Teaching Shakespeare can be challenging for many.
Some people question whether Shakespeare should be taught. They think he’s an old white man whose work is required reading in high school.
This idea of inflicting the obligation on the next generation seems cruel and futile to them.
Shakespeare did indeed live more than 500 years ago. But he was also a white Englishman. Students can also study the works of many other great playwrights. It is essential to teach Shakespeare, but I do not doubt that.
Shakespeare’s plays are undoubtedly special and extraordinary. Over five centuries, they have touched millions around the world and been an influential part of Western culture.
Just a small amount of Shakespeare’s work will open up a world of fascinating topics. This includes Japanese cinema, Italian opera and why Shakespeare is so famous.
Shakespeare Week at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
All this to say, I believe Shakespeare should always be introduced to young children.
It is vital that Shakespeare be taught in a way that engages young children with Shakespeare’s works. Shakespeare Week was a national campaign started in the UK in 2014, by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Much like in Canada many Brits are exposed to Shakespeare only as a topic they must learn about for their high school exams. Shakespeare Week was established by the SBT in order to introduce children to Shakespeare (his life, works, and times), in a fun, age-appropriate way. SBT hopes that children will understand Shakespeare and his relevance by the time they reach highschool.
I was an intern at the SBT during the past winter.
As part the Shakespeare Week team, it was my first experience seeing how excited (yes! really excited!) kids can get. It is possible for children to learn about Shakespeare if he’s introduced correctly.
I was able take part in preparations to Shakespeare Week. Then, I traveled around England to visit museums, theatres, historic houses and other venues that were running Shakespeare Week activities.
Lessons from My Shakespeare Week Vacations
Below are lessons that I have learned from my Shakespeare Week travels and my time at SBT. research on designing museum education programs for children. Let me share 5 things Shakespeare Week taught my about teaching Shakespeare in schools:
1. Blood, fairies, or forbidden love are not boring
According to my experience, many people shy away from Shakespeare, whether it’s for children or adults. They fear the topic will bore them.
This is my question to them: have you ever read this stuff. Shakespeare’s plays have a lot of mythical creatures.
Children might need to be a bit more patient understanding the words, but once they grasp the plot they will become interested.
Shakespeare Week and in most classrooms, the most used plays for children to play with were “Macbeth,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream and “Romeo and Juliet.” The children loved them.
Although they were a bit concerned by the murder and ruthlessness in “Macbeth,” their fascination with Shakespeare’s plot points and subtler characters was an interesting one.
2. Participation is important for children
While every child is different, some children may prefer to take an active part in certain activities or lessons. Children are keen to be involved, and that was clear during my Shakespeare Week experience. (Academic research supports this idea. Children learn more when they feel like they have control over their learning.
I found that the Shakespeare Week activities that let kids take control and engage in their own creations were where they became the most engaged. One school group created a whole Macbeth show in just one session. They were so excited that at the end of the day, one of their most reserved students asked for permission to take a bow.
3. The children understand… a lot.
Shakespeare and particularly Shakespearean language can be intimidating, even for the most educated and intelligent adults.
This is why most people assume Shakespeare can be taught to children. However, while it may not be wise to give a young child “Love’s Labour’s Lost” or expect him or her understand the language, it is possible for them to grasp a lot more of what we are allowing them.
“I Bite at You Sir, I Bite My Thumb”
One of my favourite examples of this is a group of young boys who participated in a theatre workshop on Romeo and Juliet. After a little guidance from their workshop directors, they were able to fully understand the scene.
The impeccable tone and inflection with which one boy spoke, “I bite the thumb at you sir”, would have put shame upon any Stratford actor.
4. Adults are very important
Although children may be able to pick up many things on their own it doesn’t necessarily mean that adults aren’t important. Both my SBT and M.A. experiences were very positive. Both my SBT experience and my M.A. The evidence was overwhelming.
Adults set the tone. This can be achieved by creating a positive environment, understanding individual children’s needs, and then teaching. Adults may be bored or disengaged. Children will follow their example.
You’re a good example of why passionate, passionate and curious teachers are worth their weight. It is much more effective to have a passionate school Shakespeare workshops outside of the classroom.
5. Shakespeare can be integrated into any curriculum
The main reason why most people don’t see Shakespeare until their stressful high school English exams, is that Shakespeare is not part of the curriculum (in Canada and Britain) for young children.
As interesting and worthy as teachers may think many topics are, teachers must still be concerned about the curriculum if they wish to justify the cost of field trips or workshops in their schools.
Shakespeare Week is a great example of how Shakespeare can fit in any curriculum. The UK’s Shakespeare Week was celebrated in thousands of schools that registered to use the SBT cross-curricular resources online. These resources can be used by teachers and parents to teach Shakespeare and to help them develop their curriculum skills and age-appropriate math skills. For more information, visit the Shakespeare Week website. Teachers and parents abroad can also register for these resources.
Not all Shakespeare plays are appropriate for children. Children can learn about Shakespeare by learning how to calculate the Globe’s profit, discover Shakespeare’s words and even make Tudor pancakes.
A positive start
Children are naturally positive.
Parents, siblings, and teachers might consider Shakespeare boring. But younger children often don’t have such preconceived ideas.
Shakespeare Week is designed for children to be introduced to Shakespeare while they’re still young, innocent, and unjaded. The project’s success demonstrates that children can quickly form positive relationships with Shakespeare. All they need is the right introduction.
Teaching Shakespeare can be challenging for many.