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Accessible Shakespeare

Image courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library.

To read or not to read Shakespeare to your kids. That is the question. Of course you want your kids to learn the classics, but how do you introduce them to the Bard? Do you read it in the original sixteenth century play format, or do you go for modernized kid versions? At what age do you start? Does an accessible Shakespeare approach exist for children? Continuing in our theme from yesterday, when we explored what teaching the old-fashioned way means during a high-tech age, today we consider why and how parents can introduce Shakespeare’s classic works to their children.

According to teachers and Shakespearean scholars, you can start as early as elementary school. The Folger Shakespeare Library is a great resource for ideas with everything from lesson plans and videos to techniques for reading and understanding Shakespeare’s language. No Sweat Shakespeare also offers kid-friendly interpretations that appeal to today’s more visual learners. For some basic dos and don’ts, check out for the beginning Bard basics below:

Shakespeare for Elementary Students

Be fearless! Your kids are.

Elementary school students are not yet worried about what they don’t know. Interest them in Shakespeare now, before they become convinced that reading him is “hard.”

Start with the Stories.

Shakespeare adaptations for children have been around almost as long as Shakespeare’s plays. Read these stories aloud to your students or provide them with copies for individual reading. Many of these books have gorgeous illustrations. Tales From Shakespeare is a wonderful volume with which to begin. Though currently out-of-print,  you can easily find a copy of the book on Amazon or at your local library.

Shakespeare inspires.

Read Shakespeare’s stories to children and watch their imaginations take off. Provide them with plenty of art supplies and see where their imaginations take them.

Play with the language.

Shakespeare wrote plays, not novels, and his language is full of short passages that are fun to act out or play with. Many of Shakespeare’s plays contained songs —start with those.

Start small.

You don’t need to study an entire play with your students. Begin with a particularly exciting scene—one with lots of action.

Be prepared.

The more comfortable you are with the material, the more comfortable the students will be. But don’t worry if you are not a Shakespeare scholar. You and your students can discover the works together.

Connect it to your students’ lives.

Begin a study of a Shakespeare play with a few improvisational activities. Ask the students, “How would you feel if… you woke up as a donkey… you liked a boy/girl whose parents fought with your parents… you found yourself shipwrecked on a strange island… etc.?”

Keep it moving.

At the elementary level, it’s important to keep the learning active. Make sure students are up on their feet speaking Shakespeare’s words and acting out his scenes.

Create a safe environment for performance.

When your kids are ready to perform scenes, go over audience etiquette. Ask students what makes a good audience (listening, applauding after a performance, being respectful of actors, etc.).

Stress the qualities of a good actor.

Tell students that they need to be seen and heard when on stage.