“To be or not to be.” “The course of true love never did run smooth.” “All the world’s a stage.” The language, characters, and stories of William Shakespeare have far-reaching influence for us today in our books, our pop culture, and even our everyday conversations.
But despite all this Shakespeare all around us, many of us are still left scratching our heads and wondering how in the world to begin studying the Bard with our students.
We are joined today on the podcast by homeschool grad, homeschool mom, and avid Shakespeare lover, Mystie Winkler of Simply Convivial. Mystie describes how, in just a few minutes a couple of times a week, we can share Shakespeare with our children and create in them not only a familiarity with his work, but also a taste for the beauty of his poetry.
When we focus on experiencing, enjoying, and embodying Shakespeare by memorizing passages, watching plays, and maybe even acting out a few scenes ourselves, we can foster a lifelong affection for this beloved figure in English literature.
Links and resources from today’s show:
- Simply Convivial
- How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig
- How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare website
- Mystie’s Shakespeare posts
- The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare recordings
Pam: This is Your Morning Basket, where we help you bring Truth, Goodness and Beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone, and welcome to episode 16 of the Your Morning Basket podcast. I’m Pam Barnhill, your host, and I’m so happy you’re joining me here today. Well, today we get to talk about one of my absolutely favorite topics and that is Shakespeare. I do love the Bard. He had a way with words, could tell a marvelous tale, and is simply a delight to read either for ourselves or with our children to share those stories. And so, I’m joined today by my good friend, Mystie Winckler, of SimplyConvivial.com, and we’re going to chat about how she does Shakespeare in her home with a group of kids who are upper elementary to about middle school age. She has a very set pattern that she follows when she’s studying Shakespeare with them, and she’s found that this particular method or procedure that she uses really works well for this set of kids. And hey, it’s all done in about 10 minutes a day. I really think you’re going to like this episode of the podcast. We’re also going to chat about one of our favorite Shakespeare resources for homeschool, and that is How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig. I really think you’re going to enjoy it so sit back and we’ll get started.
Mystie Winckler is a homeschool grad herself who married another homeschool grad and is now homeschooling five children. She writes thoughtfully about classical education, educational philosophy, homemaking, and more at her blog, Simply Convivial. Through her popular e-course, Simplified Organization, she helps moms examine their own attitudes toward organization and homemaking and equips them to set up their own workable plans and structures. Mystie is one of those people who has great plans when it comes to Shakespeare, and so I asked her to be on the program today to tell us a little bit about how she pulls that off, with a topic that could be a little intimidating to homeschool moms. So, Mystie, welcome to the program.
Mystie: Hello, thank you Pam.
Pam: Well, first of all, tell me a little bit about why you like Shakespeare so much and why you think he’s an important figure for us to study in our homeschools?
Mystie: Well, I do love Shakespeare, and part of that is that I’m an English major, so it’s kind of a prerequisite for being an English major, but I do think it’s just lovely poetry and classic stories. Sometimes Shakespeare is described as almost the inventor of the English language. So much Shakespeare is in our language today. We learn the Greek myths so that we can understand what Shakespeare and other great literature, we almost have to know Shakespeare to understand the expressions that we have today in our language, and the stories are just so good.
Pam: There are so many illusions, especially literary illusions, but also when you get into even more popular culture, like movies and things like that nature if you’re not familiar with a lot of the stories of Shakespeare, there are a lot of things that are just going right over your head.
Mystie: Yes, that’s very true. And you know, a lot of times Shakespeare actually took stories from his own day, or previous stories, like classic fairytales or just stories of the culture, so it’s not like they’re original stories to his own imagination, but more, they’re these cultural stories that we only read them today as his versions but they were just widely known stories that he took and made even more beautiful.
Pam: Right. And stories that are older than him…
Pam: … so we’re reaching back even further than just Shakespeare. And then the language is just so beautiful.
Pam: So there’s so much thought, and I remember going to a Michael Clay Thompson, at a convention, he was giving a workshop there on poetics and language, and so many of his examples were coming from Shakespeare, and just the thought that Shakespeare had put into how Romeo is using round vowels and soft consonants like ‘s’ and ‘m’ in the sounds of what he’s speaking but then the witches in Macbeth are using hard guttural ‘g’ and ‘k’ and ‘u’ and things like that, and you just never think about what we’re taking in in language that goes beyond what we’re actually thinking about.
Mystie: That’s true. I think Shakespeare is a great bridge between old English and our modern English because in old English, English poetry was alliterative, where it’s really mean to be heard orally, rhyming isn’t really a thing in the original form of poetry for the English language is alliterative, with the sounds of the words and how they come together within a line of poetry is what makes it poetic, and Shakespeare definitely draws on that sound of the English language, and brings that old feeling of guttural earthy English and brings it up to his time, but then it’s shaped our modern English so much that it’s a scraped bridge.
Pam: Right, kind of a bridge between the alliterative and where we moved into the more rhyming system of poetry, and then, now we’ve come back around from that in the modern era too. So it’s interesting how poetry changes. Well, tell me about some of Shakespeare’s plays. Do you have an absolute favorite one that you like? Just you personally, not so much at this point studying with your kids.
Mystie: I’d say Hamlet is definitely one of my favorites but recently I got a three volume set of DVDs on the kings, so it’s Henry IV, Part I and Part II, and Henry V, and I had never read that play but I saw the movie and it was just so fascinating, so now Henry V is one of my favorite plays and I didn’t really know much about Henry IV, and so now that kind of inspired me. It’s on a list of books to do with the kids.
Pam: OK, very cool. I don’t think I know anything about Henry IV, so …
Mystie: I didn’t either so after watching the movie I’m comparing versions of the movies and reading bits of the play and looking up on Wikipedia, ‘OK, who was related to who and who married who and how did this war happen?’ I like the English monarchy stories.
Pam: I’m actually, kind of, an anglophile myself, it’s a lot of fun. Well, so what about reading with the kids? I know that you’ve read a number of Shakespeare plays with your kids so let’s set the context for this. You do Shakespeare in one of your versions of Morning Time, which is called Elementary Lessons, and this is, kind of, your Morning Time only for older kids, so I think we need to make it clear from the get-go that there aren’t a lot of little kids running around while you’re doing this. This is a more dedicated focused type of Morning Time you’re doing a couple of days a week with an older group of kids?
Pam: So, what Shakespeare plays have you done with them, and which ones did you like?
Mystie: We started off with Taming of the Shrew. So we’ve done Taming of the Shrew, Henry V, right now we’re doing the Tempest. We did Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I’m sure we did one more … Oh! We just finished Julius Cesar.
Pam: So quite a few?
Mystie: Yeah, we do two or three a year, and this is our third year.
Pam: Well, walk me through the process of how you, well, first of all, tell me what’s the age of the youngest student that you’re working with here or the youngest you would work with?
Mystie: Well, in our elementary lessons, it’s about 8 and up, but mostly 9, 10, 11.
Pam: So, that’s the age of kids. And then, walk me through the process of how you would do this. How would you start doing Shakespeare with them? And let’s start with, kind of, a pre-reading? How would you prepare them to get ready to listen to or read a Shakespeare play?
Mystie: For the first couple of plays that we did, we started with a biography of Shakespeare, to give them a little background as to the history and who he is and the setting that he wrote them in, now we don’t do that very much seeing as we’ve read a couple and now we just do the plays. And then when we start a new play, we start with a picture book version, and I will start off and read about a couple of pages into it, so we’ll get maybe a third of the way or half of a way through the book, just the picture book version. And then stop, and go around, so I’ll have five or six people around the table and go around and ask to each name one of the characters afterward, so, to make sure they were paying attention. It’s kind of a little mini narration. And then, when we come back for the next lesson, I’ll go around and do that again, and ask them to each name a character that they remember and maybe something about them, so to prompt their memory. Sometimes some of the older kids have already read the picture book because they’re just laying around, so they might pipe up with some opinions or hints about what’s coming, and we finish the book, so reading the picture book version isn’t even just a one-sitting thing. It’ll take two or three classes, or times, before we get through even the picture book version and we’re narrating and we’re starting by remembering who we’re talking about, what’s happened, then read a little bit more, narrate a little bit.
Pam: So, basically at this point, you’re just trying to get the characters down, the plot of the story before you start digging into the language?
Pam: And, how long? You said it could take two to three times to read this picture book, so how long are you spending at this, do you think, on any given time?
Mystie: About 10 minutes.
Mystie: About 10-15 minutes on Shakespeare.
Mystie: Yep, and even at that rate, and that’s twice a week, so 10 or 15 minutes twice a week. The very first thing we do every time we do Shakespeare is recite some.
Mystie: So, I got this idea actually from Ken Ludwig’s “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare” book, and where he talks in there about memorizing actually being the key to, not only learning Shakespeare, but loving Shakespeare, so that when you’re doing Shakespeare, you’re actually growing your language skills and also your affection for, this is just something that we do even not just listen to and receive, and so you take about half of a line and it’s on big font, and so one line on your sheet is about half of a line of Shakespeare, and we just go through and it’ll be a paragraph chunk that we’ll memorize, and so we start off every class period, I hold it up so they can all see it, and so it’s not like call and repeat. Everyone sees it and everyone says it altogether.
Pam: So you start by memorizing that passage?
Mystie: So we memorize one or two passages for each play, and we recite the same passage every time we start for that play. So we’ll say that same passage one or two times, twice a week, for six or eight weeks.
Pam: And then they’ll have it?
Pam: OK. You know what I love about this is they’re really embodying the language of Shakespeare, they’re internalizing it, they’re making it their own. I actually did the first passage in that book, “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare” with my kids, the one from A Midsummer’s Night Dream and …
Mystie: I know a bank.
Pam: Yes, I know a bank. It was funny, we had a poetry tea day at our house, where we had a bunch of people over to have snacks and do this poetry slam on the back porch and all of the kids were reading their different poems, and things like that, and my seven year old got up at the time, he was seven at the time he’s almost nine now, and did that poem and you know, he was just so proud of himself, and he really owned that piece of Shakespeare because he had memorized it for himself.
Mystie: That’s awesome. Yeah, when I was putting together my own plans, at first I had ordered it so that we would read a picture book, maybe watch a movie, maybe start reading it, and then start memorizing, but when I read Ken Ludwig’s book he really encourages you to start with memorizing even before you know the story or introduce the story, to start with memorizing. And so I went with that and I was really excited to see how that worked out because then when we are reading the picture book, or watching the movie, or listening to it being read aloud, they light up when they hear those familiar phrases, and then they start putting together the connections of the context, but it just really triggers this light in their eyes when they hear something that they recognize because they know it.
Pam: Right. It’s almost like it’s they’re a piece of the play.
Pam: I do love that. I think another thing I love about that book is that he has some really great explanations in there, and I know it only helps if you’re doing the plays that he is talking about in the book, but I think it’s really easy to take some of the ways he explains things and some of the context and apply it to other plays, like “Oh, see how simple it is to sit and have this conversation with my child about this small chunk of Shakespeare,” so now I can take it and apply it to another chunk of Shakespeare, and have the same kind of conversation even if what we’re talking about is going to be slightly different.
Mystie: It’s like a model of this is how to go about it; here are some examples, things you might draw out. It really makes it simple, not where you’re copying it exactly but where you can say this is what it looks like to talk about Shakespeare and it seems like it might be this scary, intimidating thing, but it doesn’t have to be. It can just be, “So what does this line mean?” And talk about what that brought up a little bit.
Pam: And I think sometimes we think about having to take Shakespeare, a play or something in its entirety, and this really gives us permission to take it in smaller chunks and to pull out a piece of language that might be beautiful or worthy or it might be just even pivotal to the plot and to pull out one small chunk and say, “OK, now we’re going to talk about this chunk, we’re going to have a conversation.” And really, that’s all it is, it’s a conversation.
Mystie: Or sometimes we feel like we have to, if we’re studying Shakespeare, then that means analyzing it and that means we have to understand every chunk, or we have to talk about it, and pick it apart, and be able to write a five paragraph opinion essay or something after the fact, like that’s what studying means. But when we’re doing it with our kids in the Morning Time kind of way, I think the biggest goal is really just that we enjoy Shakespeare, and learn to enjoy these stories and enjoy the language and that kind of analyzing, taking it apart, and making sure we understand every little bit, we’re not going to really understand every little bit probably ever. And that’s OK.
Pam: And I think that’s definitely important. We won’t come to a full understanding so we might as well enjoy it.
Mystie: And that’s why it’s so great to come back to again and again because every time you’ll see something a little bit different.
Pam: So far we have memorized a portion of the play and every time we’re getting together and doing this, a couple of times a week, for about 10 minutes we’re going over our memory work, and now we’ve read our picture book, and we’ve kind of had some simple conversations about who the characters are, maybe a point or two about the plot. OK, so that’s our prep work.
Pam: What do we do next?
Mystie: The next thing we do is typically not in our elementary lessons. At some time, we either watch a live version or watch a movie. So either we know of a local production that’s going on so we’ve planned around that or I have a movie version. And after reading the picture book and starting our memory, the next thing we do is sometime on a Saturday, or sometime, we all get together and just watch a movie with popcorn.
Mystie: Because I am of the ‘Shakespeare is meant to be seen and not heard or read.’
Pam: Yes, I’m so glad you said that. Yes. This is one of my pet peeves, is that everybody’s like, “we’re going to do Shakespeare” and they pull out this big, dusty tome, you know, everybody’s got the Complete Works of Shakespeare and they blow the dust off and open it up and sit there and try to read silently these words, and that’s not the way you do Shakespeare.
Mystie: You think any movie classic do we read the scripts, do those get published and we’d read them?
Mystie: Shakespeare is the script of a play, so it’s best to be seen, especially you get the visual and the actor, the way the actor reads those lines just gives it so much more because he knows what he’s doing and how his whole body language and tone, it gives so much to the meaning and most of the time they know what they’re doing.
Mystie: So, even if you don’t understand every single word you still get the point and you get the beauty of it, so you can just watch the movie like kids watch movies. Little kids don’t care if they understand every single line, they’re just watching and enjoying themselves, and so I think that’s the way we should watch the Shakespeare movies too. If you feel a little lost, that’s OK, just enjoy it.
Pam: Right, and you’ll eventually, and honestly I have found by watching some of these things more than once I understand what’s going on more the second time.
Pam: So once we’ve done that – so we’ve read our picture book, and we’ve memorized our lines, and we have watched our movie, then do you read the play?
Mystie: Then we read the play!
Pam: OK, so tell me how this works.
Mystie: I am a big fan of audio books and so I use audio books for reading the play. I will give each child their own little paperback version. So I usually have a couple, I borrow a couple, get a few from the library so that each person’s holding their own copy of the play and then usually I use the Archangel production. There are a couple I didn’t prefer that one but so I’ll get either the Archangel or I just listen to samples on Audible and I usually get them off of Audible, and so we will listen to about 10-15 minutes at a time and read along while we listen so they’re getting the visual; they’re following along and listening with their ears, and I think that just hearing the words pronounced well, and with expression, helps the comprehension and I can’t always do that.
Mystie: So I just turn on the audio book and you get that actor/professionalism that just helps the meaning becomes more evident, and so that’s how we do the reading of the play. They’re reading with their eyes but also getting it through their ears at the same time.
Pam: And so, do you stop and discuss often? Do you wait until the end of your 10 minute period and talk about things? Do you, I guess, expand upon this in any way beyond just the reading?
Mystie: Only organically. Sometimes it happens but I don’t force it and a lot of times we don’t even narrate after that, because we’ve done the picture book, we’ve watched the movie, so sometimes when I stop it, usually some child will volunteer an opinion about what just happened, and we might talk about that a little bit but for the most part we just take it and then do the next thing, and by the time we get to the end… when we did Julius Caesar, we talked a little bit about “so was Caesar ambitious?” and they all said “Brutus was ambitious!”
Pam: So you do have discussions when they come up but you’re not giving them a study guide or making them fill anything out or forcing anything?
Mystie: No, no, no, no filling in blank spots, no quizzes, and not any real formal discussion, sort of thing. I think my main goal when we do Shakespeare is that they are familiar with it and that they enjoy it and that they will want to come back to it again.
Pam: Why not stop after just watching the movie? Why do you feel it’s important to take that extra step and have them, you know, even though that they’re listening to the audio book at this point, but listen and read the words on the page?
Mystie: Well, I see our Shakespeare studies as being part of their language development and so I think the hearing and the seeing helps them understand what’s going on. It’s a little bit slower than a movie, so it’s a little bit easier. With the movie you’re seeing the action, and with the audio book and reading it you’re really focusing on a lot more on the language, and what’s being said rather than what’s happening. And so I think it really slows that down and I think it helps their language patterns and acquiring good English patterns in their heads and with their eyes so, I can’t prove that there’s any direct correlation but I believe it helps their spelling because they’re hearing and seeing at the same time, so they’re seeing correct spelling, and I think it helps their writing for sure, although they don’t mimic it directly but you can’t really prove any of it directly but I am positive that it just helps their taste form and their recognition of beautiful language.
Pam: Well, you had me at “slow down.” You know, I really think you have an excellent point there with when it’s larger than life on the movie screen, it’s so easy to get caught up in the plot and all of the action and everything that’s going on and focus maybe a little bit less on the dialogue, but when you’re looking at it in a book and you’re hearing it and you’re creating your own pictures in your head, then you’re going to focus a little more on the dialogue and the language.
Mystie: My favorite doing-Shakespeare-with-the-kids story happened with Julius Caesar which we just finished. So we do our elementary lessons with friends. So we don’t have little kids there because they’re with my friend, I have her big kids. So it was actually my friend’s oldest daughter; we had done the picture book version, we’d watched the movie, we’re listening and reading along, and when Brutus is making his speech to the public after stabbing Caesar, he says, “I only killed him because it was in the best interest of Rome and if Rome needs my death then I will gladly offer that also” (paraphrased obviously).
Pam: You mean that’s not how he really said that?
Mystie: And she looks up and her eyes are all lit up and she said, “That actually is going to happen! He’s going to die and it’s going to be good for Rome!”
Pam: She had it all figured out.
Mystie: Yes, it’s foreshadowing.
Pam: Oh, and that’s great. Well, let’s talk a little bit about a few logistical things? So you have this wonderful situation where two times a week you get to bring all of these older kids to your house and do the things you love with them and then all of the little kids go to your friend’s house and she gets to do the things that she loves, which is work with little kids on picture books and things like that, and it’s just a great set up.
Pam: But what happens if I don’t have that set up? And, you know, I really think there’s a golden age of Morning Time for a lot of families when their kids are in the upper elementary to junior high school where they’re not doing high school yet and everybody’s right there together and you can spend a lot of time doing wonderful Morning Time things. They’re a lot of families that have little kids around. So if you had a lot of little kids around what might you do differently, do you think?
Mystie: If we doing this during our normal all together family Morning Time then I think it still works, I don’t think anything we do is inappropriate for the younger kids, it’s mostly just how disruptive they are and how loud, it’s a little bit difficult to follow along and hear when there’s toddler noises or baby noises going on.
Pam: So how might you handle that? Would you maybe even go a little shorter than, like definitely under 10 minutes?
Mystie: I would definitely keep it at 10 minutes and not go over that. And things like snacks or something, maybe if you fill their mouths maybe they’d make less noise.
Pam: It depends on what you fill their mouth with, but yes.
Mystie: Yes, very true.
Pam: And then certainly you could do the movie time as a special treat after the littlest ones have gone to bed and things of that nature.
Mystie: And even some of them are just still at our house when we’re doing that, they’re just not usually that impressed.
Pam: They wander off. Well, let’s talk about the other, kind of, elephant in the room when it comes to Shakespeare, and that is the off-color humor, the violence, and the adult themes. So you’ve told us a lot of reasons why Shakespeare is a worthy thing for us to study, but he was kind of racy. So what do you do about that?
Mystie: Well, when I was thinking about that for our family, I also thought back to my early exposure to Shakespeare. I think I read the first play when I was around 10 or 11, something like that, and my mom let me watch a couple of movies and I totally did not understand, but I think it planted some seeds, and so that’s one reason why I’m comfortable with if they don’t understand it or even if they say they don’t like it, I kind of let it roll off, well exposure breeds taste, so we’re going to keep exposing you. So myself as a homeschool kid reading it I didn’t see or get any of it, so …
Pam: And by any of it you mean any of the crude humor?
Mystie: Any of the innuendos, any of the ludeness, any of the body jokes, they just totally went over my head, until I was reading at one point when they had the gloss on the side, so where it paraphrases each phrase, so pretty much that one, I think it was Taming of the Shrew, and so you’d read the text on one side and the other side basically tells you what all the jokes mean.
Pam: Right. Yes.
Mystie: And I was quite shocked.
Pam: Well, and you know that’s a really great point to make. We came up with this point, so right now my Scholé Sisters Group is reading The Tempest because our middle schoolers and high schoolers are going to read it next year. And so I thought I will just be really smart, I’ll get the no-fear Shakespeare version which is what you talk about, it has the Shakespearian version on one side and then it has this modern English translation on the other side, and you know, I’m sitting there reading through the first couple of acts and I go to our teacher and I’m like, “We’re not using this version with the kids next year.”
Pam: Because they would never understand it, it would completely go over their head. And, you know, if you don’t volunteer to explain it, then that’s where it stays, is over their head.
Pam: So sometimes by providing them with the copy that lays everything out that’s not necessarily the best thing to do.
Mystie: Yep, yes. So I’m a little bit careful about which paperback version I give which child with that, because they don’t need the literal exactly what this double entendre means.
Mystie: But it is there and it’s still good literature. I don’t think that detracts from its quality, and so I just let it roll. If it rolls over their head then that’s fine, they aren’t ready for it, they don’t need to be told, they don’t even need to know what’s there, they just see insults or they see vivid description and they don’t need to know or care to know what’s literally being said or implied, so we just stick with that.
Pam: And yeah, then one day they’re going to be adults and they’re going to be going, “Can you believe mom let us read this stuff?”
What do you do, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen to you or not, but what do you do if you have a kid that just hates it?
Mystie: Yeah, we haven’t had that too much.
Pam: Why do you think that’s the case because you have boys, they’re boys, they’re into boy things, so why do you think they have an affinity or a taste for Shakespeare, or at least to the point where they’re not complaining about it?
Mystie: One of the first plays that I showed them, and I did it before we doing this study, one of their first exposures to Shakespeare was the movie Henry V with Kenneth Branagh, which is very much a war-boy-guy sort of movie.
Mystie: So I don’t think they ever were exposed to the idea that Shakespeare’s even poetry necessarily, although you know we do so much poetry in Morning Time that they don’t have any, they like poetry, but also my husband likes Shakespeare and will watch it with us, and we have Shakespeare quotes that both of us will just use, so I think that for us, partly, it was just part of our family culture already, it was a pretty easy thing to weave in, but I know for my siblings and I it was less that way and for my siblings when some of their first exposure was in that middle school, where it’s kind of cool to resist, you want to be put off, and some of the first things they did were acted out, so this isn’t something that we just study, this is something that we do, and I think that that really helped them quite a bit, just be drawn into it because they were acting, and that was a lot of fun, so they enjoyed it because they were able to do it. I’ve not been good about that, we do a tiny bit sometimes but just having to act it out, then you really own it, and really know it, and it really becomes a part of you.
Pam: And that’s kind of the beauty of Ludwig’s technique. I can’t necessarily, I don’t have the time, or the kids around me, to put together a production. I’ve always read about Melissa Wiley’s backyard productions of Shakespeare and thought, ‘Oh man that would be awesome’ but by using this technique with memorizing, you kind of get a piece of that without having to set up the stage in the backyard and find all the costumes.
Mystie: Yeah, and I think if you do have more of an extroverted active family then something like that could be a great way to get into it. We’re more of the bookish family already so it works for us …
Mystie: … to keep it as a memory.
Pam: But, those fight scenes and especially with that movie, there’s horses and swords, and I think that’s a great way … because if you take an 11 year old and their first exposure to Shakespeare is Romeo and Juliet, well, of course that’s “gag” but you know.
Mystie: My boys are not very thrilled with, they like Taming of the Shrew actually, that’s the one we started as our first study, and I think it’s just because the man in there is so rude, but they like that, but a Midsummer Night’s Dream they’re “meh,” they’re don’t really care that much for it.
Pam: But on the other hand if you have a 9 or 10 year old girl like I do …
Pam: … the fairies …
Mystie: Then they’re dressing up, their fairy wings are suddenly …
Pam: Yes, exactly, and she was just enraptured by a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and like I said, we memorized a couple of the passages from it in How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, and then one of our local universities was putting on a play, and so we called and made sure that it was going to be age-appropriate and except for a couple of the costumes it was, you know, fairly tame, and I never would have thought I could have taken an 8 year old to see Shakespeare and she would have sat on the edge of her seat for three hours, and just laughing and enjoying like she did, and so …
Mystie: I think that’s a great one to see live if you can.
Mystie: It’s just fun. So, just being strategic about which plays you pick first. For boys, I think Henry V and Julius Caesar are probably good bets.
Pam: Right. And then you know if you don’t have that family culture that is, kind of, in love with Shakespeare, then I would think being a co-student, a co-learner, not trying to be the person with all the answers, but “hey, let’s do this together, we’re going to learn about this together” …
Pam: That’s probably a good tactic to take.
Mystie: Yes. And another thing, I have a friend who has a couple of boys and she is just doing Shakespeare in their altogether time and she has them set up their Duplo or Lego people. So while she’s reading out loud they set up the people and they have to knock them over if they die, so they aren’t following along reading they’re just listening, but they have their little people and they have to make them do something appropriate for what they’re hearing, so whether that’s dying or talking or …
Pam: Oh fun.
Mystie: So that’s a great way, too, to have the informal acting out.
Pam: Right, right. OK, so we’ve talked a little bit about good plays for boys. So give me a couple more names. Henry V, obviously, Julius Caesar, do you have another good boy play?
Mystie: Well, I think Taming of the Shrew is actually a pretty good one because even though it’s a romance the guy and the girl are arguing and fighting almost the whole time, and they’re very rude and insulting to each other. He just acts like a brute, throwing food around and just doing bizarre atrocious things.
Pam: So it’s like a Shakespearian food fight, which any boy would absolutely love.
Pam: OK, and girls? We said A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m still not going to turn my 9 year old loose with Romeo and Juliet, but what else?
Mystie: We haven’t done that one.
Pam: What else?
Mystie: Let’s see.
Pam: Twelfth Night?
Mystie: Twelfth Night, maybe Comedy of Errors. I like Much Ado About Nothing, too. That’s one of my favorites.
Pam: Alright. So what about if you have a mix of different age ranges or boys and girls together?
Mystie: Well, my group is mixed, half boy, half girl. So you know sometimes different people like, sometimes it’s someone else’s favorite play and this other one didn’t like it as much and this one liked it more, especially in that later elementary age, I think that’s kind of good, because they see someone who likes it and they don’t like it, and they start, kind of, arguing with each other (instead of with me) and then I think that’s good because they can see someone does like it, someone they know, someone who’s also a kid like them, and if they can have those kinds of arguments back and forth about why a play is or isn’t good, then I don’t need to …
Pam: You don’t have to say anything.
Mystie: I don’t have to say anything, it’s good for them.
P You can just sit back and sip tea and take the day off. Well, Mystie, tell me a little bit about the resources you have at Simply Convivial for us about Shakespeare.
Mystie: Yeah, I have a post on the five steps that we take, that I use to make my lesson plans for Shakespeare: picture book version, the movie version, the audio version, and have that laid out. And then for every play that we’ve done so far I have a separate post on which audio version I picked, which movie I picked, because for a couple of them it’s taken quite a few movie views to find which ones are appropriate for kids and which picture book I like the most, because I do like to choose a picture book if I can find one instead of a …
Pam: Like Lamb’s or …
Mystie: Like Lamb’s, yeah.
Pam: So why do you prefer the picture book?
Mystie: I don’t really like the language of Lamb and Nesbitt, to be honest.
Mystie: I think it kind of Victorianizes Shakespeare which just seems really bizarre to me to take Shakespeare’s very earthy and turn him into this Victorian sounding thing and I think that a lot of the more modern picture book versions have an authentic to Shakespeare feel that was the same kind of mood and tone that Shakespeare was trying to convey, where I think some of the Victorian versions try to turn Shakespeare into something he really wasn’t, so I’m a little biased, I don’t really like the Victorian era.
Pam: You have an opinion on that!
Mystie: I do actually. So my favorite picture book versions are on my blog.
Pam: I was just about to point that out. So if you’re looking to move away from Lamb or Nesbitt, try something else. Mystie puts her favorite picture book versions, and we will link to all of those fabulous resources in the show notes for this episode, and we will also link to How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, the book and the website, so that you can go and find out more about that as well. Well, Mystie, thank you so much for being on here today and talking with me a little bit about how you do Shakespeare.
Mystie: Thank you Pam, it was fun.
Pam: And there you have it, episode 16 of the podcast. Now for today’s Basket Bonus we have something wonderful for you. We actually have two things. First of all, we have a procedure guide for studying Shakespeare. Mystie has so graciously shared with us her exact procedure for how she studies Shakespeare in her Morning Time, and so we’ve typed it all up for you, made a lovely procedure guide, you know how I love my procedure guide, and you can get that at EDSnapshots.com/YMB16. Now, while you’re over there you’re also going to want to enter our contest to win your very own copy of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig. The contest will be open until April 19, 2016, so don’t delay, be sure to get over there and enter the contest today, and we’ll choose a winner, and we’ll send out your very own copy of the book. We think you’re going to absolutely love it, and while you’re over at the show notes downloading your procedure guide and entering the contest, be sure you click over to SimplyConvivial.com – that’s Mystie’s blog where she has a wonderful little guide for you. It’s called Five Steps to Begin Morning Time and we’ll have the link there in the show notes for you so you can click over and download that free guide as well. So lots of great Basket Bonuses for you this week. We’ll be back again in a couple of weeks with another episode of Your Morning Basket and until then, keep seeking Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in your homeschool day.
Key Ideas about Shakespeare with Kids
- The works of Shakespeare are packed with great stories and beautiful language. Familiarity with his plays equips us to understand and appreciate the influence he has had on other great literary works as well as our culture in general.
- Shakespeare is meant to be seen, heard, experienced, and enjoyed.
- A Shakespeare study can be accomplished in as little as 10 minutes at a time
Find what you want to hear:
- 2:30 why study Shakespeare
- 5:50 Mystie’s favorite plays
- 7:38 best plays for kids
- 8:29 Mystie’s procedure for starting to study a Shakespeare play (with mostly 9-11 year olds)
- 10:38 how long does it take to do Shakespeare in Morning Time
- 10:47 memorization and recitation of Shakespeare passages
- 16:47 watching movies and/or live productions
- 19:10 using audio books
- 20:40 to discuss or not to discuss
- 26:51 what to do about the off-color humor and adult content
- 30:07 drawing in the reluctant child
- 35:25 best first plays for boys
- 35:59 best first plays for girls
- 37:21 Mystie’s post on her 5 steps for studying a Shakespeare play
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