Shakespeare can be an intimidating subject to introduce. Isn’t the language archaic and the doesn’t high quality mean high difficulty? Actually, the language isn’t that difficult when it’s read (that is, interpreted) by an experienced reader. The profound themes within plots were created not as pure art, but also to entertain the masses. Shakespeare was the hot movie in his day, and he can still be enjoyed that way today.

You don’t have to wait for high school to do Shakespeare with your kids, and you don’t need to be homeschooling to study Shakespeare together. If you do any reading aloud or movie watching together, you can do Shakespeare together.

Shakespeare was written in order to be seen, scripted in order to be performed. Shakespeare wrote popular entertainment, not philosophical treatise. We can draw out deep themes and discuss grand philosophy using monologues and plots we find in Shakespeare, but we should never study Shakespeare to the exclusion of simply enjoying the fun of Shakespeare – Shakespeare was meant to be fun.

I believe that Shakespeare, the greatest artist whose medium was the English language, can and should be introduced to children. The deep discussions about betrayal, cowardice, truth, love, and piety can wait for high school, but the enjoyment of the plots, the characters, and the language doesn’t have to wait. Introducing children to the world of the plays will help them feel more at home and navigate those deeper waters later in a more knowledgeable and understanding way, because they’ll already know the lay of the land.

A fun and engaging Shakespeare study includes the following 5 elements:

Step 1: Introduce the Play

The first step is to do basically a Cliff’s-Notes version of the play. When the plot and the story line are known beforehand, then our attention is free to enjoy the details without having to keep track of who is who.

Introduce the play with an engaging retelling.

To introduce the basics of the plot, I try to find a beautiful picture book version. Lamb or Nesbit have popular collections of retellings from Shakespeare, but I actually do not prefer these. I’ve tried them so many times, and I just don’t like them. There is no virtue in language being archaic for the sake of being archaic. Though his language is more difficult for us, Shakespeare was plain (though punning) and bold in his day, and so I feel that modern adaptions tend to get closer to the spirit of Shakespeare than the Victorian-era versions.

These are some of my favorites:

Step 2: Memorize Some Lines

Familiarity breeds affection, not contempt.

Ken Ludwig, author of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, writes:

Having thought about Shakespeare for most of my life, I have concluded that the best way to learn about his plays, his language, his themes and his stories with any real depth and integrity is to memorize a few passages from his plays so that you have them at your fingertips.

Memorization doesn’t have to be an ordeal. During the weeks you watch and read the play, simply repeat the lines you’ve chosen for memory.

I print the selections in large font, with the phrases broken up and each on their own line – plenty of white space makes it easier to follow and easier to see in the mind’s-eye for recall. Then before we read or watch or talk about the play, we repeat each selection 2-3 times, all together.

Easy. Simple. It really works.

Step 3: Watch the Play

Shakespeare was meant to be seen. How many movie scripts make it into lit class? Not many at all; that Shakespeare does demonstrates his genius.

I absolutely love to watch multiple versions of a play and see how differences of inflection, of setting, and of context put completely different spins on the lines. This is the beauty of Shakespeare. None of them are “Right” (although some can be Wrong). Scripts allow actors room to interpret their characters and get into character, reflecting different facets of humanity as they do so. Is Hamlet’s ghost to be trusted? How that ghost is portrayed will affect how you feel about that central plot point. Shakespeare’s plays and themes are complex, as life and people are.

Of course you, as the parent, should always watch a Shakespeare production yourself before viewing it with your children. You know your children and your standards, so you need to preview movie options in light of those. Violence, bawdiness, even nudity are all issues in many Shakespeare videos, and there are also many that make Shakespeare feel dull and confusing.

You’re going for an experience that will leave your children with a positive enjoyment of Shakespeare, so watch the movie options beforehand and try to find ones that will be a good fit for your family.

Step 4: Listen to the Play

Though Shakespeare wrote to be performed, there is still great value in reading his plays with their beautiful use of English. However, there’s more than one way to read a text.

Audio + Visual = read along

My favorite way to read Shakespeare with the kids is to give each one his own paperback (multiple copies can be found at the library or any used bookstore usually, or Dover publishes cheap editions without frillsand play an audiobook version while we all follow along. Hearing someone who knows how the lines flow read them helps immensely with comprehension.

If I have an unmotivated or non-reader, I’ll give them a coloring page to keep their hands and eyes busy while they listen to the audiobook. Dover publishes a book of Shakespeare coloring pages, or even a book of plain designs to color in is a good activity for listening times.

Having Shakespeare come in through both the eyes and the ears is a great way to foster success and engagement with young students.

Step 5: Play the Play

Of course the best way to engage with Shakespeare is to be the one performing it. There are several ways to do this without being a drama person (I am most definitely not).

Knowledge comes from doing

True knowing and understanding comes when we make the material our own, when we recreate or represent it in some sort of personal expression. In history or grammar that might involve writing or speaking, but the most natural way to add personal expression with Shakespeare is to be the actor the play is directing.

Although it would be valuable, you don’t have to have costuming and rehearsals in order to give your children the chance to act out Shakespeare. Here are some other low-key, low-commitment ways to add doing to your studies:

  • Duplo or LEGO scenes & characters (try recording it for your own movie production)
  • Illustrated comic book versions of selected scenes
  • Monologues dramatically delivered like at a try-out
  • Puppets – handcrafted, popsicle stick, finger puppets, paper dolls – can be recorded to make a movie.

If you are interested in staging a scene, an abridged play, or simply delivering monologues with your kids or with a group, check out how these homeschool moms have done so in their homeschools:

Shakespeare for Kids: Sample 6-Week Plan

  • Week 1: Read Shakespeare biography & a picture book version of the play
  • Week 2: Introduce the lines to memorize, explain words, watch movie or clips or see a live production
  • Week 3-5: Repeat lines together two or three times, then listen to the play in approximately 30-minute segments.
  • Week 6: Act out favorite scenes either as a play, with finger puppets, or with Legos. Allow the children adequate time to prepare and practice together.

Shakespeare Lesson Plans

As we study Shakespeare plays together in our homeschool, I am making available our lesson plans and resource lists. Here are the links to each of the plays we’ve studied so far. Included in each one is a downloadable pdf set with not only the lesson plans, but also the printable quote cue pages we use for memorizing select lines from each play!

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

The Comedy of Errors is a great play for kids who might be skeptical about Shakespeare. Full of slap-stick humor, over-the-top coincidences, and witty one-liners, Comedy of Errors is more about the laughs than the romance. Plus, it has one added benefit: it’s a very short play.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

If you want quotable Shakespeare, Hamlet is your best bet. It is full of pithy one-liners and common phrases that have entered English parlance.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

Henry V is a great play to do with those who think Shakespeare is boring or only about tangled love stories. If you have a child who isn’t into love triangles, but enjoys a good fight, then Henry V might be the play to begin with.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

Julius Caesar begins with subtle conspiracy and reasoning, making it tricky for younger students to follow – until people begin dying. Then the action is clear and exciting.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

Sometimes, the more wicked the bad guy is, the more enjoyable it is to hate him and watch for his inevitable downfall. Macbeth knows he is doing wrong every step of the way and consciously chooses to silence his conscience. There is no gray morality in Macbeth – he lets evil into his ears and it blackens his heart. Children brought up on Greek myths and original fairy tales will not have a problem with the morality spectacle that is Macbeth.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

Merchant of Venice might be a politically incorrect play, but it is too good for us to ignore. While it makes moderns uncomfortable because the Jew is made to forcibly convert in the end, it is – particularly for its time – an anti-anti-Semitic play.

The plot, the speeches, and the themes all deserve attention and affection – and this simple set of homeschool lesson plans will help you build just that.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fun introduction to Shakespeare. It involves magic, fairies, mistaken identities, and lots of action. It’s a common play to find performed live, and it’s generally colorful and lively.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespearean comedy, and a fun one to introduce to kids. It is lighthearted, the villainy is character-assassination rather than violence, and there are plenty of Shakespearean insults to go around.

It is a timeless battle-of-the-wits romance, with pranks and tricks bringing both ruin and love.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

I think Taming of the Shrew makes a great first play to introduce Shakespeare to Kids. It’s not a weird or convoluted story; there’s plenty of slap-stick humor and superficial interpersonal conflict that kids completely understand; and the grownups behave outrageously, which seems to amuse children.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

The Tempest is a story with betrayal, revenge, reconciliation, and devotion. It has something for everyone: slap-stick humor, violent men & monsters, friendly sprites, and a fairy-tale island setting where forgiveness and keeping one’s word wins out in the end despite long odds.

Whether you introduce this story by picture book, movie, or reading the real deal – or all three – it is a story worth enjoying together with your children.

Recommended Resources:

Memory Sheets:

More reasons to read Shakespeare

If you still aren’t convinced you should try some Shakespeare in your homeschool, here are some more inspirational and encouraging articles and podcasts to give you the courage! It really doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated.