I recently read a post on Grace in Loving Chaos about how her family has approached their Shakespeare studies and it inspired me to write about our recent study of As You Like It.
Unlike many homeschoolers, I did not start with an introduction to the Bard as a person or with much information about when or where he wrote. After all, there are many authors I read or have my children read with little to no personal introduction. I think Shakespeare's writing - his comedic plays in particular - transcend time and place, and such information, while interesting, is not vital for understanding his works. I will certainly introduce my children to Shakespeare as a person, the Globe Theatre, and Elizabethan England, but I think I will do that in the context of our historical studies rather than as a precursor to enjoying some of his plays.
We started our study informally by listening to Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare. We listened to the version from LibriVox several times in the car over the past school year and this has been a great help. The recording from LibriVox, while perhaps read a little too quickly, is still worthwhile. While listening, we had a number of casual conversations about the types of plays Shakespeare wrote, themes in his plays, and common narrative arcs.
In May, I decided it was time to study one play in earnest with Emma (9) and Gregory (5). After a bit of discussion with my daughter, we decided on As You Like It.
Weeks 1 and 2:
During our Wednesday afternoon read-aloud slot, I read the Lamb's version of As You Like It in two parts. My daughter narrated after each session, and my son, while not required to narrate, added comments. We also created a map of the characters and their relationships to each other on the white board, which my daughter then copied and embellished.
After we had a solid character map and an overview of the play, we watched the 1978 BBC version of As You Like It, available streaming from Amazon or for rental from Netflix. I do not recommend the 1936 version with Bergner and Olivier. Olivier is no where near his best in this one, and Bergner, with her heavy German accent, is almost impossible to understand in many places. The BBC version is not exactly amazing, but it is a solid presentation of the play with decent actors.
We watched the play over three days, about 45 minutes to a session. This matched the children's attention spans well and gave us more opportunity for discussion. We watched during lunch, pausing for questions and occasional narrations. Emma's character map was quite handy, especially during our first session.
Next we listened to an audio version of the play. I chose the BBC Radio Shakespeare version, available for download from Amazon (through Audible). I do not recommend the LibriVox version of the play; the actors are uneven and some are almost impossible to follow. We listened to this while we knitted, drew, or did other handiwork sorts of things over the course of several days. At the children's request, we also listened to the play in the car a couple of weeks later. By this point they had no trouble distinguishing characters or figuring out what was happening.
As the kids get older (or I find another family or two who would like to join us!) I'd love to do an informal group reading at this point. We're not there yet, but I hope we'll be able to do it someday.
Fortuitously, a semi-local Shakespeare troupe will be performing As You Like It next month, so we've made plans to see it on stage too. I doubt we'll be fortunate enough to have this happen for each play we study, but I hope to take advantage of this whenever it occurs.