To Read or Not to Read Shakespeare with Your Children


It came to my attention the other day that five and six-year-old children are attending classes to study Shakespeare’s plays.

If you're thinking of doing the same thing with your young children, I would encourage you to ask yourself why?

What would be the benefit?!

To me, five and six sounds mighty young.

The problem with having your children read Shakespeare is that Shakespeare wrote his plays for more mature minds. His plays have meanings to them which will soar over your children's heads.

Cowards die many times before their death.
— Shakespeare

Would you think of reading The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire to your five-year-old? Of course not! It would be patently absurd because he would understand almost nothing.

Unless your child is extremely precocious, questions like "Whether ‘tis nobler of the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune..." probably won't make much sense to him.

He can probably question whether or not you're being fair when you take away his favorite toy because he didn't do his chores, but whether or not ‘tis nobler of his mind to suffer the slings and arrows of your outrageous unfairness because he didn't do his chores is most likely too abstract a concept for your five-year-old.

Does your child understand moral deficiency and the concept of usury? Would he ask you to lend him ten dollars so he could buy a new Spiderman toy, and understand why, when he missed the due date for his loan, you were now demanding a pound of his flesh? 

Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
— Shakespeare

You might be thinking, “But we're letting our children read the comedies, and they're harmless!" 

I’m not so sure about this. Comedy or no comedy, Shakespeare's plays are full of sexual innuendos if not straight out vulgarity at times, including the comedies, so I’m going to maintain the position that he's better left for older minds.

Sure, you can find a play or two that might be somewhat suitable to read, or even a watered-down children’s version, but why would you do that when there are so many wonderful children's books that your children haven't read yet?

Give every man thy ear but few they voice.
— Shakespeare

Have your children read Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe or Little Women? A five-year-old is even too young for these books, but he's not too young for Winnie the Pooh or Peter Rabbit. These are the books a five-year-old should be reading!

Let your children develop the skill to read Shakespeare first, because reaching milestones in life is exciting.

I remember the first time I read a play by Shakespeare. I was in college! And what a sense of accomplishment I felt at the time.

Why rob your children of that experience?

And please note too that my father did not push Shakespeare on us; he let us come to Shakespeare.

Spending their time reading books that are suitable for your children’s reading levels, so that they can become better readers would make much more sense than trying to attempt to read Shakespeare before your children can read well.

That’s like attempting to gallop a horse before you’ve learned to hold the reins properly.

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
— Shakespeare

When your children become competent readers, and when they are old enough to read Shakespeare, they'll be able to enjoy Shakespeare and even begin to understand him a little. 

In the past, I've been known to mention that my children were reading Shakespeare when they were ten and twelve. I don't mean to encourage parents to introduce Shakespeare to their young children. 

I have mentioned this strictly to illustrate the level of reading homeschooled children can attain by virtue of being homeschooled.

The situation for my children was a little different. My father was a Shakespearean scholar, and Shakespeare came up for discussion often in my home.

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
— Shakespeare

My children were directly influenced by my father, and they began to read the plays on their own because they wanted to know what was so interesting about this man named Shakespeare.

I never gave my children a play to read, in fact, at the time I didn't even know they had read one until they started to discuss The Tempest one day, and I overheard them. 

Later, when they were twelve and fourteen, we began to read some of the plays outloud together. 

If you enjoy Shakespeare yourself, then your children will probably take an interest in his work at some point.

No legacy is so rich as honesty.
— Shakespeare

Twelve years of age would be about the earliest I would introduce Shakespeare, and even then I'd use discrimination as to what they read, but fourteen would be even better. 

To read or not to read Shakespeare with your children?

Definitely not!

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If you enjoyed this, you might like my free download Ten Books Every Well-Educated Child Should Read.

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