Three years ago, a mom in our group started a Shakespeare Club geared to kids of a wide variety of ages–from kindergartners to high school students. At first only our two families were involved, but I loved the idea of doing Shakespeare together. I’ll admit it–I hated Shakespeare when I was in school. I couldn’t understand much of what he wrote and dreamed of finding an interpreter to turn his words into English that I could understand. But as an adult, I’ve been to some theater productions of his plays and realize that there are many modern takes on Shakespeare as well as many references to Shakespearean works or characters in our culture. So, I wanted my children to be somewhat familiar with his works, but I wanted them to enjoy the process of learning.
We revamped the Club last school year and added more than just learning the plots, characters, famous lines, and reading scenes together. I found some books such as How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare (a curriculum guide), Well-Loved Tales from Shakespeare, Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities, and Tales from Shakespeare (in graphic novel format) that we used to jazz up our learning with games, activities, and interesting historical facts. I also found some Brick Shakespeare books that tell some of his works with lots of illustrations (graphic novel style) made with Lego bricks–the kids who love Lego bricks and graphic novels spent quite a bit of time pouring over these. I found a series of books called William Shakespeare’s Star Wars which retell the Star Wars movies using Shakespearean English. My Star Wars obsessed children checked several out from the library at a time. Finally, I came up with the idea of ending the school year with our very own Shakespeare Festival.
The festival was a success. Most of the kids, and even a couple of adults, came in costume (mostly Shakespearean, but a few Star Wars costumes were on display, too). Several of the students showed, on a big screen, Shakespeare-inspired videos they’d filmed; most were stop-motion videos made with Lego bricks. Some were faithful to the Bard but at least one put her own twist on the ending of a scene. We had several outdoor games that were given Shakespearean sounding names and a Corn Hole game was even decorated with Shakespearean quotes. Tea was served–in tea cups for some and in less breakable vessels for the littlest ones–along with clotted cream, crumpets, cucumber (and other tiny) sandwiches, fruit, and more. All played a trivia game that we devised with questions on the life and times of Shakespeare, as well as questions that asked them to finish famous lines, identify plays from descriptions of them, and more. The grand finale was a skit put on by our club members for the parents and others who came to our festival. The skit, “Kylo and Juliet,” was planned by our members based on the beginning of the play “Romeo and Juliet” and incorporated various characters and material from the Star Wars movies.
If I’d had something like this as a child, I’m sure I wouldn’t have hated Shakespeare so. (Who said that high school classes–or those at any other level–have to be dreadfully dull to count as classes? Who said that we couldn’t spend time on a number of interesting resources besides reading Shakespearean plays in boring textbooks? And, yes, we spent less time using our textbook because of activities like this, but that wasn’t a problem because I know the children learned more from these activities than they would have from the textbook we had.)