Fearless with Language

I discovered an interesting article a while back concerning the Royal Shakespeare Company of Stratford-Upon-Avon, England.

Now, theatre artists in the U.S. have an unusually encompassing love of the Bard, but they really love him in England.  It is, after all, the place of his birth.  And how proud they are that their country produced such a prolific author.  In true form, the RSC is advocating for teaching Shakespeare to children as young as four when “when children are fearless, when they are used to trying out new language.”

This is an exciting proposal.  We think to read nursery rhymes to our young children, we show them pieces of art from 300 years ago alongside contemporary art, we play Mozart next to Rock, but have we ever tried language?  Our favorite fairy tales were written down for the first time 200 years ago:  Billy Goats Gruff, Cinderella, to name just a couple.

According to studies, children are primed to learn multiple languages at an early age.  Their brains are filled with many more synapses than our adult brains, creating a fertile ground for multi-linguality.  This would be why, when I took my toddler to Spain last year, she was speaking more Spanish than I was by the end of the week.  Not only that, but studies show that bilingual children are capable of greater levels of concentration.  It’s a benefit to our children to know multiple language; to create understanding of meaning; to be surrounded by new words.  So, why not Old English as well?  We make them study it later on anyways, when they have already decided they hate it because they were, undoubtedly, forced to sit through Olivier’s Hamlet or their parents instilled this dislike from their own youth.

Introducing Shakespeare to young children can only help: offering new forms of linguistic expression and storytelling, and priming them to love literature that uses a variety of words and phrases and needs exploration to fully understand.  Not surprisingly, that’s what makes a really good book, too.

One more quote for you, since it pertains so clearly to what we teach using PictureBook Plays:

You need to get them before they lose the habit of singing songs and have had the fairy dust shaken out of them.

If you would like to read more, you can visit their advocacy page Stand Up for Shakespeare, which, as it turns out, does not encompass children as young as four. Let’s hope it does in the future.

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