Book Review: How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.
This past summer I jumped at the chance to review Ken Ludwig’s book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. The book is long – over 300 pages. Plus, I did activities from the book with my kids as I read – during a busy summer – so I apologize for the tardiness of the review.
Child: Mom, I’m so bored I’ve started talking to pictures on the wall!
First, the concept. Ludwig is an acclaimed playwright with two children. Like any theater geek, he gave his children the best theatrical knowledge he could: Shakespeare. His passion overflows in every chapter and I believe he sincerely taught his children Shakespeare with the same enthusiasm this grammar geek teaches her kids about verbals.
Ludwig doesn’t just want his kids (and your kids) to know about Shakespeare, he wants them to memorize Shakespeare. He says:
For many of us, Shakespeare has become a kind of Bible for the modern world, bringing us together intellectually the way religious services have traditionally done… To know some Shakespeare gives you a head start in life.
I’m unsure if his intention with this was to put Shakespeare as part of our American fabric like the bible is, but from a literature standpoint, it makes sense. As an English teacher, students with a working knowledge of the bible and/ or Shakespeare write, read, and speak better than those without.
In further explaining his reasoning for memorizing Shakespeare, Ludwig gives multiple examples of how children can analyze the nuances of poetry, of well-written and complex poetry! Kids can later apply this formula to any reading, hopefully with a dose of confidence from already dissecting the most difficult poetry out there.
Finally, Ludwig theorizes that exposing children to difficult concepts, that teaching them bits of a complex and larger picture can be a starting point for learning in other life areas.
After he explains the reason for his process, he provides a sensible order for teaching children Shakespeare.
Let it go! Let it go!
- Anyone in the family, whenever someone is holding something
What I like. The book made me hopeful, which may sound odd, but I’ll try to explain. Ludwig is a cheerleader for parents, encouraging them to work with their kids while tackling Shakespeare. He gives anecdotes along the way from teaching his kids, and how they implemented quotes into spontaneous theater productions.
In addition to memorizing Shakespeare, Ludwig provides background with his plays, the time period, and his life. This is important for understanding the plays, and additional information is easy to find.
The format is an easy read even if the content isn’t always. The book covers comedies, tragedies, and histories, with special attention to Hamlet (commonly referenced as Shakespeare’s perfect play). Each type of play requires unique approaches, especially for younger children. General tips are included, and Ludwig gives specific times to incorporate Shakespeare with children.
The website, http://www.howtoteachyourchildrenshakespeare.com/, has printables. I have started the first suggested poem (“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows”) with my kids. The printed sheet has helped, a cheat sheet if you will.
My kids have memorized that piece from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m excited. My seven-year-old was compliant, but my five-year-old eagerly sing-songs it. Will my son benefit from knowing a bit of Shakespeare? Probably. My daughter has found an interesting learning opportunity most kindergarteners don’t have – and all of that makes me hopeful.
Hi Sven’s family! It’s nice to meet you! I understand you are love experts.
- Me, seeing my family together – at any time
My hesitation. The book is a smooth read, but Shakespeare rarely is. In fact, William Shakespeare typically scares people.
I am not sold after reading this book that a parent with little Shakespeare background could use this book as intended. Ludwig addresses this when he says:
Like Shakespeare, opera can seem a bit frightening if you haven’t grown up with it. But if you roll up your sleeves, and your children’s sleeves, and take a few minutes to listen to a little Rossini every now and then, your children will soon be humming opera tunes as easily as they’re reciting passages from Shakespeare.
I agree with the notion that kids’ surroundings influence them, but Shakespeare is not like watching Sunday night football. Kids might hum a bit, and quote characters a bit, but to make it part of their lives? Many adults attempt to do this with unoriginal alterations of “to be or not to be.”
I have a degree in English and took an entire course on Shakespeare. I have identified authors’ references to Shakespeare’s work. I have read almost all of his plays and have taught many of them. In fact, I can quote Shakespeare beyond the cliche quotes.
But. I’m not sure that my kids will comfortably quote the Bard in everyday conversations. I believe Ludwig’s kids do – but he lives and breathes this difficult, often overwhelming concept. While his mind eagerly applies Shakespeare to everyday life, the best the rest of us can do is grab a book and search for a quote.
Speaking Shakespeare in everyday life is a lofty and admirable goal, but the typical reader should not be discouraged from introducing and practicing Shakespeare because of it.
Ty: Mom, do you know when we are going to the store?
Me: Yeah! Why?!
Ty: (giggling, understanding) Can you tell me when we are going to the store?
Me: Yeah! Why?!
Ty: (Any question that I can answer with, Yeah! Why?!)
Overall? The process works. My five and seven year-olds can quote the Shakespeare I have taught them. They even want to know what the “new words” mean. (Four-hundred year-old words). Learning Shakespeare makes people feel smart! Hopefully my kids feel less overwhelmed when their teachers assign them a difficult reading assignment because, honestly, if you can understand Shakespeare, you can tackle other authors.
And of course, I could be wrong about making Bill a part of everyday life. Shakespeare is fascinating and complex. If we work at memorizing these lines as my children grow, maybe they will incorporate Shakespeare into our daily quotes as they do their Frozen lines. Those natural, non-hesitant, jovial digs at others may come easily. A fun family joke.
After all, I do hope that as my kids grow, their interests do, and that they identify more with Othello’s struggles or Ophelia’s love torment than what Anna and Sven think. Encouraging them along the way, and studying Shakespeare as a family may make that possible.
Final Note. I will use this process as a parent, but will consult the book as a teacher. I have acted out Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar with classes before. My only experience is theater is that of an audience member, and this theater perspective will help me as a teacher.
I was compensated with a copy of How To Teach Your children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and ideas are my own.