teaching Your Kids About Shakespeare

  1. I edited the script of Henry V for Ambleside School this year, and I loved being absorbed in that play once again. The “Once more into the breach” speech is an excellent one — I can’t wait to hear the children recite it!

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