As English coordinator at a small independent school in Lincolnshire, Shakespeare is not something I would ever have considered doing until comparatively recently.
Shakespeare was something secondary schools did. Shakespeare was reserved for people who had easy access to theatres and professional touring groups. Situated as we are, in the middle of the Fens, non selective and with the demands of a full timetable, extra curricular clubs and 11 + pressure, celebrating Shakespeare had never really been high on any staff agenda.
All that changed three years ago when I read an email that had come from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust about Shakespeare Week, a new campaign to give primary school children a great first encounter with Shakespeare. And the lives of our 160 pupils and staff changed, hopefully forever.
The email mentioned free cross-curricular resources to inspire primary school children with Shakespeare’s works and life in Tudor times. Great! We registered to take part and couldn’t wait to get the children involved.
The next step was to hold a Shakespeare Assembly. With resources and materials provided by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust that was very straightforward. The children were fascinated to learn that so many idioms originated with Shakespeare and were delighted to rise to the challenge of winning house points by finding others for themselves.
Our main building, a rather lovely Georgian house, boasts a fine staircase and it wasn’t long before every class from Year 1 upwards had donated a figure or two from Elizabethan England or one of Shakespeare’s plays to decorate it. Year 1 made a Queen Elizabeth (using, it must be said, virtually the whole of the Art Rooms annual supply of ‘gems’, but hey…all in the name of art!). Year 2 made The Bard himself whilst the children in Key Stage 2 created Romeo and Juliet, Prospero and Miranda, Hamlet with a rather gory skull and a very glamorous Oberon and Titania. The younger children in Reception and Kindergarten were keen to join in and happily painted some neon fairies to accompany their king and queen and made tissue paper roses to adorn Juliet’s balcony.
We bought children’s editions of some of the better known plays in novel form and in Key Stage 1. Marcia William’s fabulous comic strip style books provided a brilliant introduction. Some of our better readers progressed quickly to reading the ‘novel’ type text whilst our high achieving Year 5s and 6s took to the original plays.
Now, four years on, we are looking forward to the excitement of another Shakespeare Week, with this year’s theme focusing on Music. To kick-off the celebrations we are planning to take part in the Big Assembly with a performance of ‘Shakespeare Rocks’ – a witty rock song especially composed for this year’s celebrations by Steve Titford of Musicline School Musicals. We are also lucky enough to have our drum teacher playing live as we sing the song. On Tuesday, we plan to hit the town (on market day no less) with a flash mob, featuring our Key Stage 2. The music teacher, in the spirit of the theme of ‘Shakespeare and Music’ has prepared CDs of Elizabethan instruments for the children to work with. This year the children can also take their Shakespeare learning home with a new online challenge where they can earn special digital Shakespeare badges designed by Marcia Williams.
Best of all? The children who come back to visit us or whose parents tell us how they love Shakespeare at their new school…or those who ask to go to London or Stratford-upon-Avon for a birthday treat. A new generation, who positively relish Shakespeare and his work.
Shakespeare Week is a national celebration of Shakespeare in primary schools. Now in its fourth year, Shakespeare Week 2017 will have a music theme, with a host of free cross-curricular resources available for schools and families to celebrate Shakespeare’s creative legacy. Register now at www.shakespeareweek.org.uk
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust also run training sessions for teachers on Teaching Shakespeare in the Primary Classroom. For more details, email firstname.lastname@example.org