Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Charlotte Mason Minute: Shakespeare

Without sounding ultimately repetitive:

Hello.  My name is Laura and I am an Ambleside Online modifier.

However--have no fear--I am quite the stalwart fan of Charlotte Mason, who also advocated the study of Shakespeare.  Miss Mason argued that not only should a child receive a good deal and a variety of knowledge, but she should receive this knowledge conveyed via the best literary form possible.  Arguably, the works of William Shakespeare are of the highest literary quality, and within the richness of his language, one can glean character, poetry, history, and reason.  Young or old, his stories delight, haunt, and spark the imagination in ways yet undiscovered.

When my daughter was very young, perhaps from age six, I read to her from Nesbit's Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, a delightful yet simple retelling of nearly two dozen plays.  By age eight, as her literary appetite increased along with her vocabulary, we moved on to Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, which uses more of Shakespeare's original language, albeit more concisely, while retelling another handful with much overlapping.  Today, at age eleven, together we enjoy an entire play, spread over a twelve week period, thrice each year.  And yet, if you ask her, this is not enough!  

But, unless you have written a thesis covering the highlights of Elizabethan Literature, or at least were once an English major, Shakespeare can seem quite intimidating.  Trust me when I tell you he is not.  His language is very accessible once you get used to it.  But getting used to it.....well, that's the best part!!

Although I'm all about free or nearly free curriculum when I can get my hands on it, Arkangel--produced by BBC nonetheless!-- makes high quality and unabridged audiobooks, using actors of such a fine caliber as Ciaran Hines, Amanda Root, Eileen Atkins, Joseph Fienes, and Jonathan Firth, just to name a slim few!  Unless you're also hooked on all things BBC, too, you may not recognize nor care two spits about these names, so let me assure you, they are stellar performers, breathing life into every literary thing they touch.  You just cannot miss while using these productions as a tool for your homeschool!  I say again: can not miss.

And the study of Shakespeare takes only minutes--ten to be sure!  I divide the tracks of each play by twelve, which means we listen to two--no more than three--tracks of a play each week, while following along with the text of a play, which can be found all over the internet for free!  

At the end of each track, my daughter narrates and we swiftly move on to the next track in eager anticipation.  Sometimes narration seems like such a bummer, when we just want to get on with the adventure!  And, if you ask my daughter, who is quickly moving in an English-major direction, even three tracks are never enough.  But, it is lovely to see her tender mind chew on the events and characters of the play for an entire week, spouting random connections and opinions so often that I can barely keep up.  

Also, if you need even more help, or if you would like a little hand-holding, there are free online Spark Notes [think: new-school Cliff's Notes], which will help you with plot summary, characterization, and such.  Who knew studying Shakespeare was so easy?!

Oh! and if you're just starting out, with little ones on your lap, you may want to hop over to Librivox, which offers free, for your online listening pleasure, audiobooks of both Beautiful Stories and Lambs' Tales.  Although Librivox is a volunteer organization comprised of common Mary and Joe voices, in lieu of professional actors, the readings can be rather enjoyable, especially when you want to cuddle up under a toasty wrap in winter  instead of circling 'round a cold computer screen.

Next year, my sweet son, who will be nine in summer, will join our weekly Shakespeare study.  Although I tailored my selections mostly for my daughter's study of the Ancient Civilizations, I think these plays will be a hit with him, too: The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Julius Caesar.


  1. Thanks for the tips, I have been wanting to study Shakespear with the younger kids, but had not found any resources to do so.

  2. Whoops! Sorry about the misspelling. (:

  3. Oh, and thank you for the bird count information. Crazy as it sounds, I am going to try and do this in both places... here on Friday, and the new house on Monday. We have observed the birds in our area regularly, so comparing the species to our new home will be interesting and a lot of fun, too. Nathanael is so interested in birds that his main Christmas request was a good pair of binoculars... and he's 7 (: I love the rewards of homeschooling!

  4. Thanks for all the great resources, Laura! Amanda Root and Ciaran Hines reading Shakespeare...yum.
    Max may enjoy Shakespeare even more than me, though he prefers those without so much "romanticality."

  5. Laura (funny, I've always called you Laura Lee, but now I know just Laura will do!) this is an absolutely inspiring Shakespeare post!!

    We've only just recently moved from Nesbit to Lambs, so we still have a way to go before reading the Bard himself, but this has really inspired me!! I can't wait to have this kind of CM moment with Jemimah!!

    I'm gunna print this post out!! Thanks again!

    Have a nice weekend and Happy Valentines with your hubby.


  6. I love this breakdown! Thanks so much for sharing how you did/do Shakespeare at the different ages. My daughter is soon to be 10 and loves the Bard too! I'm linking this on my Shakespeare for Kids page right away!

  7. Thanks for contributing this post to the CM Blog Carnival.

    Grace & Peace,

  8. Thank you for this. I'm just starting our shakespeare journey. However, i've been surprised at how much my boys enjoy the stories, even when they can't quite get all the details.

  9. Thank you for sharing this! We are just beginning our journey into AO and my 2 oldest children, ages 13 and 12 are also very new to quality literature. So, I am reading to them aloud from Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb for our first year to get their feet wet. So, in our case, I think this can be great for older students as well. :)

  10. We enjoyed Nesbit's Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare. We also listened to LibriVox, but I am going to check out your recommendation of Arkangel.

  11. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I have been collecting Shakespeare resources for over a year now and have been apprehensive to start. Your break-down is just what I needed! :D

  12. We love our Tales from Shakespeare, but I also love the idea of listening to some of his plays as well!


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