Early Shakespeare

The greatest name in the world of storytelling has to be Shakespeare. He told every kind of story – comedy, tragedy, adventure, love and melodrama. But how appropriate or accessible are these stories for early years and KS1? Can Shakespeare genuinely be for all ages and all stages? Well, yes. Shakespeare is for everyone and being a nipper doesn’t mean you are out of the picture. Far from it. There are opportunities galore.

But what if you aren’t a thespian or don’t know much about the most famous playwright of all time? How do you teach Shakespeare? One option would be to enrol on a KS1 and early years CPD course run by the Royal Shakespeare Company in directing, developing language, and drama. But if you can’t afford the cost of a course and a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, what’s on offer?

An innovative approach to teaching Shakespeare comes in the shape of the Early Shakespeare CD-ROMs from the impressive SEN Assist Ltd. There is just one title available at the moment and that is the tragedy within a comedy wedding play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Set in a moonlit enchanted forest outside Athens, this story is a meandering tale of four confused and quarrelsome lovers, temperamental fairies, and a gang of rowdy workmen who are trying to practise their own play.

The software manages to simplify this complex play brilliantly and children can watch an animated version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at one of four differentiated levels. Click ‘play’ and the words are spoken by real actors who have actually trod the boards themselves. The voice overs are excellent and the words on screen are highlighted as they are spoken. Above the words are matching symbols that go a long way in supporting children’s word recognition. These can be switched on and off. The stories are told using the first 100 high frequency words.

The play is acted out by some very child-friendly characters who, when clicked upon, speak in Elizabethan Shakespeare. Pleasant background music is played throughout for extra authenticity, although this can be muted if need be. After watching the play, children can earn a certificate by completing a short sequencing and comprehension activity.

Keeping children company throughout the play and activities is an animated Shakespeare. The level of animation is just right. It’s not over the top but visually very clean and appealing. It is clear the animator knows what he is doing. The screens are colourful, uncluttered and inviting. Admirable! 

The resources are divided into worksheets and masks and together they make a neat set of activities. The worksheets include pdf matching exercises, sequencing, comprehension, character sheets, colouring sheets, props and scenery and an animated walk through of a ‘build your own box theatre’. You also get an abridged script of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Our Verdict

Where there's a Will there's a way

I had my doubts whether A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream could be translated for early years and KS1 as it a complex farce featuring three interlocking plots. However, Early Shakespeare has pulled it off and done so with some aplomb.

Don’t see this resource as dumbing down though, as there is still plenty of challenge up for grabs. Early Shakespeare would be my first choice for introducing young minds to a great mind. It also makes a fabulous place to start as an adult if Shakespeare is all Greek to you. Romeo and Juliet is next in the pipeline and it can’t come soon enough.

Pie Corbett