How to Teach Shakespeare to Your Kids

By Melissa Batai

When I was in high school, I took English classes for almost all of my electives. Yet, I was never taught any Shakespeare except in 6th grade when we performed the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When I went to college and had to take a course on Shakespeare, I struggled. . .a lot! Now that I’m homeschooling, I teach my children Shakespeare so that they know some of the most famous plays.

How to Teach Shakespeare to Your Kids

The best way to teach your kids Shakespeare is to immerse them in a play slowly rather than deciding to tackle reading a play one semester. Here’s how we do it.

Introduce Shakespeare When Kids Are Young

Beginning in 3rd grade or so, I started reading my kids Tales from Shakespeare. This book, written for children (but also enjoyed by adults), retells each play in common English narrative, though the characters’ dialogue is similar to Shakespeare’s original, but easier to understand. My kids loved reading these stories. In addition, the stories help them understand the plot of the play so when we read Shakespeare’s works, they already understand the framework of the plot.

Another option, if your child is a visual learner, is to have him read Shakespeare graphic novels. These books boil the plays down to the bare minimum needed for understanding, but they have excellent graphics that help your child further grasp what is happening.

Watch Movies

In addition to reading a book like Tales from Shakespeare, watching a movie based on a Shakespeare play can help bring the words to life. You might consider The Taming of the Shrew starring Elizabeth Taylor, Much Ado About Nothing starring Kenneth Branagh, or Hamlet starring Mel Gibson.

Watch a Live Performance

Nothing beats seeing Shakespeare performed as a play. If you live near a college, the students there may perform one of Shakespeare’s plays that you could watch. Or, some cities perform Shakespeare’s plays in the summer outdoors. If you have any of these opportunities available to your family, take your children.

Read the Play

Once you’ve read the play as a story and watched the movie, it’s time to read Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s vocabulary can be challenging for us today, but your kids will likely understand better because you’ve already built the framework for understanding through your previous work.

How to Help Your Kids Remember Shakespeare

References to Shakespeare are found everywhere in our culture. The more your children are familiar with Shakespeare’s works, the more they can identify these references. I try to utilize strategies to help my kids remember the Shakespeare plays we study.

Memorize Famous Lines

One of my children loves to memorize poetry. We put this love of poetry to work by memorizing some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines. Now, she can recite short passages of plays, which helps her remember them better.

Perform the Play

As I mentioned earlier, my only exposure to Shakespeare in school was when my 6th-grade class performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I played the queen, Titania, and I still remember many of my lines as well as all of the action in the play.

If you have enough people in your family, or if you want to recruit your children’s friends, have your kids put on their own Shakespeare play. By immersing themselves deeply in the work, as performance requires, your children will easily remember the play in a few years.

Final Thoughts

Part of a college liberal arts education includes studying classic works of literature like Shakespeare’s plays. However, whether or not your kids go to college, they can benefit from learning about some of the most famous works in the English language. These strategies should help you make Shakespeare more accessible and understandable for your children.

(Editor's note: For a Christian worldview and robust Shakespeare study, we recommend Veritas Press' Omnibus courses. Their self-paced and live offerings include many of Shakespeare's title, and our kids have learned to love them through this curriculum program.)