When Bess was very young it became pretty obvious that she had inherited my love of books. She devoured everything from books meant for children to literally anything. Road signs to recipes, she would proudly read them aloud.
Something I did a bit by accident was to get her interested in Shakespeare quite early on. We all know that teenagers will at some point study a play written by Shakespeare in secondary school but by Christ, aren’t they dull at the time? I genuinely don’t know how my English teacher managed to suck all of the passion out of Romeo and Juliet, but manage it he did!
I came across a set of books. Bess was about 7 I suppose. It was a selection of classics by Shakespeare but they were written in wording suitable for children – and adults who missed the point a bit of some of the works when she last read them <cough>
As today happens to be Shakespeare’s birthday I wanted to talk about ideas you could try to get your child interested in the bard. If you want to, I mean, you have a choice in this of course.
Talk about the words and phrases Shakespeare gave us.
There are a lot. More importantly they will be phrases that your child has used or at least heard! You could even research from which works the phrases are taken.
Over the years there have been some really great adaptations of Shakespeare’s works made into Tv and Movies. Obviously you have to keep it age appropriate but even for younger children there are some great short animations on YouTube. I can’t vouch for them all but I have watched a couple and they were really engaging and totally age appropriate.
You could, of course, take your child to a 3 hour production at the theatre. If you think they could cope then great. Personally, I would rather wait for that until they have an interest already. It’s kinder to everyone involved I think.
Choose the right play for your child
Its not that there is a hard and fast order that I think you should use but depending on you child and their age you can pick and choose. It’s not like there is a shortage to choose from!
Personally, I chose to introduce these plays first
- A Midsummer Nights Dream
- Much ado about nothing
- Twelfth Night
I was tempted to launch her straight into Macbeth but figured that my then 7 year old fairy obsessed daughter would be better suited to Titania et al. I don’t know your kid though, you do. Choose something which matches their interests and you will already have won half the battle.
If you have a much younger child you could introduce them to the characters (for example) from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and make up your own little stories for them.
Simplify the stories
My best friend in this endeavour was a set of books I came across online. They are called The Shakespeare Stories Collection by Andrew Matthews & Tony Ross and they are wonderful.
The premise of the collection is simple. Shakespeare’s works in language that children will not find so intimidating. That’s the biggest challenge I think. Teens are introduced to it all a bit too late. I wanted Bess to be able to approach the plays of Shakespeare with a basic understanding of the story. In the hope that it would give her confidence later, in class and encourage her and make her thirsty for more.
The stories that are included are;
- Julius Caesar
- King Lear
- The Merchant of Venice
- The Taming of the Shrew
- Twelfth Night
- As you Like it
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Much Ado About Nothing
- The Tempest
- Henry V
- Richard III
- Romeo and Juliet
- Antony and Cleopatra
That’s a lot of knowledge for less than £10. I bought the set from The Book People and I loved it so much that I bought another set for my Nephew. Unlike Bess, he hasn’t really read them I don’t think. Perhaps he would be more suited to the Shakespeare comics that you can also buy online. I think Shakespeare would have approved of those too.
I really believe that anything that makes old stories accessible to children is worth exploring. Any reading is good reading.
Learn about Elizabethan England
Lastly, to understand an Elizabethan writer it makes sense to learn about Elizabethan England. You could use the internet to look at the foods they ate or perhaps make some paper dolls and paper clothes to dress them with. There are some great exhibits at lots of museums around the Uk with tons of Elizabethan artefacts to learn about.
There are even open air museums which allow you to step into history. We are planning a trip to the Weald and Downland museum in Sussex later this year. It looks fabulous!
There are loads of resources online for teaching children about Shakespeare too. You could watch the stories, you could reenact the plays together putting on voices for the different characters perhaps. You could create a family tree for the characters from a story or write out lines from plays and guess which one they belong to. BBC bitesize is great for older children too.
I truly believe that there is a play by Shakespeare to suit most (if not every) persons taste. It’s just a matter of how you approach it all. The key is to start with what your child will naturally be interested in and go from there. It’s supposed to be fun though!
What’s your favourite play by Shakespeare?