Homeschooling with Shakespeare II

Cora’s interest in Shakespeare, which I wrote about a few months ago, continues…

When we went to vote at the neighborhood middle school in November, we saw signs for an upcoming performance of Hamlet. After inquiring, we were invited to attend to a day-time performance attended by Columbus City School students from a few nearby schools.

Cora was excited to see kids, just a bit older than her, acting out the parts. This version was set in the 21st century, and rather than 14th century Denmark, the location was a video game company. The students used various digital technology to share behind-the-scenes memories – prerecorded videos – and conversations – text message screenshots – between the characters to expand the story they acted out.

We had a good time at the performance and Cora left determined to start acting with her friends. Since then, I have been volunteering at her school once a month, playing improv games and reading through scenes from Romeo and Juliet. We’re having fun, but Cora still wants to spend more dedicated time with kids studying and learning to reenact The Bard’s work. I’m on the lookout for summer camps and other opportunities. If we can’t find any, she has asked me to run one. (Please send leads if you have them! I’m not an actor!!!)

In the meantime, Cora got a new book for Christmas; a collection of Shakespeare’s plays, condensed into short stories by Angela McAllister and illustrated with gorgeous paper collages by Alice Lindstrom. Similar in style to Eric Carle but far more detailed, we have been enjoying examining the images and Cora has excitedly shared them with interested friends who come over.

Finding love notes in the forest of As You Like It
Conspiring against Julius Caesar

This week I found her elbow deep in buckets of Playmobil figures (which she hadn’t touched in months), making characters she could use to act out Shakespearean plot lines. This is the kind of independent, playful learning I dream about as a homeschooling mom who aspires to authentic, creative education.

Once she had her cast of characters, I read from her new book as she acted the story with the Playmobil. I wish I had more confidence in making stop motion animation to offer to do that with her. I might have to do some re-search…

Romeo and Juliet (bottom left) meet at the Capulet’s masquerade party. The audience of school kids on a field trip are delighted by the performance.
All the royalty die at the end of Hamlet

Tomorrow we’re visiting The Columbus Civic Theater for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This is one of those times when I’m so happy to be homeschooling. I never studied Shakespeare much myself, so reading the stories with Cora I’ve been introduced to cultural touchstones I see referenced elsewhere and have new understanding of. I’m looking forward to the play as much as she is since this theater is just a mile from our house and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been there since they opened in ten years ago.

One of Cora’s friends who is also currently hooked on Shakespeare is joining us for the performance. They are going to hang out after and you can bet I’ll be close by, seeing how the play winds its way into theirs.


Permission to Play: Day 4


While Cora loves to play together with me and her same-age friends, she is primarily into parallel play.  This morning, we spent a good hour sorting through a box of Playmobil she just inherited from her brother and sister.  She got heavily invested in serving fruit to a gaggle of princesses out of a bicycle-powered ice cream truck.  I started creating Odd Couples with the figurines, imagining narratives for them, and trying to capture the details on their tiny faces with my camera.  A princess and a robber, a policewoman and a British officer, Santa Claus and a red-bearded badass who could fit just as easily onstage with ZZ Top or a band of medieval marauders. (You can see them all in my flickr photostream.)

I couldn’t help but consider these unlikely juxtapositions as a form of culture jamming, a disruption of expected socio-cultural boundaries.  They were certainly variations on the playsets’ original design.  If you haven’t explored the world of Playmobil, it’s amazing to see the variety of people, places, and things they offer.  When my stepson was younger, he poured over their catalogues for hours.  On those glossy pages, as on the company’s website, princesses stayed in their palaces, pirates on their ships.  In the real world of play, however, boundaries are not so clear.  In our basement, monkeys drive ambulances and people are kept in cages at the zoo, and I hope that never changes.

Permission to Play: Day 3

DSC_0516George Szekely documented set-up artists, cabinet artists, and home chore artists.  I can relate to the activities he observed in children who get creative and aesthetic satisfaction from carefully arranging objects in fun and functional ways.  So often my play with the kids takes the form of sorting, organizing, and displaying their toys.  It’s not cleaning, it’s play.

I get pleasure from seeing all the Playmobil people collected in a single container or the Legos in color-coded piles.  I like hanging the dress-up to invite new character development.  And I love organizing the spice rack and fruit and veggie bin in the play kitchen.  I know these things will not stay neat and tidy for long, and I’m okay with that (for the most part).  For me, the set-up is the game.  And imagining how my work will enable the kids to play more efficiently, if you can imagine such a thing as efficient play, gives me great gratification.