Shakespeare in Our Homeschool

There’s somewhat of a division between the homeschool camps when it comes to the reading of classics: should we use full or abridged versions? I see the benefit of using the original texts, and in most cases, that’s the way we go.

Every so often though, I’ll read about these super-homeschool-kids learning Latin and reading Plutarch and doing all kinds of impressive stuff before they are even in third grade, and I start to let it get to me. I begin to question if I need to create a more demanding work load than what we have.

With that thought in mind and armed with a copy of Romeo and Juliet from the library, I settled the children around me one day and began to read. It didn’t take long, however, until the fidgeting and muffled yawns began.

We routinely read brief sections of the Bible using the original King James Version utilizing this Charlotte Mason method and my kids have no trouble following along with all of the thees and thous, so I thought Shakespeare wouldn’t be too hard of a leap from there. I was wrong. Realizing the futility of what I was trying to attempt, I finished the page and moved on to another subject, shelving the idea of Shakespeare in our homeschool for the time.

Fast forward half a year or so later; I was browsing the shelves of the local library and came across this gem of a book:

Within its richly illustrated pages are found eight of Shakespeare’s plays, retold in an appealing manner that almost instantly captivated my children’s attention. After the first story ended, my son immediately exclaimed, “More! More!” We all agreed that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was our favorite; mainly for them because they were particularly fond of the mischievous Puck; but we also covered King Henry the Fifth, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Twelfth Night, Hamlet and The Tempest.

So, no we didn’t read the original works, but now when Shakespeare is mentioned, I’m not met with moans and groans, but with interest. They also have a basic idea of the plots of eight of his most famous works. Hopefully, as they grow older, they will be able to appreciate the depth of meanings and wit, but until then, I’m quite satisfied with this rudimentary introduction to a brilliant writer.

The Random House Book of Shakespeare Stories was published in 2001 so may only be available through your local library or inter-library loan. Parents should be aware that the “D” word contained in that infamous phrase uttered by Lady Macbeth has been retained in this version.

I highly recommend this delightful book!


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8 Responses to Shakespeare in Our Homeschool

  1. Love this post, Jan! Yes, I too have heard of those uber-genius children who are reading unabridged Shakespeare by the age of six. However, I once read (maybe in a Sonlight catalogue?) that our job is to EXPOSE our children to the classics, so when they come across them again (as they will, in high school and college), they won’t be so daunting.

    I’ve personally loved our children’s copy of “Greek Myths.” It’s easy to segue from this to a more complicated version of “The Iliad” (still not the actual version for my 5th/6th graders, though), since they have some knowledge of the key players.


    • Jan says:

      I love that Heather: “EXPOSE them to the classics.” It’s nice hearing confirmation from others I respect! We’ve briefly covered “The Illiad” and “The Odyssey”, but only via a few paragraphs in a book on ancient Greece for kids we checked out from the library. I will have to look for this “Greek Myths” you mentioned; sounds like something my kids would enjoy. Thanks for the comment and feedback! :)

  2. Jill says:

    I question those uber kids. I read Shakespeare in high school and even then, I wouldn’t’ve gotten anything out of it had our English teacher not been there to translate. Shakespeare is more than thee and thou – – he had so many puns and sexual innuendo in his works that you wouldn’t even recognize it unless you were a Shakespearean expert.

    So, sure, these ultra smart kids can read it at age 6 – – but do they COMPREHEND what they are reading? Are they able to pick up the puns or the subtext? I doubt it.

    Keep up what you’re doing! No doubt when your kids are older they will recall the “simpler version” and be inspired to read the full text at an age when they will be able to comprehend and appreciate it more.

    • Jan says:

      Thanks for the encouraging words!:)

    • Ashley says:

      It really depends on the kid.
      I had a high reading level and as a sophomore in high school could easily read Shakespeare and understood iambic pentameter. I eventually have gone on to performing Shakespeare through my late 30s . . . exposing someone early to any classic can only be a positive in the long run. :)

      • Jan says:

        Hi Ashley! That’s a great point! My daughter has a high reading level and a few years ago I thought she’d enjoy J.R.R. Tolkien books. She started one but said it was too “boring.” (!!) Now, however, she’s 14 and devours them. It really does depend on the kid, their age, their stage of development and all sorts of factors. :)

  3. Candice says:

    I agree with Jill, are they understanding what they are reading? I’d say not. And quite frankley you would not want a child to read most Shakespeares plays. They are full of adult content, only a few would be good for kids. I was an actress at the Seattle Shakespeare Company for 6 years, have been in over 15 different productions, and did countless hours of reseach to be able to fully understand my dialogue, and the scripts.MOST adults don’t fully understand the plays. Exposing them to the sonnetts and plays that they would understand and enjoy is fabulous. Make it accessible, and they will progress to harder works( books) in their own time.

    • Jan says:

      That’s great to hear confirmation of my hunch by someone who clearly knows Shakespeare! I appreciate your taking the time to comment and brighten my Monday morning with your words of encouragement! :)