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Celebrating Shakespeare (with a free download!)

I love Shakespeare.  I have crushed on his words and poetic devices since I was very small and my parents would take my siblings and I to witness the overwhelmingly gorgeous productions of his plays in Louisville’s Shakespeare in Central Park every summer.  Though free to the public, these productions were never skimpy.  I remember the stage being covered in candlelight when necessary, sumptuous costumes, soldiers marching from the stage between the rows of the audience…  all very exciting to a small child who half-believed the characters were real.

william shakespeare

I think those early days in that lovely park, the darkness closing about us like a thin blanket to shut out the disturbances of a city night, are what made it easy for me when I reached high school and had to read Shakespeare for lit class.  I had been hearing the language for so long it made perfect sense to me.  I want my littles to have that same lack of struggle when reading Shakespeare, though we live too far away from Louisville now to make the Park a regular childhood thing.

Just look at the set for Twelfth Night. Can you believe this stuff is free?!

Just look at the set for Twelfth Night. Can you believe this stuff is free?!

This year, April 23rd marks the 400th year of Shakespeare’s death as well as being the day we celebrate his birth.  Historians are not 100% sure the 23rd is his actual birthday, but they know he was baptized on April 26.  Since the usual day of baptism occurred at 3 days old back then, it is assumed that he was born on April 23.  Close enough.  Gives us a chance to celebrate the Bard and his works on a specific day (though we hardly need one).  It also gives us the curious fact that Shakespeare may have died on his birthday.  He was a unique man, no doubt.

To give my Littles an early introduction to Shakespeare, I have done everything from taking them to local high school productions to watching films with them.  They love West Side Story, so I made it into a lesson on how it’s based on Romeo and Juliet.  I have several prose versions of Shakespeare’s works that are written specifically for kids, and we read them from time to time just to keep our hand in.  I think they’re old enough now to really read one of the plays, so I am going to be introducing them to Macbeth over the summer.  It is my all-time favorite.  I know, people always think I’m weird for that–What about Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet? Well, I crush on every single play, and every time I read or see one of them, I discover something new to love.  But Macbeth was the very first play I read for myself, and I was so drawn into the intrigue and the resulting guilt and all the consequences that I could not get enough.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m not big on love stories for the sake of love stories, so the romance plays have a slightly less draw for me than the political ones.  Though I have to admit, my favorite Shakespeare line is in Romeo and Juliet: “I’ll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange.”

I love that Juliet is saying, “Listen, dude, I know I’m throwing it all out there for you, but you’ll find me more honest and loyal than the girls that play games.”

Yeah yeah.  Nobody likes a player.

If you want to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with your littles, there are lots of ways to introduce the Bard without confusing the heck out of them.

Watch West Side Story, Ten Things I Hate About You, or Shakespeare in Love.

10 things i hate about you

Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare?  My dear, I will take it.  On any given day.  Give me a lovely image to go with that way with words… Oh, I’m there.

But this isn’t about Your Pleasure, Mama, it’s about your littles getting a glimpse into Shakespeare’s time, his rivalry with Christopher Marlowe, and what he went through to get his plays produced.  You will have to fast-forward through some of the more loving parts, but the movie (while not being entirely accurate) is beautiful.

Ten Things I Hate About You is based on The Taming of the Shrew, and if you can’t get the Elizabeth Taylor film of the play (or even if you can), this teen flick might be easier for your littles to follow so they can understand the plot.  Plus, Kat’s poem at the end of the movie is a great example of a Shakespeare-type sonnet.  Also, Heath Ledger.

I think West Side Story is one of the most faithful, if not The Most, musical adaptations of a Shakespearean work.  That could be bias as I was raised to be a Jet.

Find book adaptations for children.

If you search Shakespeare in Children’s Books on Amazon, you’ll get over 2000 hits.  There has to be something in there that will tickle your fancy.  I particularly like Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers by E. Nesbit.  It has 12 of the Bard’s plays done in prose while retaining much of the language that people often find tricky.  It is a really good introduction to Shakespeare’s work by an author we already adore.  If only Macbeth were included in the lineup, it would be perfect.  Perhaps Nesbit thought it too bloody for littles?  Out, out, damn spot.

Go to my subscriber freebies and download this great Shakespeare Quote worksheet, which introduces your littles to the language in short bites and gives them an opportunity to interpret quotes for themselves.

shakespeare quotes

Check out these great websites for more ways to celebrate:

This Sweet Life Books, unit studies, and other resources

Hub Pages Paper puppets, anyone?  Bring the plays to life for your littles with some very cool crafts.

31 Cups has a cool pic with a listing of a lot of the things we say today that we don’t even realize come from Shakespeare.

Ed Snapshots Throw a Shakespeare party?  Yes, please.

BBC Shakespeare’s plays animated.  Because when has the BBC ever let us down?

Shakespeare can be fun and inspiring even for the littlest of littles.  It’s even more fun when they realize they’ve been influenced by his work in myriad ways all their lives.  So plan something cool for the 23rd.  And fall in love with Shakespeare all over again.

Love wins,


9 Engaging Ways to Make Homeschool Fun

One of the things we love about homeschool is the lack of rules.  We do not have to be like public school; we can learn any old way we please.  Even so, it is often easy to find ourselves falling back on the old standbys: textbooks and worksheets.  What is a homeschool mama to do when her homeschool becomes boring?  Here are a few ways to engage your littles and get your homeschool back to being fun.

Active Learning This can be as simple as reading a play aloud.  When we were studying American History we would sit in a circle on the floor and choose a play about our lesson from Scholastic’s ebook “Read Aloud Plays: Pioneers.”  The Littles loved doing this because they like acting.  So we would divide the characters among us and read.  Plays are a great tool because they teach the lesson without seeming to teach at all.  In fact, they’re downright fun.  Especially when you dress the part.


Native American costumes for Wild West study 2012

Native American costumes for Wild West study 2012


There are many other types of active learning, such as

Science Experiments You can teach science across the board without ever touching a textbook or putting pencil to paper.  You can find simple chemistry experiments all over the internet, as well as weather and earth science experiments.  Make a weather station.  We set one up right outside our classroom window and took notes from it every day.  The Littles couldn’t wait to get to class every morning that semester to see if their rain-measuring jar had caught any water, or their barometer had moved since the day before.  The weather vane we made was a source of endless fascination.  That was two years ago, and they can still tell me exactly what types of clouds are in the sky at a given time.  Engaged learning.  Long-lasting effects.  We once made a skeleton by gluing different types of pasta onto card stock.  Fun and engaging, and helps your littles understand anatomy a little better.  You can set up a detective game to teach a bit about forensic science.  I can’t even list the number of physics projects we’ve tried.  Balloon rocket cars.  What kid wouldn’t love that?!  Too many static electricity experiments to count.  Biology? Dissect frogs or owl pellets.  Do an animal study.  Your kids are learning and having fun and there’s nothing that says they can only study one kind of science a year.


Hot Air Balloon Constructed of Tissue Paper & Heated with Hair Dryer

Hot Air Balloon Constructed of Tissue Paper & Heated with Hair Dryer

Arts and crafts This does not have to be a separate class.  In fact, I most often include it in one lesson or another.  Kids love to make art, even if they’re never going to be another Van Gogh.  Getting their hands active will help them remember the lesson.  If you’re studying Greek history, make a Parthenon out of cardboard.  If you’re studying Asian geography, make a salt-dough Japan.  If you’re reading the Secret Garden, make tissue paper flowers.  We once did a study of Spanish words related to rainforests and created trees, vines, leaves, and animals to decorate our classroom with.  Every single day, add an art or craft project to one of your lessons.  It gets rid of the necessity of planning an art class, and Gets Your Littles More Engaged with whatever else they’re studying.

Eggshell-crusted Mayan Temple 2011

Eggshell-crusted Mayan Temple 2011

Get Out of the House This can be as simple as stepping into your backyard for a nature study or taking a walk around the block to check out how the sun is casting shadows as time passes.  It can be as complicated as driving for an hour to a great historical spot.  One of Littlest’s favorite field trips involved a 20-minute drive to a Civil War site that had nothing to offer by way of entertainment.  It contained a cannon, a plaque, and a log cabin.  The cabin was locked up tight, you couldn’t even see into it.  I printed out a brochure from their website that told the story of the battle and as we walked around the small site, I read it to them.  They were fascinated.  Littlest talks about it All the Time.  Sometimes they’re engaged even when we’re not.  Remember, we’re doing this for them, not ourselves.

aquarium Littlest

Play Music You may think that sounds strange, but research shows that our brains absorb information better when music is playing in the background.  I want my littles to grow up with a real appreciation for orchestral music, so I literally have a crate full of classical and contemporary orchestral music.  They choose if they want to listen to Mozart or Vivaldi or Strauss or even Celtic music.  And they love Gregorian chant, which we studied a couple years ago in a music theory class.  They take turns picking the CD of the day, we put it in and let it play quietly the whole time we’re in class.  I can always tell when we forget.  They are more easily distracted.  Interesting, huh?


Play Games Mad Libs are superb for grammar lessons.  Clue is great for critical thinking.  We are huge fans of trivia games like Trivial Pursuit and Scene It.  Cranium and Kid’s Cranium cover trivia, art, and P.E.  Scrabble helps with spelling And with foreign language.  Getting the picture?  Board games are not just a blast and a good way to bond–they teach your littles lots of good stuff.  Any time it’s appropriate (and even when it isn’t), add a board game to your school day.

Plan Shorter Lessons  If you plan shorter lessons, you allow more time for Rabbit Trails.   Sometimes kids just really want to discuss what they’re learning, and if we’ve got an hour-long lesson planned, it can feel like they are taking up too much time.  We end up not giving that little the one-on-one we planned when we decided to homeschool.  But if the planned lesson is only 1/2 an hour long, we can let our kids’ minds wander all over the place.  If they are talking about history or geography or math or science, even if you wander far off topic, they are actively engaged in the learning process.  Allow it.  It helps them soak it all in and may lead to a truly fascinating discussion.

Get Messy In any way possible.  Littles adore getting messy.  Fingerpaint.  Make Oobleck.  Build a volcano and use vinegar and baking soda to make it erupt.  Go to a creek and hunt for crawfish (or crawdads as we call them here).  Build a Great Wall out of mud bricks.  Let them littles get filthy.  They will love you for it and remember the lesson better because you will have made it into a great memory.


Read a Book  You knew I was going to say it.  See my 25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool series for suggestions.

It really doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part to make every single day exciting for your little learners.  Practice these tips and you will find that you almost never hear, “Do we Have To do school today?”  I’ve only heard that a handful of times in 5 years, and it was usually during the summer.  By making learning fun for them, you are teaching them to love learning.  And isn’t that what we want to create?  Lifelong learners?

Love wins,