Hello, dear readers. I’ve been getting more hits in the last few weeks and it gave me a mild kick in the rear to clean up the blog a little bit. I don’t think I’ve looked at the links in a year (or two or three…) and I had not updated our curriculum section above. But that’s all updated now. Specifically, you can read about our wrapping up of fifth grade (that’s currently) and our loose upcoming plans for sixth grade in the fall. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on that in the near future (eek! middle school!). In the meantime, if you have a favorite book blog you think I should be reading, I realize I have fallen behind on keeping up with those, so please suggest it!
We started back to school after a break of about a month for summer camp, cousin camp, and a trip to see relatives. I’m sure I’ll post more soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this totally unrelated to anything picture of the boys enjoying summer to its fullest. I hope you’re all milking it for everything it can give as well.
Anyone who knows me knows I love to recommend books to people. I’m a children’s book nut and I like helping people find good books for their book devourers and picky readers alike. But often I feel like people who want book recommendations want to start in the wrong place, which is gender.
It’s important for all kids to be able to see themselves in the characters they read about (not to get onto a tangent, but that’s exactly why #weneeddiversebooks). Books are a mirror for our lives and help us understand our own experiences by identifying with others’ stories. However, I think it’s just as important that kids have the opportunity to read about different perspectives and that includes reading about what it’s like to grow up as a girl.
When people talk about the need for there to be books with strong female characters, the focus is usually to help girls become strong women. However, as the mother of boys, I think it’s just as important that boys read these books to learn how to respect, admire, and be understand strong women when they grow up. We do just as huge a disservice to boys when we don’t give them “girl” books as we do when we box girls into a reading corner.
So here are just a few of the many “girl” books my boys have read and enjoyed over the years. Many of them are books that are consistently on the “for girls!” lists.
Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Conner
Last Christmas, my sister-in-law gifted BalletBoy a very amusing picture book: Fancy Nancy and the Wedding of the Century, signed by the author. He had a great blush. Why is she giving me this? But I knew immediately. As a preschooler, BalletBoy had loved Fancy Nancy so very much that he had announced that he planned to marry her when he grew up. We may have grown out of Nancy a long time ago, but her girly, vocabulary rich, pink-loving charms were once really enjoyed here.
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Mushroom and I recently reread this one curled up in bed late at night. It’s probably no surprise that this would have been a much loved girl picture book for my anxious kid. Henkes’s world has many boy characters as well – we especially liked Owen too – but Wemberly has a special place for us.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch
This classic tale of princess empowerment is funny for boys too. My boys always thought the picture of the annoying prince who needed rescue was very amusing. I especially thought it was good for boys to see that princesses can rescue them.
Ivy and Bean series by Annie Barrows
Not long ago, BalletBoy noticed a newer Ivy and Bean book he’d never read and picked it up sort of wistfully before putting it back and declaring he was too old for it. However, these books about two neighbor girls with very different personalities and a close friendship was one of the first chapter book series he read independently.
Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Not that we didn’t also enjoy Henry Huggins or Ralph S. Mouse, but Ramona’s struggles from pest to older kid have been Cleary’s most loved books here. She is one of the most real characters in children’s literature, with some of the most real family relationships and struggles.
The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
We loved meeting the Penderwicks again in the most recent book.
The books are so sweet and touching positive with such great sister relationships. We have read every one and loved them all.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This classic was a read aloud ages ago and both boys enjoyed Mary’s transformation from contrary to happy. They may have also really liked my poorly done accents. I highly recommend the beautiful Inga Moore version, which was the one we had.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
This fairy tale with a girl power twist was a much enjoyed story for both my boys, who both liked Ella’s unlucky tale. I like the determination that Ella has to show and the way the romance evolves through the story. The boys thought the movie wasn’t all that great, but I’m pretty sure everyone agreed on
11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
Mushroom read this book not too long ago for pleasure reading. Wendy Mass has several more boy-centric titles, but most of her books are solidly female-centric. This light and funny one with a magical twist, with worries about middle school cliques and birthday party attendees, feels especially girl-centric. But he enjoyed it a lot and I like that the final message is so positive toward girls and boys continuing to be friends, even in middle school and
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
This coming of age graphic novel was based on the author’s real life and deals a lot with learning to figure out who your real friends are and how to be yourself, lessons that both girls and boys have to learn. It has a cult following among girls, but I have noticed a lot of boys reading it as well. I’m embarrassed to say that I initially didn’t give this to either of my kids, thinking that it might be to middle school girly. However, Mushroom specifically asked to read it. Clearly, he knows that “girl” books aren’t just for girls.
Someone posted a link to this article about the most important things to know about homeschooling on a local list and I have to admit that it really rubbed me the wrong way. It’s perhaps a telling sign of how far I’ve moved away from some of my idealistic, unschool-influenced roots, but the rah rah homeschooling is perfect mentality is something that grates on me these days. You won’t find many people who are more pro-homeschooling than I am, but I feel like it has to be tempered with a bit of realism. So I thought I’d rewrite their list the way I see things.
1. Homeschooling is life changing for you and your kids. You may learn as much as the kids, if not more sometimes. It can change the way you see yourself and your kids if you are willing to let it. Along the way, there will be lots of uncertainty and chaos that you have to learn to live with. Model your learning for the kids and show them your love of reading, problem-solving and creating and it will help them learn those skills too.
2. You don’t need special credentials or even need to be highly educated. The most important thing you need is the drive to do it and the willingness to learn as you go or to admit when you don’t know how to teach something and be willing to find another way for a child to learn. However, not everyone should homeschool. If you don’t feel that drive or if life circumstances make it too difficult, then that’s okay too.
3. Some kids will be easy to teach. They’ll want to learn and you’ll find it easy to satisfy that. Other kids will be resistant to learning. They’ll try your patience. Sometimes it will be the same kid, just on different days. Your primary job is to help your kids learn how to learn and hopefully learn how to love learning. If you keep that goal in mind, it can be a guiding principle, but it doesn’t come naturally to every child.
4. Homeschooling is legal everywhere in the U.S. You don’t need to join a legal defense organization (as in, HSLDA) in order to protect your rights. You do need to follow the laws of your state or jurisdiction, which can vary. Some states require nothing, others require more extensive records. No one should try to use homeschooling to keep their children secret from the government. Ethically, your children have a right to their own homeschool records to prove that they were educated. If you homeschool, you should realize that, sadly, some people do use homeschooling as a way to mask abuse. Don’t be a voice supporting those people. It’s good to stick up for fellow homeschoolers, but put an eye of caution into your view.
5. Most homeschoolers don’t “do school” from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. Because it’s individualized instruction with a very low teacher to student ratio, there’s a lot less time wasted in homeschooling. However, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily get everything done in as little as an hour. Some days, or even years, you will, and some kids will be fast workers. But other kids will work slowly and other years will take more of your time every day. The most important thing to realize is that your time can be flexible. You can have short days but school year round. Or you can have long days but only school four days a week. You can blend life and schooling more seamlessly or sit down at desks and work hard for several hours then have plenty of play time. There’s not one model to make it work.
6. Socialization is something you have to work at a little harder when your kids are homeschooled. They will not have a ready made peer group and social scene. Sometimes you have to put in time driving them place to place or making friends with the other parents, things that you wouldn’t have to do if they were in school. However, the pay off can be huge. Homeschooled kids can have a much richer social life with people of different ages and experiences than their schooled peers do. They can sometimes avoid some of the negative aspects of socializing in school, like bullying or gender conformity.
7. Skills are important to have. There are lots of different paths and timetables to mastery, but it will be your job to make sure your children acquire those basic skills that people need to function in our world, like reading, writing, speaking clearly, using technology, and doing math, whether it’s learning them slowly through life or teaching them directly from a textbook or something in between. Inevitably, some kids will have bumps in the road and it will be your job to help smooth those out. This means that you don’t necessarily have to teach everything, but you do need to find ways to help your kids learn, and that includes the subjects that you struggled with as a student. If you have something you’re really struggling to teach, it doesn’t mean you have to give up homeschooling. There are classes and tutors out there, it’s just your job to find and use those resources.
8. It’s normal to have doubts. Parenting is full of them and homeschooling can amplify them. But the only thing to do is try your best and keep moving forward. You will make mistakes, but focus on the big picture. Find some friends to help you along the way and encourage you as you go. Homeschooling can be lonely. Having another homeschool parent who can see your kids and tell you how great they are can be a lifeline.
9. Homeschooling is difficult financially. Some primary homeschool parents manage to work, but you will likely sacrifice a full income or most of one in order to do it. That means living on less. If you can do it, it can be worth it. There are creative solutions to make it work, including working from home, starting a business, or co-oping with other parents. However, in the end, not everyone will be able to financially make homeschooling happen and that’s okay too.
10. There is a saying in homeschool circles: “Homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint.” Trust that it’s a long journey and that you have time to do it. Trust that small mistakes along the way don’t define that journey, even a bad year probably isn’t as bad as you think. Remember that kids are resilient and most kids can learn with minimal resources and just a lot of your support and love. However, also remember that homeschooling doesn’t have to be forever. You can make a different decision later if you need to do so.
Since the boys were in kindergarten, we’ve done math on the white board or math on scratch paper or math with me scribing or math in workbooks or worktexts or with manipulatives. But when Mushroom reached pre-algebra this year I realized that what we had not done was math neatly laid out in a notebook. It was a mess.
However, I was patient. I gave Mushroom a special notebook for math to keep it separate for the first time from the rest of his written work and made him a special cover for it. Then I tried to instill in him to label the top of every page: the lesson number or “Scratch.” Then we got to simplifying expressions and I explained that you have to copy the expression at the start. He looked nigh on devastated. And the notebook was a mess.
But, hey, look at this! Just a month or so after starting to learn about how to keep his math notebook nice and neat, he did this:
Math is so much about the process. However, there comes a point when the process is hurt by sloppiness. We try really hard to focus on what matters more than how it’s dressed in our schooling. So the quality of the writing matters more than the spelling, that you worked on art for an hour matters more than whether you ended up with a finished product, that you got the right answer matters more than if you forgot to write the units next to it. However, eventually, some of those things matter sometimes. I told Mushroom he had acquired a lifelong skill by being able to keep his math notebook neat and functional.
But I’m also glad I didn’t try to make him acquire this skill earlier. It was pretty painless at this point while it would have been difficult for him earlier. So I’m glad I waited for the right moment to worry a little more about how it looks.
I’m a bit of a math manipulatives nut. The folks over at SecularHomeschool.com asked me to write a post for their new Soup to Nuts discussion group so my post is up today. Here’s the first little bit:
I remember the first time I encountered Cuisenaire rods in a graduate workshop. “Be sure you allow time for kids to play with them,” began the instructor, looking around at a room full of educators turning the tiny blocks into towers and patterns of stripes. As we knocked over towers and tried to pay attention to the instructions on how to use these colorful little things with students, we laughed. Even the adults were drawn to playing with their math.
I’ve since learned that there are a million ways to play with your math and hold it in your hands. It’s not a necessary step for absolutely every student, but for most, it makes math more fun, more tactile, and easier to understand. Math manipulatives can be a lifeline for some math strugglers, a shortcut to understanding for some thinkers, and a means to get to a deeper understanding for others. There are dozens of different products out there for both arithmetic and geometry and even an array of products for algebra. There are also ways to make math hands on by bringing it into the real world in other ways.
In my last post, I talked about what the kids learned and worked on. However, as I wrote, I realized that some of the most important learning was my own, adjusting to having older kids who are nearly in middle school, kids who have a much more tween like attitude.
I think probably the most momentous thing to happen in school this year was Mushroom, in angry tears saying, “I wish you weren’t my teacher!”
He’s changed his mind. He’ll probably change it again at some point. However, it was the first time anything like that ever escaped his lips. In a way it’s sort of funny and sweet. He’s growing up and it’s not as easy to satisfy him. He questions a lot more and is more likely to argue. BalletBoy is working his way toward being a champion arguer. But while I value that all these things are good in one way as the boys gain independence, I can’t deny that they’ve been difficult for all of us to figure out how to navigate.
I got some good advice and have figured out a few things for dealing with this pre-teen stuff. I’m sure I’ll look back on this in a few years and think how naive I was, but here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Mushroom and BalletBoy are probably going to be on the short side. They’re definitely not puny, but they’re among the shorter kids in their age group. However, they’ve shot up in the last year. Enough that Mushroom said to me the other night, “How did I get so big? Just look at me!” They’re clearly working on some more growth soon. Their eating habits have gone back to being more like toddlers too. Some days they pick at everything. But often they devour a whole burrito in one gulp. We had mostly done away with a lot of the casual snacks in our lives over the last few years. We just didn’t need as many as when they were little, but now the snacks are back. I’m learning that they help. Being a grouch? Hey, would you like a granola bar? How about a banana? Yogurt tube?
Appreciate their contradictions.
And I thought nine was full of contradictions. Ten is a whole other level. They are just too big for my lap now, yet they still climb in when they’re sad, sometimes nearly knocking over the chair. Then other times they nearly smack my hand away if I pat their shoulders or back. They insist they can walk a mile away alone one day, then feel incapable and nervous about asking the librarian for a book the next day. They make these great insights during discussions one day, then struggle to remember something incredibly simple the next. Rather than get whiplash, I’m trying to appreciate the little kid moments when they still really need me or play pretend with each other as well as the grown up kid moments when they teach me something I don’t know or want to talk about the meaning of life. Speaking of which…
Engage in deep questions.
I’m learning that this age is completely about big questions. A few years ago, big questions were things about how things work like why is the sky blue. Now the big questions are things like why do bad things happen to good people, is there really a God, and how do we stop wars. Mushroom asked if we could study religions for school, which turned into one of our bigger projects. The logic chapters in Jousting Armadillos also helped fill this need. I’m figuring out how much we need to be engaging with deeper thinking and real questions. Next year, I’m planning to use Philosophy for Kids with them, which I think will help fill this need. I think to keep them engaged in school, learning has to be full of these big questions, even in skill subjects like writing and math.
Give them a break.
And now we come to that contradiction. I think that while we’re doing schoolwork that’s hopefully more and more challenging and thought-provoking, I’m learning that they’re just as likely to get overwhelmed by too much work, either at home or in extracurriculars. Also, many times this year I’ve had the experience of watching one of them do something difficult like a tricky algebra problem or a long dictation, and then turning around and getting something really basic wrong like forgetting how to divide or misspelling “because.” It feels like we’re back to that uneven development that was so characteristic of when they were little. One day they could read the little reader, the next day they genuinely could not. And now I see it again sometimes. I’m learning to cut them some slack.
Look for meaningful experiences.
When Mushroom and BalletBoy were little, a trip to a museum or coloring a picture might be meaningful experiences for learning and life. They were fulfilling things in terms of learning and experiencing the world. Drawing and museum trips may still be useful and part of what we do, but they’re no longer fulfilling in the same way. Just like how the kids are asking deep questions, they’re also really looking for meaningful experiences. I think being in real competitions, such as soccer games or Destination Imagination tournaments, feels like a meaningful experience for them. Performing on stage feels meaningful. Taking risks feels meaningful. Creating their own projects such as the video game machine Mushroom built with his Raspberry Pi or the short story BalletBoy is working on can feel like meaningful work.
They’re clearly seeking out experiences with more depth that feel like they make a difference. I want to begin to tie this in with service learning at least sometimes. And to find ways to let helping around the house, which they do unevenly, be something that feels meaningful. This is definitely something I’m hoping to think more about as they get older. At their age, I began cooking dinner most nights and doing a lot of the household shopping. I know that having what I understood was an important role in the house grounded me in many ways through those years. There’s no way they’re going to have a similar experience, but I also want to look for ways that meaningful experiences and meaningful work can be a part of the picture for them.
We’re actually still “doing fifth grade” so perhaps it’s early for a year in review, but early summer always feels like a reflective time for how school is going. As I wrote this, I realized that there were really two elements to my reflection: what they learned and what I learned about growing kids. Obviously, they’re intertwined, but I put the “school” elements here and I’ll save the tween attitudes for my next post.
This year has been different from the others. We’ve been more engaged with projects and questions. I’ve been more responsive to the kids’ schoolwork requests. I’ve written a good bit here about why we made this shift, but I continue to be glad we focused on exploring lots of content in the early grades and are switching to being more project focused for the middle grades. Some of the projects we did this year included learning about houses, reading steampunk literature and making art, studying world religions, exploring probability, learning about ancient Egypt, doing chemistry experiments, and writing poetry. Not every project we did went perfectly, but overall I feel good about continuing to wing content by letting it arise naturally. I suggest things, they suggest things, questions the kids ask lead to some projects, books or documentaries lead to others. Over the summer, we decided to tackle graphic design and I look forward to seeing what emerges next.
Skill subjects have been a decidedly mixed bag. Math has involved perhaps an insane amount of curriculum hopping. Mushroom is doing well right now alternating daily between Jousting Armadillos and Process Skills in Problem Solving. They’re such radically different resources. He loves Jousting Armadillos and its talkative, do just a few problems then try this very tricky puzzle approach and hates the complex problems in Process Skills. However, I like the interplay between then. BalletBoy started the year using Math in Focus but we ditched it after finishing 5a and switched to MEP, where he is starting on MEP5b. I have been frustrated finding the right level for BalletBoy’s math. He found some elements of Math in Focus far too easy and others far too difficult. MEP has been good for us because it has forced me to really sit and teach him using the lesson plans. Still, I’m not sure what we’re going to do long term. He still makes an egregious amount of careless errors in his math. One problem will be wrong because he accidentally added incorrectly, another because he skipped a step, another because he couldn’t read his own messy writing, another because he misunderstood the question, and finally another because he was off in BalletBoyland and forgot what he was even doing. Getting this kid to focus on math is like pulling teeth sometimes.
On the flip side, BalletBoy does have focus for writing. Brave Writer has continued to serve us well. The boys wrote short stories, poems, reflections, and their first short formal essays, though with lots and lots of help. Both the boys keep slowly improving their dictation mechanics, even if getting them to improve it in their own writing is difficult. Spelling has been a huge trial for Mushroom again this year. He improved so much with All About Spelling for the first two years of using the program, but this year in level 5, his improvement ground to a halt. BalletBoy wrapped up level 6 without too many issues, but I gave up on using it with Mushroom and tried How to Teach Spelling, which has a similar approach but a lot more dictation sentences. I thought it would be good for him to practice. He would improve for a little while then go back to not remembering if a word used “ee” or “ea.” And somehow, in those cases, he always seems to make the wrong choice. Finally, I cried “uncle” on this whole spelling thing. I give up, at least for now. He deserved a break and so did I. His spelling is now extremely easy to decipher 95% of the time and I’ve decided that’s okay for now. We’re committing to doing more dictation to try and work on spelling and mechanics in context.
As always, one of our biggest difficulties was balancing homeschooling with extracurriculars. In particular, our year was taken over with performances. BalletBoy did his first Nutcracker and later got to be an extra in a Kennedy Center ballet, plus he performed with his marimba ensemble. Mushroom did a musical and had a small role in a local community production then went right into a main role in The Importance of Being Earnest. Both boys were in Much Ado About Nothing. When you tossed in soccer and regular co-op and so forth, it was just a lot to do. Finding the balance didn’t always work. Theater hours are really hard on ten year olds. I’m not sure how we can change that next year. We compensate by relaxing school but then working on weekends and over the summer as needed. Like everyone else, I want a more relaxed life, but I also don’t want my kids to have to pass up opportunities they greatly want. It’s a very tricky line to walk.
Just the other day, Mushroom discovered that there was such a thing as a “fifth grade graduation” and demanded that we have one. I asked if a special meal would suffice and he agreed. We have some summer camps and will return in late July for more school, to be finished up by September in time for the fall break.
We’ve had a rough couple of weeks here at the Rowhouse. Everything is in transition. You know how transitions are. Plus we’ve been sick. Is there anything worse than a spring cold? Plus, we’ve been getting ready for the Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival, which is today. I hope the kids are able to show off their hard work. And directly after the festival, the most epic thing of all… we’re headed to Global Finals for Destination Imagination. As you can imagine, we’ve been antsy and excited.
We have gotten a little school done amidst all that, but writing assignments for Mushroom got suspended as he very single-mindedly decided he absolutely had to make a comic to share with his teammates at Global Finals. There will be one issue every day with a total of four issues. They’re all short, but clearly drawn and very adorable, about an imaginary Destination Imagination team that is also going to Globals. They have some small adventures and in the last issue, they happen to meet our entire team and trade pins with them.
Mushroom often dreams up big projects like this, but he rarely brings them to completion. His anxiety really gets in his way on that very often. He will begin something and then question his ability to really accomplish it the way he wants and give it up rather than keep working. This time he was convinced he had to finish. He let me help him with his spelling. He even insisted on photocopying, collating, and stapling them himself. I’m so glad that he stuck with this project completely on his own with very little help or prompting on my part. He advocated for wanting to work on his own project during all our writing time and I was happy to agree.
One of the things we’ve been aiming for this year has been more kid-driven learning. Up to this point, the kids haven’t really wanted to drive their own learning as much. Even when they’ve had their own projects, they’ve wanted school to stay school. Slowly though, they’re advocating for picking more of their own work, which is exciting to me. I do want to get back to some of the things we had originally intended to do in the last week, but this is much more exciting – a writing and art project he dreamed up himself, carried out without help, accepted some help editing in the last stage, and now has published himself to give out to friends.
So we’re off to Globals! Wish us luck and here’s hoping that Mushroom’s comic series is well received.
I have many times on this blog shared how much I feel that Destination Imagination is one of the most perfect homeschool activities. This is our sixth year of participating in Destination Imagination (I have coached about half of those years) and the second time we’ve won our regional tournament and had the chance to go to States. However, it’s the first time we’ve ever advanced to Global Finals! The boys’ team took second place at States, which qualified them to move on to the biggest DI party on the planet. I’m still a little bit in shock about it a couple of weeks later. It’s a huge win for them.
In case you aren’t familiar with it, Destination Imagination (and the formerly related organization Odyssey of the Mind, which is very similar) is a creativity competition. Kids choose a central challenge (unless they’re in the special, non-competitive K-2nd Rising Stars challenge) from among technical, structural, improv, service learning, scientific, and fine arts options. The challenges change every year but generally ask kids to make something and incorporate it into a skit. For example, the technical challenge might ask kids to make a vehicle that can travel to a certain box while they do a skit about travel. The service challenge might ask kids to do a service project that incorporates a logo they make themselves and then present at the tournament. Kids spend months working on their challenge solutions. There’s a second component to Destination Imagination. Teams also have to face an instant challenge at the tournament. This is usually something they have to build or a performance they have to present, usually with only a few minutes to prepare.
Getting ready for a Destination Imagination tournament – both the central and instant challenges – involves a lot of teamwork, of the best sort, the kind that doesn’t feel artificial the way “group learning” does in school. This teamwork feels authentic, the way decisions are made in the real world. It fosters independence since team managers and parents have to sign non-interference contracts. It teaches skills and information of all kinds. You never know where a challenge is going to lead exactly. The kids have learned about historic figures, face painting, movie editing, entomology, structural engineering and more. There are always a lot of rules to a challenge, but finding a way to be creative within those boundaries is part of what encourages kids to really stretch themselves. Instead of just a blank canvas, Destination Imagination gives them limitations but asks them to make something anyway, to look for ways to think beyond the limitations.
Really, I can’t sing the praises of this sort of activity enough. As we’ve done this for several years, the kids have gotten into the culture of DI. They collect DI pins, get excited to design their team shirts, know that zany hat wearing is part of being at the DI tournament, come up with silly call backs when the judges ask if they’re ready, and look forward to the generally positive atmosphere at the tournaments. It’s a competition, but the spirit is friendly. Teams tend to be appreciative and inspired by each other. Basically, Destination Imagination is fun even when you lose.
It’s from as we were gearing up to perform Macbeth a couple of years ago. We just wrapped up Much Ado About Nothing, which was by far our most elaborate production. We’ve now done this four different ways and I through all that, I stand by all that advice. To sum it up:
The most important thing you need to direct a Shakespeare show with kids is the will to do it. The kids, the scripts, and even the spaces can all fall into place. Most homeschoolers are practically begging to have their kids have an opportunity to do some meaty Shakespeare.
Don’t underestimate the need to play theater games and have fun, even right up to the wire. Kids learn things like blocking and projecting their voices that way, plus thinking of rehearsal as a fun time can be important.
If you’ve got kids under age 10, have them learn their lines before beginning rehearsals in earnest. Before about that age, the majority of kids can’t really act and hold a script and read lines all at the same time. Give them some time to learn the lines after handing out roles and then get started, with everyone off book all at once.
Don’t underestimate how hard it is for kids to learn blocking. Kids are sponges. Saying a long Shakespeare line – no problem! But remembering not to do it with your back to the audience and standing behind your best friend – that’s hard.
Don’t be afraid to be creative with sets and costumes. Or to just be minimal. I’ve had four productions, all with massively different types and amounts of set pieces and costuming. It can work with a ton of cool set things or nothing but a few simple props.
The biggest challenge for me has consistently been finding rehearsal and performance spaces. We’ve used someone’s home, a church gym, a local historic building, and a theater space to rehearse. And we’ve performed in two local professional theaters, a church stage, and a big meeting room. This year, I decided to approach the theater where Mushroom has done a couple of shows and see if they’d like to work with me to try and expand their homeschool program. It was nice not to have to scramble for spaces and afforded us some amazing set and costume help. However, there was something nice about keeping costs low and having other parents pitch in to help bring everything to fruition. Both ways can work.
For elementary schoolers, I found Shakespeare with Children by Elizabeth Weinstein to be the best source of scripts. They’re short, with lots of roles for a large group, and with Shakespeare’s original language throughout, except for a narrator. From that, I edited the scripts by taking some of the text away (for The Tempest) or adding some back in (for A Midsummer Night’s Dream). However, I’ve also cut two plays for us to use ourselves and thought I’d provide those scripts here for anyone to use.
This script was cut extremely short specifically for performance in the twenty minute time limit set by the Folger Library’s Children’s Shakespeare Festival. It could be a good script for a classroom or co-op performance since it’s of a much more limited scope. It includes many roles, but some can be condensed for a smaller cast.
This script is about an hour long. This play is often not performed by children because of it has more innuendo than some of the other comedies. Innuendo likely to be understood by children has been removed from this version. Also, Leonato’s condemnation of Hero is greatly softened, as is Hero’s alleged betrayal. We staged our version in the 1920’s with music, but you could stage it in any era. We also had Beatrice sing Shakespeare’s “Sigh No More, Ladies/Hey, Nonny Nonny” at the start of the show. Note: There are a few typos in this script. I went back to fix them and the original version that wasn’t pdf was missing and editing from the pdf was difficult. Oops. So you get the script with the dozen typos though most are very minor. However, there’s an error on page 12 where Don Pedro enters and speaks to Claudio, except he’s not quite on stage yet.