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Teaching Shakespeare to Children

Many people find Shakespeare teaching difficult.
Some question whether Shakespeare should ever be taught. They believe he is an outdated, white man whose work was required to be studied in high school.

For these people, inflicting this obligation upon the next generation is cruel and unhelpful.

Shakespeare lived over 500 years ago. However, he was not the only white Englishman. And there are plenty of great playwrights and authors that students can study. Teaching Shakespeare is an important task, however.

Shakespeare’s writings are truly extraordinary. They have touched millions of people around the globe over more than five centuries.

A little knowledge of Shakespeare’s work can lead to fascinating topics such as Japanese cinema, Italian opera, and the question of how Shakespeare became the most well-known playwright in history.

Shakespeare Week at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

All of this is to say that I believe Shakespeare should be taught to children young and old.

It’s vital that Shakespeare is taught in a way that gives young people meaningful and memorable opportunities to interact with Shakespeare’s work. They can also decide for themselves whether they wish to learn more. Shakespeare Week (SBT) is a national campaign in the UK that celebrates Shakespeare.

Like in Canada, British students are not introduced to the Bard as a subject they must study in high school. Shakespeare Week was created by the SBT as a way for British children to learn more about Shakespeare (his life, work, and times) at an early age. SBT hopes to have children learn Shakespeare in a fun way so that they can understand the importance and the humor of Shakespeare by high school.

I had the chance to work as an intern at SBT for two-months this winter.

As part of Shakespeare Week, I witnessed firsthand the excitement (yes, really excited!) that people get about Shakespeare. The right introduction can help children learn about Shakespeare.

I was able to join the preparations of Shakespeare Week with the SBT and travel around England visiting historic houses, museums, and theatres that were offering Shakespeare Week activities.

Lessons from my Shakespeare Week Travels

Below you’ll find a collection of lessons learned during my Shakespeare Week trips (as well my time at SBT, and my subsequent M.A.). research on creating museum education activities that children can enjoy. These are five things Shakespeare Week taught to me about teaching Shakespeare and kids.

1. Blood, fairies, forbidden love, and blood are not boring

I have found that many people fear that Shakespeare will be boring and are reluctant to introduce children to it.

For those people, my question is: Have you read this stuff. Shakespeare’s plays contain many mythical creatures and shipwrecks. There is also plotting, backstabbing (literally), murder and other plotting.

Children might need some assistance understanding the words (more information on this shortly), but once they get the concept they will be interested.

Shakespeare Week, and I suspect in most classrooms, was marked by the popularity of “Macbeth,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and “Romeo and Juliet” as the most requested plays for children. And they loved them.

Their fascination with Macbeth’s murder and ruthlessness was not surprising, but it got them more interested in Shakespeare and his subtler plot points.

2. The kids want to be involved

Each child is unique and may choose to be more involved in a lesson or activity than another. However, children are eager to get involved. This was evident during my Shakespeare Week experience. (Academic research supports the idea that children learn best when they have some control over what they do.

It was the Shakespeare Week activities where I noticed that kids were most engaged when they could take control and become involved. One school group made a complete Macbeth play in one day. They were all incredibly excited about the idea and, by the end, one of the most reserved students asked them if they could all take the time to bow. He then took the initiative and led the charge from centre-stage.

3. Children get it.

Shakespeare and especially Shakespearean languages can seem daunting even to the most educated and intelligent adult.

This is probably why many people assume that Shakespeare’s plot should be more important than the language when teaching it to children. While it might not be a good idea to hand a young child a copy “Love’s Labour’s Lost” with the expectation that they will understand the language, we know that children can comprehend a lot more than what we believe.

“I Bite My Thumb at Sir”

This is my favorite example. Two young boys participated in a theatre workshop that focused on Romeo and Juliet. They performed the opening scene and received a lot of help from the directors.

The perfect inflection and tone that one boy spoke, “I bite mine thumb at You sir”, would have put any Stratford actor to shame.

4. Adults are crucial

While children can do a lot of things on their own, it does not mean that they are less important than adults. My SBT experience, as well my M.A. Research has shown that family members, teachers, and cultural educators (museum directors, museum educators, etc.) are all important. This was evident in every way.

Adults are the ones who set the tone. They can make a difference by providing a positive experience, understanding the needs and teaching. Adults can be disengaged and uninterested, and children will take their lead.

It is because passionate, passionate, and curious teachers are so valuable. The ability to lead learning activities in the museum is also a key factor in making them more successful.

5. Shakespeare can fit in any curriculum

The main reason most people don’t get Shakespeare introduced until their high school English exams is that Shakespeare isn’t on the curriculum in Canada or Britain for young children.

Teachers must be mindful of the curriculum, no matter how worthy or interesting they may consider many topics.

Shakespeare Week proves that Shakespeare can be incorporated into any curriculum, provided you have a little imagination. Many schools celebrated Shakespeare Week across the UK by signing up to access the SBT’s online cross-curricular resources. Teachers and parents could use these resources as a way to teach Shakespeare to their students, while also developing math and language skills. The Shakespeare Week website has more information. Teachers and parents from other countries can register for the resources.

It doesn’t necessarily have to involve reading a play to introduce children to Shakespeare. The Globe can help children calculate the profit of the show, find Shakespeare’s words, or make Tudor pancakes.

A Positive Start

Children are naturally optimistic.

Some parents, siblings, or teachers may find Shakespeare boring. However, younger children tend not to have such preconceived notions.

Shakespeare Week is an attempt to introduce children and young people to Shakespeare. The success of the project shows that children can have a positive relationship with Shakespeare. They just need the right introduction such as school Shakespeare workshops.