4 Tips to help your kids enjoy Shakespeare

Are your kids interested in the works of Shakespeare? Should they be? I’m excited to introduce guest writer Warren King from NoSweatShakespeare. Warren’s here to talk about how parents can help kids enjoy the work of the great playwright. Find out more below!

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Shakespeare in school

Your children will definitely ‘do’ Shakespeare in school. At what age they first meet him will differ from school to school. Certainly, they will encounter Shakespeare in high school, if they have not done so before then. In some schools Shakespeare-teaching will start earlier: and, indeed, it’s not unheard of for children to be introduced to Shakespeare almost as soon as they’re able to enjoy stories.

Tips to help your kids enjoy Shakespeare

Whilst there are some very exciting things going on in classrooms these days, many children still experience the old-fashioned way of teaching Shakespeare. Tedious explanations, lectures, reading around the class, selected students acting out parts, talking through the Hamlet play text etc.

All of this will set your child in a concrete block regarding Shakespeare. So if you want to avoid this it’s best to think about introducing them to Shakespeare yourself.

As you’re reading this article it can be assumed that you’re one of the lucky ones who has either enjoyed some good Shakespeare experiences or survived bad ones. In which case you may want to share the Bard with your children.

Why would you want to introduce your children to Shakespeare?

Firstly, as an English speaker, Shakespeare is part of your identity. His language was planted deep in your subconscious almost at the moment of your birth. Your mother may have commented to someone about your ‘puking’ or complained that she ‘hasn’t slept a wink’ because of your crying. And used a lot more Shakespeare phrases as you grew up, like exclaiming, ‘for goodness sake,’ or shaking her head and telling you that you’re ‘eating her out of house and home.’

When you’re overtired after a party she may have sent you to bed, telling you you’d had ‘too much of a good thing.’ And now, you will not be able to get through the day without unconsciously using Shakespeare quotes several times.

And then there are the stories, also part of our identity because of their universal nature. We may not all know all the plots of Shakespeare’s plays but, here again, the stories exist deep in our psyche because they are about us – about you and about me and about your child. They are about the things that are most important to us, which means that they are great stories, with which we identify closely.

Shakespeare turns human narratives into stories for audiences, with exactly the right language, making them irresistible. That exploration of human narratives is another strong reason for bringing Shakespeare into your children’s lives.

How to introduce Shakespeare to your kids

So you are here with a child that you want to share your interest of Shakespeare with – what can you do?

1. Start early, and start with the stories.

Each one of Shakespeare’s plays is about many things – most of them interesting to children. Children experience jealousy or envy, for example, – it’s a very powerful emotion – and some of the stories are about that.

Most children are ambitious and there’s a lot in Shakespeare about ambition and how it plays itself out. But most of all, children are interested in the family. It’s the one thing that the plays have in common. That’s a good place to start your storytelling.

Let’s look at a few Shakespeare plots:

A fourteen-year-old girl defies a father who tells her she’s getting married the next day: their quarrel is so fierce that he even strikes her. She is determined not to obey him and takes drastic action. What happens then?

A young prince, son of a king, who shuns the world of privilege and all the high responsibilities of royalty, abandons his family and makes friends among the London low-life. Where does that lead, especially as he’s the heir to the throne?

An old king possessing tremendous power decides to retire and give all his lands and responsibilities to his three daughters but keep the title ‘king.’ He bases each portion on how much each one says she loves him.

The older two make hypocritical, sycophantic statements and the youngest tells him honestly that she loves him simply because he’s her father. He banishes her and hopes the other two will respect him after he has handed all his power to them. What is bound to happen?

A man and his baby daughter are placed in a boat and set adrift. Fifteen years later another family group arrives on the island. One of them is the brother of the man on the island and responsible for his being there. What then?

A brother and sister – twins – are separated in a shipwreck, each one believing the other has drowned; a royal baby is abandoned in the countryside and raised by a shepherd. That can’t be the end of the story.

A mother eats her children, who have been baked in a pie. Ugh! Let’s not go there!

Those are all stories that will chime with your child’s emotions, and they can be told to children rather than read. And in most cases, your child could actually work out what happens, following the simple question at various points: what must happen next?

Shakespeare’s plots follow the lines of human behaviour and all the characters in the plays behave in characteristic human ways. Children ask themselves what they would do and find that Shakespeare’s characters do that too.

2. Use books which retell Shakespeare for children

You may prefer to go to with what has become an enormous body of retellings of Shakespeare for children.

There are stories you could read to them and stories they could read for themselves. There are too many books and series on the market to make recommendations but you will have no trouble in finding them. We would, of course, recommend our series of the plays reworked as children’s and teenage novels by NoSweatShakespeare.

There are several animated versions of the Shakespeare plays. The BBC has a number of great Shakespeare resources offering good tellings of the stories, including The Animated Tales and Shakespeare in Shorts. There are several more American animated series.

3. Scour your local newspapers for Shakespeare activities or festivals in your area.

Take your children along and enjoy the fun!

4. Take them to a production

The most important thing, however, is to take your children to see a production. All the reading about the plays or reading the text, important as they are,  cannot compare with seeing the play as Shakespeare intended it to be received – in a three-dimensional space with colour, movement, music and, above all, poetry.

Shakespeare’s verse was meant to be spoken, not read, and it is in the theatre, with actors, that the play comes to life. Preparing children for a visit to the theatre with storytelling will enhance their enjoyment of the play and knowing the story and the characters will be useful but, at the end of the day, ‘the play’s the thing.’

If you liked this…

Check out more great tips to support your children’s enjoyment of storytelling and reading here.

– Find exciting activities, ideas and reading for children here at readinginspiration.com –

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Angela Stapleford

Angela is the kind of parent who wants to discuss the latest hero movie or middle-grade book series on the school run. She grew up on the Lord of the Rings books and has a background in education & publishing. She believes all children & young people can enjoy wonderful story-telling and loves sharing ideas with others.

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