(a guest post by Sue Schlesman)
I remember reading Shakespeare for the first time in seventh grade.
Romeo and Juliet was in the “Drama” unit of our literature textbook. The boys in class were less than enthusiastic, embarrassed to read Romeo’s lines out loud. (Romeo is a bit pathetic, especially to a thirteen-year-old boy.) Yet Romeo is a remarkably realistic character who suffers from impulse control, infatuation, and perhaps entitlement. He makes mistakes he can’t fix that cause disastrous results for many people. Hmm. Remarkably relevant. Especially for a thirteen-year-old boy.
As an English teacher, I might be biased toward the legendary bard, but I believe nonetheless that childhood is a fabulous time to fall in love with Shakespeare.
Here are six reasons:
- Shakespeare can be fun. Get Shakespeare in a kid-friendly version (all the taboo topics and extraneous language will be edited out) that has the quotable and notable Shakespeare lines still intact. Here are two worthy Shakespeare series for kids: Sweet Cherry Publishing and the Shakespeare Can Be Fun series by Lois Burdett. These kid-friendly versions of Shakespeare’s main titles will entertain elementary-aged kids in a more understandable dialogue (and in Burdett’s books, with children’s drawings).
- Shakespeare can strengthen your child’s vocabulary and comprehension. Just as with nursery rhymes, the musical cadence of Shakespeare’s poetry (even unrhymed poetry such as blank verse) helps children learn and retain information. Children will be willing to investigate new words, if the story captures them. Dive in with a brief explanation about the Elizabethan st on the ends of verbs, and you’re good to go. They will also learn words they won’t encounter elsewhere, like ado, fie, and bodkin.
- It gives children a platform for good writing. One of the key differences between decent writing and great writing is the natural rhythm of the language. Children who learn to choose the right word for a sentence and string it together with other right words so that the sentence rolls off the tongue will grow up to inspire others through communication. This is a craft learned by exposure to eloquent diction.
- Kids love to act out stories. They will enjoy dressing in togas for Julius Caesar or witches’ hats for Macbeth. Sword fights, stabbings, fairies, and marriage proposals will capture their imaginations. When a story comes alive to children, it finds a place in their hearts and minds, where it lives and grows and influences them. And children will better understand plot and dialogue while performing it.
- Children will learn plot lines, themes, and characters that will appear in books, movies, and dramas for the rest of their lives. Their enjoyment of those media will be deepened as they recognize and understand allusions to Shakespeare. And every time they hear such names as Lady Macbeth, Juliet, Shylock, or Hamlet, they will remember the tragedy or triumph that occurred and why.
- Reading Shakespeare exposes children to the depth and breadth of human nature. People haven’t changed in four hundred—or even two thousand—years. Truth is always true. When children learn from literature, they become analytical thinkers. They learn to decipher wisdom and foolishness, love and lust, authenticity and guile. They learn to study people and time periods and make the connections between them. In short, they become students of human nature, which makes them students of themselves.
What better results could you hope for?