A Midsummer Night's Dream watercolour crayon picture by C (8)

Shakespeare for Younger Children in 3 Easy Steps

A Midsummer Night's Dream watercolour crayon picture by C (8)
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by C (8)

Shakespeare wrote brilliant plays. Younger children may not be ready to experience them in their original form, but they can certainly enjoy the stories. And if they become familiar with the stories early on, it’s a much shorter step to appreciating them later in the bard’s own beautiful words.

What was for me at senior school a relentless chore of trying to grasp plot among a load of archaic words,  can instead – for those already fans of the stories – be a fun decoding process which quickly gives way to an appreciation of the subtleties, humour and beauty of Shakespeare’s language.

Shakespeare in 3 Easy Steps

I’m doing Shakespeare with C(8) this year as part of our grade 2 English curriculum.  We’re following a very simple process for each play:

1. Read the story

Shakespeare StoriesWe’re using The Shakespeare Stories, a set of 16 plays which I got from Amazon for about £15.  Each tells its story in engaging language and contains, at the start, a sketch of the main characters. Most can be read aloud in less than thirty minutes. Not every scene is included, of course, but the main parts of the story are covered.

Monday is our Shakespeare day. We read aloud a story, either entirely in one session or over a couple of weeks, then we discuss it.  After Hamlet, our discussion focused on C gleefully adding up the number of characters murdered in it.

2. Watch the play

shakespeare the animated talesThe following week we watch a thirty minute film version of the play in the form of Shakespeare: The Animated Tales (available free on YouTube). I like these because they use mostly original language, and have subtitles.

3. Do a project

Next C (8) does a mini-project of her choice, to consolidate her understanding of the play. For example, when we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream she made a watercolour crayon picture (see above).

For Hamlet, she chose to make puppets of Hamlet and his father’s ghost, wrote a short script and acted it out while I recorded it on my iPhone.  All very spontaneous, easy and fun!

Hamlet Puppets
Hamlet Puppets

Optional Bonus Step

Copywork – I usually make a worksheet or two containing quotes from our current play to include in C’s weekly copywork.

Additional Resources

There are many re-tellings of Shakespeare available, so it should be easy to find one to suit your children and educational style.

  • Stories from ShakespeareC uses the beautiful illustrations in Geraldine McCaughrean’s Stories From Shakespeare as inspiration for her projects. One nice feature of this book is the sidebar quotations from the plays.  I anticipate using the stories themselves next time around.  We have read one story from this book and both C and J(6) enjoyed it, but for now we prefer the brevity and accessible style of The Shakespeare Stories.
  • Another book we’ll no doubt come back to is Mary Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare, which contains concise re-tellings of twenty plays.
  • bravo mr shakespeareMr. William Shakespeare’s Plays tells the stories of seven plays in comic strip form.  I’m awaiting a copy of this one so I can’t comment in detail yet but I like that the plays are “performed” at the Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s day.  The sequel, Bravo, Mr. William Shakespeare! presents a further seven plays.

For much more on studying Shakespeare in your homeschool (or anywhere!), including oodles of fabulous links to free resources, see Jimmie’s Shakespeare For Children Squidoo lens.

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6 thoughts on “Shakespeare for Younger Children in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Very informative post. I have been thinking of introducing my children to literature but I thought it’d be too much for their young minds to comprehend. Thanks for your post. I am heading over to Amazon now to buy one of the Shakespeare books.

  2. Thank you for your generous comment, Camera Mum. I hope you enjoy the books as much as we do. We’ve now received our copy of “Mr William Shakespeare’s Plays” which my daughter has been glued to over the breakfast table, so it looks like that one’s a hit too!

  3. What a fabulous idea! I have never studied Shakespeare. I read The Tempest from the Charles and Mary Lamb book last month. Just to think, all these years I thought it was about someone with a bad temper!!

    I love your ‘read it, watch it, do a project’ approach. Especially the ” . . . of her choice” part. It is nice to know that a mini-project can be something as simple as counting up the number of people Hamlet murdered. Thank you so much.

    1. Thanks, Angie! To be honest, the way we studied Shakespeare when I was at school, we only got around to doing 3 plays, and that’s as far as my knowledge goes. As with a lot of things we do around here, one of the best things about studying Shakespeare with my kids is learning myself! (Next: The Tempest! 🙂 )

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