I have a theory that if children are casually introduced to our literary heritage when they are young, they will go on to do well with English and Literature when older. I have come across so many people who dismiss Literature because they don’t understand Shakespeare or say it’s all boring. Quite often, I can see fear in their eyes. Yes, it is true. People see books written in the Victorian period as alien. Plays written in Elizabeth I’s time, well we don’t mention those at all. The reason for this, I am sure, is that they were not casually introduced to them as children. When I use the word ‘casually’, I mean not making a big issue of it. Enjoying great literature is simply a way of life. It enriches all our lives. It doesn’t matter if we haven’t got two pennies to rub together, NOBODY, can take away that feeling which rises through the body when we have fusion with a work of great literature. My fourteen year old recently chose to perform the end monologue from Doctor Faustus by Marlowe for his acting exam. He is expecting a great result because he felt so confident with it. At the age of thirteen he got a distinction in his exam for a Richard II monologue, again something he had chosen. He simply has no fear of great literature; this is because it has always been there in his life. I have to hastily add, that I have never fed it to him in great dollops or made him watch or read any of it. It has always been casually offered.
Watch Great Expectations together. This is a good one to introduce children to Dickens. The atmosphere of the marshes and the graves makes it eerie. Also, children can empathise with Pip’s fear when the escaped convict, Magwitch threatens him. Even if we just watch a clip of the beginning of the film on Youtube, it’s a start to introducing our children to Charles Dickens.
Have a communal reading session together. Make the room cosy, have something available to eat and drink, then sit around with the kids and read a few pages of Dickens to them. Pickwick Papers has some wonderful comedy scenes which children will react to. Always ask their opinions of the characters. Tell them they can say exactly what they think because there is no right or wrong answer in Literature as long as they have the evidence from the text to back themselves up. If any of the children say that it’s rubbish or they are bored, tell them that is an excellent critical opinion if they can explain what it is about the text which makes them think that way.
This is a bit eerie. Find a graveyard with Victorian headstones and ask the children to take photographs of the headstones from that period. Lead the children into noticing the ages when people died. The chances are that quite a few of them would be children themselves. This offers a discussion opportunity about the lives of children in the Victorian period. Later use extracts from Oliver Twist to demonstrate how difficult some children’s lives were.
Visit a Charles Dickens site. There is Dickens World in Kent, Charles Dickens Museum in London and Charles Dickens Museum in Portsmouth – the place of his birth. There are also London Charles Dickens Walking Tours. Taking children to places which celebrate writers and their works’ demonstrates the writer’s value in our society. It diminishes the image of a dead person from long ago writing a dusty old book.
Dickens would walk for hours and hours. Walking helps to give clarity with plots, character motives and helps ideas for settings. Take the children on a Dickens type inspirational walk. Give them notebooks, pens and a camera. If possible, go somewhere they have not been before so that they are seeing with new eyes. Be playful, bounce ideas around. Something strange has probably happened in this place before – what could it be? – Who was involved? Get important words written down in notebooks. If the children are too young to write or simply don’t like writing yet, don’t worry, it’s the ideas which are important. The object of the exercise is to let them see that there are creative opportunities around every corner.
Take a scene from a Dickens novel, a television adaptation or film and get the child or children to act it out in their own words. If there are not enough children the adults can join in. It’s great fun. The object of this exercise is to get the child to interpret what is happening in the scene. Also, as a language exercise, discuss how language has changed since Victorian times. If the scene contains an upper class person (that sounds dreadful, but it is the English class terminology from then) and someone with a cockney accent, discuss the fact that the two people speak so differently. It will give the children a valuable insight into the class system of Victorian England. If possible, get some costumes or props. It helps to create a Victorian atmosphere and adds to the fun.
I always make sure that I enjoy these types of activities because I know that if I don’t think they are fun, then the children involved certainly won’t.
- L’abîme by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins (lnatal.wordpress.com)
- Charles Dickens: A Celebration Of His Life And Work (tararualibrary.wordpress.com)
- Memories: Reading Charles Dickens In The Best & Worst Times… (eof737.wordpress.com)
- Charles Dickens fans celebrate 200th birthday (cbc.ca)
- 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Charles Dickens (libraryindus.wordpress.com)
- Children Get to Know Charles Dickens (nochargebookbunch.com)
- Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday celebrated with readings, Google Doodle (news.nationalpost.com)
- Charles Dickens (coolhunting.com)