While attending the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Elementary Educators Conference this summer, I had the supreme pleasure of meeting two fantastic authors, who have supplied those of us who dare to teach Shakespeare with two inspiring, new resources for the classroom. Acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig recently published How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, a phenomenal new methodology for introducing youngsters to the works of William Shakespeare, and Daeshin Kim, writer, composer, and co-founder of KinderBard (www.kinderbard.com) has compiled A Horse With Wings, a collection of original songs for children inspired by characters from Shakespeare. As a teacher of young, ELL (English Language Learner) students, I was eager to investigate these wonderful, new educational resources as I begin a new school year.
Both books share a common genesis: a desire from two loving fathers, to share their passion for Shakespeare with their young children. It is out of a father’s love that each began their quest to teach Shakespeare. Though the books are useful tools for parents wishing to give their kids a head-start on Shakespeare, they are equally applicable in the classroom.
A Horse With Wings
Daeshin Kim, along with his wife, artist Sohyun An Kim, created KinderBard, a company whose mission is to present literary language and characters in an immersive way, allowing children to independently fall in love with Shakespeare of their own accord. In their first collection, “A Horse With Wings”, children and parents are presented with an illustrated collection of 16 original songs with an accompanying CD, that are sung from the perspective of various characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Listeners and readers are introduced to characters from King Lear, Hamlet, Cymbeline, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew, Love’s Labor’s Lost, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Henry VI, Comedy of Errors, The Winter’s Tale, Troilus and Cressida, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The brilliance of these songs is that not only do they familiarize children with Shakespeare’s cast of characters, but the songs also address specific children’s issues that any child can relate to.
One Thing I Can’t Catch, is sung by Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as she confesses “my best friend and me, we are such a great match, but she’s got this beauty, it’s one thing I can’t catch.” The average five year-old may not understand being thwarted in love, but they can certainly understand feeling jealous. Daeshin’s songs take complex plots and set them in very relatable contexts for children. That’s the Part That You Play takes Jaques’ Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It and explains the process of aging, while Dirty Laundry humorously sets Falstaff’s hiding in the laundry basket from The Merry Wives of Windsor as a simple game of hide-and-seek.
A true family affair, the songs literally speak to children, as many of the songs are performed by Daeshin and Sohyun’s very talented, young daughter, Sherman. The catchy tunes showcase a variety of musical styles and each page features a Shakespearean quote that inspired the song. KinderBard’s website also provides a downloadable guide for parents and teachers, with ideas for activities and learning extensions. While entertaining for children, these fun songs will appeal to the kid in all of us, as parents and teachers will enjoy this charming song collection, too.
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare
Ken Ludwig’s premise for learning Shakespeare is that he isn’t just a great writer, but a “great bedrock of Western Civilization in English.” By exposing your child to Shakespeare, Ludwig believes that you are providing them with a head start in life. Ludwig’s purpose for exposing his own children to Shakespeare was to give them the tools to comprehend his works for the rest of their lives, to appreciate literature and the arts, and the bonding that arose out of time spent studying Shakespeare together. He shares, “during our ‘Shakespeare Time’ together, there is nothing else in the world but us and the passage.” Who wouldn’t want to share literature that way?
Comparing Shakespeare to a foreign language (which I can relate to, as my immigrant students all aspire to be trilingual in English, their native languages, and Shakespeare), Ludwig guides parents and teachers through a foolproof plan for comprehensively covering the Bard’s works in a sequential method. Beginning with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and concluding with The Tempest, Ludwig creates a plan for gradually building children’s confidence in comprehending Shakespeare through exposure to passages spanning Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Henry IV, Part 1, As You Like It, Henry V, and Hamlet. Parents are given quotations pages (also available online at www.howtoteachyourchildrenshakespeare.com), which have the text divided up into small chunks, making it more accessible to children. As he explains the drill, based on repetition and memory, Ludwig provides parents with practical ways to explain the text to their child, even for those who may not have much of a comfort level with Shakespeare.
Ludwig shares personal anecdotes of how his own children began to apply the text by quoting Shakespeare in the context of their daily lives. Whenever anyone in his family is in a hurry, Ludwig shares that they quote Puck by saying, “I go, I go, look how I go, swifter than arrow from the Tartar’s bow.” As his children became adolescents, he shares how they began to use these quotes to question their parents. Quoting Falstaff’s smart retort to Hal in Henry IV, Part 1, his son would often use “why, Dad, ’tis my vocation, Dad. ‘Tis no sin for a boy to labor in his vocation,” as an explanation for doing something he knew he shouldn’t be. A particularly touching story that he shares, explains how Polonius’s speech to his son, Laertes, became one of the last conversations shared between Ludwig and his daughter, who left for college during the writing of his book. Before he could finish quoting the passage, his daughter finished the speech for him, as he started to cry. He says it was “the greatest going-away present she could have ever given me.”
When questioned as to whether or not children will understand the language, Ludwig writes, “they shouldn’t worry if they don’t understand every word, or even every full speech. They should let the language roll over them, the way waves roll over you in the ocean. There will always be time to analyze later.” Ludwig provides parents and prospective teachers with additional resources for extending children’s Shakespeare study beyond the memorized passages. The book contains an extensive bibliography of further readings, films, and recordings to enjoy, plus a section on art inspired by Shakespeare. How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare gives all readers a great overview of his works, a sequence to share them in, and informs even the most devoted fan of the Bard.