Monday, February 1, 2010

Shakespeare for Children (And Their Parents, Too)

Twelfth Night

If music be the food of love, play on;

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

That strain again! it had a dying fall:

O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound

That breathes upon a bank of violets,

Stealing and giving odour!

~Twelfth Night, 1. 1

Those of us who had the misfortune to miss out on Shakespeare during our own childhood education may be just a bit intimidated at the thought of diving in during our adulthood, but I think some of the joy is in sharing the learning experience with our children.

Three years ago, I had no Shakespeare under my belt. None. Nada. Since then, Levi and I have read or listened to many retellings, watched a handful of movies, memorized a monologue or two, and attended 11 live plays! (Six of those plays were thoughtfully abridged and presented as double features.) Though I am nowhere near an expert on the subject, I thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the simple steps my family has taken to make Shakespeare an exciting part of our education and enjoyment.

1. Meet William Shakespeare.

We enjoyed Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley, which contains a generous amount of biographical information paired with beautiful illustrations.

2. Hear the sounds of Shakespeare's language.

The Young Person's Guide to Shakespeare contains a biographical sketch, information about the Globe, and brief introductions to his major works and most famous characters, but the real gem is the accompanying CD. It includes recordings of actors performing a few of Shakespeare's most famous speeches. We have listened to this CD over and over again in the car and even memorized King Harry's speech from Henry V, Act III, sc. 1. It is very rewarding (for child and parent) to speak it along with the actor! (More about memorizing later.)

Then imitate the action of the tiger,

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favours rage.

Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Let it pry through the portage of the head

Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it

As fearfully as doth a galled rock

O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,

Swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean.

3. Read or listen to retellings of Shakespeare's plays.

There are many picture books and story collections available. Bruce Coville has authored several retellings in picture book format. We've used Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by E. Nesbit to prepare us for each live performance we've attended. With twenty plays, this is a handy book to have on hand. Charles and Mary Lamb's Shakespeare for Children on audio CD has been played often in the car along with Shakespeare for Children by master storyteller, Jim Weiss. Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield is just one of many other options. Check your library to see what is available!

4. Watch recorded versions of the plays.

Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It are a few of our favorites.

Parental previewing is recommended, as most of the plays have some scenes or innuendo that might not be appropriate for all ages. I've found, however, that fast-forwarding occasionally works well for us.

Twelfth Night 2

5. Attend live performances.

Again, you may need to check ahead of time to find out of specific performances are family-friendly. We've been to both kinds. My personal favorites have been the performances put on by a local homeschooling group. The plays are classically interpreted, appropriate for all ages, and slightly abridged (with narrations to help keep the flow) which makes them easier to sit through for younger children. Each year, they perform one tragedy or history and one comedy.

The local college also puts on spectacular performances with interesting interpretations, fabulous costuming and choreography, excellent actors, and a beautiful setting. The downside is that the content tends to be less appropriate for kids.

6. Memorize speeches and quotes.

Start small, and let Shakespeare roll off your tongue! Be thoughtful or witty. (Need ideas? Browse here.) Then move on to slightly longer speeches, such as the one above.

I feel within me a peace above all earthly dignities,

a still and quiet conscience.

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.

All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players.

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts...

7. Read the original plays.

This one is fairly self-explanatory. Try reading the plays aloud, taking turns with other family members. The plays are also available online.

8. Imagine being there!

The Shakespeare Stealer is an entertaining historical fiction series for children. I must not be entirely grown up, as I was also entertained.

9. Learn more!

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson has lately been calling my name from its home on my nightstand. I finally unearthed it from the towering stack and started in.

The boys and I have only scratched the surface in the past 3 years. I'm so glad I have the rest of my life to discover, learn, see, read, watch, participate in, explore, memorize, and enjoy new things.


Shell in your Pocket said...

Do you have t.v.?

sandy toe

Stacey said...

This is a very helpful post for us. I am starting to plan for next year's history, which includes Shakespeare. We use the Story of the World too. Thanks for the reviews.

Laurel said...

So timely for me Heidi! My girls are starting a Shakespeare unit this week lasting through the month. I'm very excited for them and curious to see how this plays out for the different age levels.

~beautyandjoy~ said...

Heidi, You continue to be so helpful to me and my planning. It is a real gift to me. We are planning a whole month of Shakespeare having discovered how much the kids love him. Thank you!

Holly said...

Great post- I will write all this down for when my girls get to Shakespeare.

Jennifer Jo said...

This is a very helpful post. I'm taking my two kids to see Romeo and Juliet soon, at the Blackfriers theater in VA. I'm always impressed by how much they enjoy Shakespeare's writings. (I can't wait till they're older and we can read Hamlet.)

Kate Frishman said...

PBS has a series called "In Search of Shakespeare" that mixes pieces of the plays with biographical information. The episodes I've seen so far are very well done.

Hannah said...

These are great suggestions! I know we have really enjoyed Jim Weiss' recordings of Shakespeare, and I get a kick out of hearing my six year old spout about Hermia and Helena or Bottom the Fairy or Kate from The Taming of the Shrew.

Here in Austin, we have Shakespeare in the Park every summer. As my kids get older, I'd really like to do this with them. Thanks for the extra inspiration.

Anonymous said...

great suggestions...i already put a few on hold at the library! thanks so much for sharing what works for your family!

Leilani said...

Thanks for this treasure trove! I actually came to your blog earlier today (I think from simple...homeschool? forgive me, I can't keep track of my online wanderings, haha)...and then when I was doing some Shakespeare research later, what did I find but you again! I've already ordered the Bill Bryson from the library for myself, as well as other things for the kids. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your love for Shakespeare. I'm happy to know again, I'm one among many!