Small children often find it difficult to get to grips with Shakespeare. The language seems foreign and the concepts a little too mature. And it doesn't help if their parents have no affinity with the Bard.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, presides over visits to the Bard's former home by enthusiastic secondary school students from every continent. But the trust says its British audience, particularly at primary level, has been harder to reach. Indeed, surveys show that many families in this country believe Shakespeare is not for them.
In a bid to change these attitudes, and ensure that Shakespeare's cultural legacy is accessible to every child in Britain, the organisation is launching Shakespeare Week (the first will run on 17-23 March 2014), supplemented by free online resources and a "Passport to Shakespeare" scheme for primary students.
The passports will contain a range of activities that students can do with teachers or parents. Quirky challenges are designed to spark students' imaginations and connect them to the world of Shakespeare, such as inventing a Shakespearean insult, designing a costume for a favourite character or finding something from the Tudor world in their local area. Discounted and free ticket offers will act as incentives to visit museums and galleries and take backstage tours of theatres.
"We want to ensure that all children, not just the happy few, have the chance to connect with and enjoy Shakespeare," says Jacqueline Green, the trust's head of learning and participation. "Our research shows that some people feel Shakespeare is too lofty for them; others think he is too old and dusty.
"Shakespeare should be a cultural birthright for every person in this country. But too many British children encounter him only as a dry subject for exams in their teens. In turn, they are less likely to introduce their own children to Shakespeare.
"The idea is, really, that children don't have to be immersed in culture. They can have a stab at it. Then, hopefully, they might emerge thinking: 'Actually, that was really fun.'"
The trust is launching the scheme on 16 April, and is developing free online resources to help teachers run their own Shakespeare Week assembly and plan up to a term of cross-curricular learning. All participating schools will receive "passports" for their students.
Early support for the scheme has come from groups such as Seven Stories, the national centre for children's books, the Shakespeare Schools Festival, the British Museum and the British Library. The trust is seeking partners and further funding.
For more information, go to www.shakespeareweek.org.uk
Be inspired by a West Midlands primary school's active approach to Shakespeare, revealed in this video from Teachers TV.
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