Don’t let the fact that you haven’t spent years as a high-school English teacher deter you from enjoying Shakespeare at home with your children. It’s fun, and with the help of modern technology, teaching Shakespeare in your homeschool is easier than you think.
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William Shakespeare- 1564-1616
Now, I introduce the Bard to my kids. Shakespeare’s Life and Times Activity Book is a great place to start. I haven’t used this particular book, but I have several others in the series. They are thorough and fun!
For daily lessons, especially for junior high and up, I recommend Shakespeare Lesson Plans at About.com/Education. These are free and can be done in a few minutes per day. Paired with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (online at Many Books), or your own copies of the plays, a nice overview of Shakespeare’s plays and how they are written can be achieved.
But how do you bring these famous works to life?
I recommend these books, used in the following order:
**The Shakespeare Encyclopedia by A.D. Cousins
The Encyclopedia is probably my #1 recommendation for a homeschool study of Shakespeare. For each play, it has a great overview, plot, character map, description of themes, and lots of color photos from live plays and movies!
Using a copy of a play with a side-by-side modern translation makes all the difference. Try to read through one full play, and then watch a live version of that play, or at least a movie (check YouTube and Amazon Prime). When done in this order, it’s less painful, and might really hook your students!
Hillsdale College offers a great high-school and college-level FREE online course entitled Shakespeare: Hamlet and The Tempest.
Many famous actors (especially the Brits) have done Shakespeare on the stage, and you can find videos of them online. Ian McKellan (Gandalf) did many, So did Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tenant, as well as Alan Rickman (and here he is reciting Sonnet 130 on YouTube). Find an actor your students like and use that to get them excited.
Visit The Royal Shakespeare Company online for information, education, and history of the company. It’s pretty fascinating!
Elementary and Middle School
For younger students, I’ll follow the same method, but on a smaller scale. They’ll have another chance down the road to cover this on the high-school level, so I’m not worried if they don’t watch and read an entire play. These are my two favorites for young kids:
- Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare by Usborne
- Great Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays (Dover Coloring Book — we LOVE these historical Dover coloring books)
- Lego Hamleton YouTube
- Lego The Tempest on YouTube
- (If your students like these, have them try their hand at producing one!)
- Romeo and Juliet paper doll costumes and more here
To add some fun stuff, I recommend these (generally used for most or all ages together at our house):
- The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
- A Shakespearean Tale by S. A. Cranfill (we are privileged to know Mrs. Cranfill, a local playwright!)
- Video Tour of the Globe Theater on YouTube
- How to Talk Like Shakespeare at Writers Write
- Teaching Shakespeare to Kids at Kids Love Shakespeare
- See an example of a Globe Theatre replica
- YouTube Video: Animated fly-through 17th Century London
Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb (I’ve heard great things about this but haven’t read it)The Shakespeare Stealer is a great historical fiction, and all of my kids loved it. A Shakespearean Tale is perfect for the younger kids! My 10 year old read it to himself before I could read it aloud!
What it looks like at our house
After introducing a play in the above manner(s), I’ll give the kids a chance to color from the Dover Coloring Book (all of these coloring books are amazing!) while I read aloud from our fun books. The kids will have assigned reading from a play (or illlustrated book of plays) on their own time. Some days we will watch a video from the lists above. We generally spend an hour on this.
My kids love to act, and (as I mentioned above) get to work with Mrs. Cranfill, a graduated homeschool mom, history teacher, and playwright. Shakespeare is a natural study for budding actors and actresses! Imagine my homeschool-mom-nerd-overload when Mrs. Cranfill invited us to take part in a local series of presentations on Shakespeare’s life and plays — right when we were doing this study! Talk about immersion! So, all of mine have been memorizing facts about Shakespeare and lines from his plays, and presenting them on the stage. Oh, if only every study ended this way!
I’m all about costumes, so we made some to wear in the play.
There’s lots more on my Shakespeare Pinterest Board that you may find fun.
In our History Smashbooks we will insert:
- coloring pages from the Dover Coloring Book
- a list of modern sayings we get from Shakespeare
- a drawing of the Globe theater
- a list of books/plays read
- a notebooking page about Shakespeare (the man)
- photos of my kids performing Shakespeare
- copies of their scripts from the performances
You will know how little or how much time your family wants to spend on Shakespeare. We have spent at least 4 weeks (not daily) and still have about a week to go. My 15 year-old is now hooked, and is collecting the plays for her own bookshelf! Just have fun exploring!
While you’re here, visit my Knowledge Keepers Bookstore! In it you’ll find the books and the stories that have shaped this great country, the books that influenced our founders and our ancestors, the books that Americans have mostly ignored or never heard of, but the good books that we should all read and protect. Join me in saving Western Civilization, one book at a time!
Nicki Truesdell is a 2nd-generation homeschooler and mother to 5. She is a homemaker at heart, and loves books, freedom, history and quilts, and blogs about all of these at nickitruesdell.com. She believes that homeschooling can be relaxed and that history is fun, and both can be done with minimal cost or stress, no matter your family’s circumstances. Nicki is a member of the Texas Home Educators Board of Directors. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.