Shakespeare for Six Year Olds?


By: Olivia Rosenman


King Lear bemoaned, “How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!”. But could teaching kids Shakespeare in their pre-teen years actually make them grateful for it later on?


In Australia, the country’s most prominent Shakespeare Theatre company, Bell Shakespeare, is trying to get primary school students to embrace the bard. In February, the company launched a primary programme, which was launched at the beginning of the academic year.  Using the original language, the company has started teaching the plays to children as young as six years old. The text is broken down into bite-sized chunks, and the actors fill the blanks in between using story-telling techniques.  They don’t alter the plotlines either, horrific and macabre scenes are left untouched. “We’ve done Macbeth with primary school students, to great effect”, says Joanna Erskine, the company’s head of education.


Why? Erskine says, “For years, we've been working with secondary school students, whereby Years 9 or 10 kids hate Shakespeare. They have negative preconceptions of him, have been told he's boring or too hard and doesn't mean anything to them”. Kids may have seen their older siblings mangling metaphors, ignoring images, struggling with similes and missing complicated imagery all together. Before they even know who or what Shakespeare is, they think it’s difficult and dull.


Catching them in primary school, the kids aren’t too hung up on the complexity of meaning. They are happy understanding the general gist of what’s happening and teachers have reported being pleasantly surprised at just how much the kids are capable of. According to Bell Shakespeare, “ there is something magical when young minds meet Shakespeare. “


So far, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been the most popular. “Obviously, because you’ve got fairies and magic”, says Erskine. One year four student had different favourite;  "Romeo and Juliet. It's a classic! I love his plays: some of them are funny, some of them are sad", Lucy Clare told The Australian.


So should you start taking King Lear into your kids’ rooms for that bedtime story? Well maybe not if you don’t want to haunt them with nightmares, but why not try a less spooky Shakespeare, and see if they like it?

In fact, there are a range of tools and sites for kids on the internet, including Shakespeare games, quizzes and even Hamlet in 60 seconds!


To find out more about Bell Shakespeare’s program, visit:

For other Shakespeare for kids’ resources:


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