I am getting a little ahead of myself, but I have to say I was inspired today after reading chapter 30 in Karen Andreola's book, The Charlotte Mason Companion. It basically encouraged reading/listening to Shakespeare even in the elementary ages because of its universal themes.
I love Shakespeare. My college essay was about Shakespeare, the fact that I felt part of something greater than myself when I read it. As a 7/8 Literature teacher, I suggested to our team that we teach Taming of the Shrew to our 7th graders, and many of the teachers and parents balked. "It's too hard!" "They'll never understand iambic pentameter!" "The subjects are above their life experiences!"
But the kids loved it. We acted it out in class (it is a play, after all), we studied about the Elizabethan theater and Shakespeare's life, we memorized monologues, we did group activities of modernizing scenes for today's culture, and we watched the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, which is essentially the story set in present day. At the end of the year, my 7th graders said it was their favorite unit.
Introducing Shakespeare to 7th graders was a stretch, so I never even considered reading it with a 1st or 3rd grader! But "if a child is brought up with an early appreciation of Shakespeare, if Shakespeare becomes a natural part of his educational life, he will not be apprehensive about Shakespeare in his high school years. He will not feel that he is studying, but rather that he is delving into the plays." (p.127) Younger students can read Shakespeare's dramas in E. Nesbit's book "Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children", which is intended for children as young as 6! I plan to get that book for Chloe and start this summer. For Ellie, Andreola recommends "Tales from Shakespeare" by Charles and Mary Lamb, one of the first retellings of his plays written for children about age 10.
So why Shakespeare? His plays are universal. He overflows with ideas of "goodness, pity, generosity, courage, and love," and "in the lines of his plays, he metes out morsels of proverbs spoken by his characters, who entertain us thoroughly. . . His characters, as in real life, are often a mix of virtue and sinfulness . . . Shakespeare was not of an age but for all time" (p. 230). "As the Bible tells us all we need to know about God, Shakespeare tells us some things we ought to know about man. Shakespeare's plays are performed everywhere in the English-speaking world. Can a person who has no knowledge of Shakespeare be considered well-educated?" (p. 232) Well, that's a discussion for another day, but I am certainly on board!
How to start? Andreola suggests 4 things. First, read aloud the story of one of the comedies, maybe during one or 2 morning or bedtime readings. Second, borrow or purchase a Shakespare play on video and discuss it. Third, for grades 1-8, experience one play a year without notes or academic comments. Start with one of the lighter plays, like the comedies. Fourth, listen to professional actors read the text of a play on CD in the original language. The variety of voices and musical interludes stimulate their imaginations.
I don't expect my kids to "get" every nuance of every line, but I know that letting them hear, read, and become familiar with Shakespeare will give them a taste of one of the finer things in life. Homeschool or not, I want to do a summer with Shakespeare with the kids. Perhaps "A Midsummer Night's Dream?"