How We Learn Shakespeare

After lots of trial and lots of error, we finally have landed on the “what works for us” with regards to teaching Shakespeare.

1. Preparation
We start to learn about Shakespeare – who he was, where he lived, what time period he lived, how it’s different from now, how it’s similar, his background, the Globe, and why we like to learn about Shakespeare. I try to be enthusiastic about Shakespeare – like most American students, I wasn’t considered “ready” for Shakespeare until high school, where we read the plays and discussed them into boredom. If we were lucky we watched a video of a play.

We do Shakespeare as a family subject, and we do it during tea-time. The prospect of tea/hot cocoa/hot cider and popcorn or some other fun snack really helps everyone be excited to do Shakespeare as well, plus it’s good fun for everyone. Ages 3, 5, 7, and 9 are represented at Shakespeare {tea-time is when Nugget is having a nap}.

2. First, the retelling
I select a play – my kids are young so we’re working on the comedies. I thought we could follow Ambleside’s Shakespeare rotation, but I don’t think they’re quite there yet. We started with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, because it was short, it was a comedy, and it seemed like it was something everyone could grasp.

I read everyone Lamb’s retelling {wouldn’t you know, after studying this play in high school I had no clue what was going on, except Puck; but after reading the retelling everything made tons more sense}.  We stop – a lot – and narrate and discuss, defining terms and explaining things. We use paper dolls, a character map drawn on a whiteboard, or Playmobil to keep everyone straight and make sure we know who’s in love with whom.

3. Then, the play
At first, I started reading the play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream but it got old VERY quickly to be constantly defining the characters. We decided to let other people read it for me, and listen to this Librivox recording {which hits what I want in a Shakespeare audio – multiple people for the different parts and some English accents because well, I think it sounds better that way!}. We follow along a text from MIT. Just like the retelling, we stop – even more than the retelling – and break apart confusing language, help the littles figure out what’s going on, and so on. We keep out the Playmobils and work on arranging the characters as they enter and exit the scenes.

Peanut running the characters for Act 3 of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”

We listen to an act per week – sometimes all in one sitting if it’s short and everyone is feeling it, or breaking it up if it’s longer and there would be a mutiny to listen to it all at once.

And that’s it! I’m going to start reading the plays with the kids once they’re older and can handle reading the language (right now Peanut is the only one who would be even remotely capable). But right now, it works well what we’re doing.

I am interested to see which play our local Shakespeare company will be performing next year. I would love to read the retelling, read the actual play with the kids, and then go watch it live; since that’s the best way to experience Shakespeare, in my opinion. Hopefully they put their 2018 schedule up soon!

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