Don’t be afraid of “the big bad bard.” Today on Home School Heartbeat, join your host Mike Farris as he talks with his guest, Deborah Taylor-Hough, about teaching Shakespeare in your homeschool.
Michael Farris: Today I’d like to welcome Deborah Taylor-Hough, editor of Bright Kids email newsletter. Debi, you decided to introduce your children to Shakespeare, whom you affectionately refer to as “the big bad bard.” What prompted you to include this in your curriculum when your kids were so young?
Deborah Taylor-Hough: Well, my kids were young at the time. They were just 11, 7, and 3. And ever since I attended a Shakespearean festival in high school, I’ve really enjoyed Shakespeare myself. I just find his plays so entertaining, and I wanted to share that love with my kids. I didn’t want them thinking Shakespeare was scary or difficult or something only an English Lit major could comprehend.
Mike: How did you first introduce Shakespeare to your children?
Deborah: Well, a friend of mine and I thought it would be fun to take our kids to the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in Ashland, but I knew that if we were going to do that we were going to have to prepare our kids ahead of time so they’d be ready for the experience.
Mike: So how did the kids respond?
Deborah: Oh, they loved everything about it—even my 7-year-old son who didn’t actually go on the Ashland trip with us. He enjoyed watching the videotape of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Mike: Debi, thanks so much. Tomorrow we’ll continue our discussion on incorporating Shakespeare into your homeschool.
Mike: Debi, some moms are intimidated by Elizabethan English and want to get a handle on the plot of the play. What can you suggest to get them started?
Deborah: Well, I recommend reading the story of the play out loud to the kids first. A book like Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare is really helpful at this point. By reading the plot in a story form, everyone has an overview of the entire play before they have to wade through the sometimes difficult language of the play itself.
Mike: How did your kids react to this initial introduction?
Deborah: Well, we read the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and my kids thought it was so funny. It’s definitely a child-friendly storyline. And after reading the story version, we could hardly wait to see the play for ourselves.
Mike: Well, it sounds like this piqued everyone’s interest. What happened when you actually read the play?
Deborah: Well, I read the play aloud to my kids, and even though the language was a bit challenging for me at first, I was amazed at how quickly it became almost second nature to me. I even found myself thinking almost in Shakespearean phrases.
Mike: Debi, thanks so much. Tomorrow we’ll talk more about including Shakespeare in your homeschool.
Mike: Debi, after reading Charles and Mary Lamb’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you read the actual play with your kids. What did you do next?
Deborah: Well, Shakespeare didn’t really write his plays just to be read out of books. He wrote them to be performed on stage by live actors with an audience. So we borrowed a videotape from the library of a New York Shakespearean festival’s production of the play. And we couldn’t find a video for one of the other plays we wanted to see, so we checked out an audiotape version.
Mike: How did your children react to these presentations?
Deborah: Well, the children loved the video of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My 7-year-old son even watched it several times on his own just for fun! Even my 3-year-old was able to follow the basic plot of the story. Watching the video made all of us so excited about the idea of seeing a live production of the play that we were beginning to feel like it was an old friend. The audiotape version was a little harder to enjoy, so I really recommend videos of the plays if possible.
Mike: This sounds like something moms could easily do. Tomorrow we’ll talk about your experience at a live Shakespeare performance.
Mike: Debi, tell our listeners about attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with your 11-year-old daughter.
Deborah: Well, after reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream and A Comedy of Errors several times before the festival and also seeing videotape performances, my daughter could hardly wait to see the actual production from a real stage with professional Shakespearean actors. She was so excited to find out how her favorite characters were going to be portrayed and what sort of sets they’d have. It was all very exciting, and I know she found it a really fun experience.
Mike: If a professional performance is unavailable in your area, what would you suggest?
Deborah: Well, you can check the “what’s happening” section in your local paper for plays put on by local theater groups. And then colleges and high schools usually have productions that are often quite good. And it can be really inspiring for younger children to see people not much older than themselves acting in these plays.
Mike: Debi, thanks so much. Those are great suggestions.
Mike: Debi, one thing I appreciate about homeschool moms is their insatiable curiosity! Tell me, where did your study of Shakespeare lead?
Deborah: Well, while we were at the Oregon Shakespearean festival, we took a backstage tour. And our tour guide was one of the actors, and his behind-the-scenes view of the professional acting life was fascinating. My daughter really developed a strong interest in drama at that point, and she’s been active in drama classes and local theater groups ever since. There’s nothing she enjoys more than having a part in skits at church. I’m not sure she would have discovered her love for the theater without her study of Shakespeare.
Mike: Debi, do you have any other advice for moms who are considering studying Shakespeare?
Deborah: I’d tell them, “Don’t be afraid of the big bad bard!” His work was meant to be enjoyed even without a lot of study. Just attending a local production of a Shakespearean comedy could be just the key to unlock the joys of Elizabethan theater with your kids.
Mike: Debi, thanks so much for being our guest. I’m Mike Farris.