Most students will be exposed to the works of Shakespeare, typically in high school. The language and content of the plays is seen as too difficult for younger children but primary children are underestimated as to what they can accomplish given the challenge. The study of Shakespeare has become an integral part of my grade two program at Hamlet School, in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.
When I first moved to Stratford, I had no intention of teaching Shakespeare to 7 and 8 year olds. Stratford is a beautiful city noted for its Shakespearean theatre and I was interested that the schools were all named after Shakespearean characters. I asked my class, "Who is William Shakespeare?" and "Why is our school called Hamlet?" Their answers were surprising. One thought he was a famous boxer. Another believed he was the President of Canada. A third student responded, "I don't know who William Shakespeare is. I don't know any of the big kids." It was the children's enthusiasm and excitement on making the connection between an historical figure and the name of their school, which led me to continue. Thirty years later I can't imagine teaching anywhere in the world and not introducing Shakespeare. The study provided tremendous growth, particularly in the area of language and communication and evolved into a learning experience of a lifetime. I have endeavored in my books and workshops for teachers to share the excitement of exploring with children, the timeless emotions and ideas of Shakespeare.
The comments of two of my children, written at various times in their daily journals show the lasting impression Shakespeare has had on them.
"Shakespeare is like a big piece of chocolate cake. Once you've started you wish you could go on and on forever, in a non-stopping dream." (Anika, age 7)
"William's incredible words are like a velvet silk coat that rap around his pure thoughts. His pen writes on like all colors of the wind." (Sean, age 7)