Shakespeare is the master of the English language. My goal for introducing Shakespeare to my kids is that they grow accustomed to lilting language and skillful constructions. I believe it is one of the best preparations for good writing, a skill which often doesn’t blossom until junior high or high school – when they are ready with opinions to share.
In my original Shakespeare for Kids post, I wrote:
Shakespeare can be an intimidating subject to introduce. Isn’t the language archaic and the doesn’t high quality mean high difficulty? Actually, the language isn’t that difficult when it’s read (that is, interpreted) by an experienced reader. The profound themes within plots were created not as pure art, but also to entertain the masses. Shakespeare was the hot movie in his day, and he can still be enjoyed that way today.
Shakespeare for Kids: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fun introduction to Shakespeare. It involves magic, fairies, mistaken identities, and lots of action. It’s a common play to find performed live, and it’s generally colorful and lively.
Step 1: Introduce A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare: His Work & Worlds by Michael Rosen is a good Shakespeare biography and background picture book to browse, especially if you have children who love to pore over beautiful illustrations and you don’t mind skipping around and reading a book in sections and not sequentially and completely.
Step 2: Memorize A Midsummer Night’s Dream Famous Lines
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the play which Ken Ludwig recommends beginning with in his book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. When we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I used the lines he recommended memorizing:
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.
and this section, by Bottom:
I have had a dream, past the wit of man to
say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go
about to expound this dream. Methought I was–there
is no man can tell what. Methought I was,–and
methought I had,–but man is but a patched fool, if
he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream
was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of
this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream,
because it hath no bottom
We had added in another speech to our recitation, but after a little more experience, I’d say that for a 5-6 week stretch with one play, two selections is plenty.
However, our little homeschool group has a Helena, so of course we had to learn:
Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand;
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover’s fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
Step 3: Watch A Midsummer Night's Dream Movie or ProductionI am a firm believer that Shakespeare is meant to be seen, so I think watching a production – live or movie – is an important part of learning and loving Shakespeare. Usually we've tried to fit a movie in after reading the picture book summary and introducing the play and before we start the real text. However, that's really tricky with A Midsummer Night's Dream, because Hollywood loves to take Shakespeare comedy as an excuse for nudity. I didn't want to show a movie of a black-and-white stage performance, either, since the point is to show the kids that Shakespeare is fun. Instead of watching a movie, we saw the local children's theatre production, which was very well done and fun. Luckily, this is a play often chosen for small local companies. Keep your eyes open for an opportunity to see it live; it'd be a great first Shakespeare to see live.
Step 4: Listen to A Midsummer Night's DreamHow a text is read greatly influences comprehension and appreciation, so I like to stick with well-done audio versions of the play along with either coloring or reading along. A Shakespearean actor reading the text simply makes it more understandable, and a British accent makes it more enjoyable, too. For Taming of the Shrew we used the Dover Shakespeare Coloring Book, Dover's cheap paperback copy for reading along, and this audio version from Audible.
Step 5: Play A Midsummer Night's DreamNo lectures or charts or Socratic discussions necessary - not for elementary students. Just wait and watch and see what connections they draw themselves and I bet you'll be surprised. Another way the kids enjoyed acting out A Midsummer Night's Dream was with the Masterpuppet Theatre set. They each picked a scene to read while using the puppets to act it out.
The point is having fun with Shakespeare and realizing he isn't scary. If you've done that, you've succeeded, even if the lines aren't memorized and if they can't remember character names a month later.
Shakespeare Lesson PlansAs we study Shakespeare plays together in our homeschool, I am making available our lesson plans and resource lists. Here are the links to each of the plays we've studied so far. Included in each one is a downloadable pdf set with not only the lesson plans, but also the printable quote cue pages we use for memorizing select lines from each play!
- Taming of the Shrew Lesson Plans
- Midsummer Night's Dream Lesson Plans
- Henry V Lesson Plans
- Hamlet Lesson Plans
- Julius Caesar Lesson Plans
- The Tempest Lesson Plans
- Much Ado About Nothing Lesson Plans
- Merchant of Venice Lesson Plans
- Macbeth Lesson Plans