Teaching Shakespeare can be difficult for many.
Some wonder if Shakespeare should be taught. They claim he is just an old, white man whose work they were forced into studying in high school.
These people find the idea of inflicting such an obligation on the next generation both cruel and absurd.
Shakespeare was alive over 500 years ago. He was also another white Englishman. There are many other great playwrights for students to learn from. However, I believe it is still important to teach Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s works are a wonderful and unique piece of work that has touched millions across the globe for more than five centuries. It has also been a major influence on Western culture.
Knowing a little about Shakespeare’s works can help you understand a lot of interesting topics, such as Japanese cinema and Italian opera, or why Shakespeare is the most popular playwright in the entire world.
Shakespeare Week at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
This is all to say, I believe it’s important for young children to be introduced to Shakespeare.
It is important that Shakespeare be taught to children in a way that allows them to have meaningful and memorable conversations about his works and make their own decisions on whether or not they want to learn more. Shakespeare Week is a nationwide campaign that was launched in the UK by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 2014.
Many Brits are only introduced to Shakespeare as a subject that they have to study for their high school exams. Shakespeare Week was started by the SBT to help children in Britain learn about Shakespeare’s life and work. The SBT hopes that students will be able to understand Shakespeare’s relevance and fun, and not view him as a source for stress and confusion when they reach high school.
I was able to intern at the SBT for two months in the winter.
I was part of the Shakespeare Week team and witnessed firsthand how excited (yes, really thrilled!) people can be. If Shakespeare is presented in the right way, children can learn a lot about Shakespeare.
The SBT allowed me to participate in preparations for Shakespeare Week and to travel around England, visiting museums, theatres and historic houses that were hosting Shakespeare Week activities.
Lessons from My Shakespeare Week Travels
Below are some lessons I learned from my Shakespeare Week travels, as well as my time at SBT and subsequent M.A. research on museum education activities for children. Here are 5 things Shakespeare Week taught us about teaching Shakespeare to children:
1. Blood, fairies and forbidden love are not boring
My experience is that many people hesitate to introduce Shakespeare to children or adults because they fear that it will bore them.
I have a question for them: Have you ever read this stuff? Shakespeare’s plays are filled with mythical creatures, shipwrecks and plotting. They also include back-stabbing (literally), murder, and other ploys.
Children may need some help understanding the words (more details soon), but once they are able to understand the plot, they will be very interested.
Shakespeare Week was a time when Shakespeare plays were most popular in classrooms. The most loved plays for children were “Macbeth”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
Although their fascination with “Macbeth,” the murderous and ruthless act of “Macbeth”, was somewhat troubling, it did get them interested in Shakespeare’s more subtle plot points.
2. Children want to get involved
Every child is unique, so each child may be more interested in participating in an activity or lesson than others. Children want to participate in the learning process, as I saw during Shakespeare Week. Academic research supports the notion that children learn better when they feel they can control their learning.
My favorite Shakespeare Week activities that I saw kids become the most involved in were those that allowed them take charge and be actively involved. For example, one school group created an entire Macbeth production in just one day. The idea was so exciting that one of the more reserved students asked if they could all bow and took the lead.
3. Children understand… a lot.
Even the most intelligent and well-educated adult can find Shakespeare, especially Shakespearean language, daunting.
It is likely that this is why most people assume that Shakespeare should be taught to children. Although it is not wise to give a child “Love’s Labour’s Lost” as a book and expect them to understand the language, they are more capable than we think.
“I Bite my Thumb at you Sir”
Two young boys took part in a workshop on “Romeo and Juliet” and were able to perform the opening scene with great success.
One boy’s flawless delivery and tone of speech, “I bite your thumb at you sir”, would have put shame on any Stratford actor.
4. Adults are vital
Children can learn a lot by themselves, but it doesn’t mean that adults don’t matter. Both my SBT experience as well as my M.A. My research revealed the importance of family members and teachers (museum educators, workshop director, etc.) It was clear.
Adults can set the tone. They can create a positive environment, understand the needs of each child, and teach. Children will also follow the example of adults who are disengaged or uninterested.
These are the reasons why passionate, curious, and enthusiastic teachers like you, if you have read this far, can be worth their weight. A passionate museum educator can also make learning activities more efficient outside the classroom.
5. Shakespeare can be incorporated into any curriculum
Most people don’t learn Shakespeare until they take their high school English exams. This is because Shakespeare isn’t on the Canadian or British curriculums for children.
Teachers need to be aware of the curriculum regardless of how interesting or worthy they may find many topics. This is especially important if they are trying to justify spending money on field trips or in-school workshops.
Shakespeare Week shows that Shakespeare can be integrated into any curriculum or by visiting Shakespeare Workshops for primary. Thousands of schools in the UK celebrated Shakespeare Week by signing up for the SBT’s cross-curricular online resources. These resources could be used by parents and teachers to teach Shakespeare to their children, as well as to develop curriculum and math skills. You can learn more at Shakespeare Week. International parents and teachers may also register to access the resources.
Children don’t need to be introduced to Shakespeare by reading a play. You can teach children about Shakespeare by helping them to calculate the Globe’s profits, decipher Shakespeare’s words, and even making Tudor pancakes.
A positive start
Children are naturally positive.
Although some adults, teachers, and siblings might find Shakespeare boring, younger children are more open to learning.
Shakespeare Week is designed to introduce children to Shakespeare at a time when they are young and innocent. Children can form positive relationships with Shakespeare, as long as they are given the right introduction.
Teaching Shakespeare can be difficult for many.