Introducing Shakespeare to children can appear daunting. I think it is important to celebrate our most famous playwright but the very different type of English language used in Shakespeare’s time can make that a challenge. When I was at school, we were given a book in plain English telling the stories of famous Shakespeare plays. That meant by the time we studied actual Shakespeare texts we already has a familiarity with the stories. My husband cannot remember anything nice about learning Shakespeare at school and came to his first Shakespeare live performance in middle-age. My adult son loves Macbeth with a passion. My other children report watching a modern version of Romeo and Juliet at school.
My children recently received a wonderful box of Shakespeare related goodies from Viking from that really captured their imaginations particularly the book setting our Macbeth in texts and emojis. My son enjoyed writing down Shakespeare-related words. My daughter loved the coloured paper and pens. We all loved the beautiful Calligraphy pen set.
What tools are parents and teachers using these days to make Shakespeare that much more accessible to children?
Humour and Mess
If you look at most of the books that work well with young children, you will see so many involve humour, noise or mess. Shakespeare plays include a lot of comedies so that is a natural way to encourage children to get into the Bard. Perhaps you could start by sharing some of the colourful insults to hand in some of the plays. On the messy side of things, go for something gory like the Merchant of Venice or Macbeth.
These days we are not restricted to whatever is in our home or school libraries. The Internet makes so much information available to us. There are great educational sites including worksheets and you can always check out good Pinterest resources too. Shakespeare 4 Kidz is a brilliant organisation with an informative and fun website as well as their main working delivering Shakespeare educational workshops and performances.
Part of the reason Shakespeare plays still appeal to audiences is that they deal with timeless themes such as love, loss, laughter and conflict. These are themes children deal with in everyday life so that can be useful starting point to get them interested in Shakespeare. Ask them to reflect on how the Lion King and Hamlet are similar. Can they see common themes in Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story?
Introducing Shakespeare to children through visits
You could take your children to Stratford-upon-Avon where Shakespeare was born. You can actually visit the house where he was born to learn about his early years. There is also his daughter’s house, the childhood home of his mother and the romantic Anne Hathaway’s cottage. You can visit the Royal Shakespeare Company and there are Shakespeare-related events in the lovely town throughout the year.
Huge thanks to Viking for sending our family such a lovely selection of goodies to encourage a love of Shakespeare and writing. Viking stock thousands of products online and have an enormous range. Check out their ‘smart choice’ range – great value for money on their own brand products
What are your top tips for introducing Shakespeare to children?