Category Archives: Parenting

How To Get Kids Writing Using Frogspawn

No - nothing's coming.

No – nothing’s coming.

Time and time again, I see young kids not wanting to write and teenagers having to write but struggling to get the words down. It’s not just the kids that suffer, staff in schools and colleges have trouble too as they try to get children to produce pieces of writing. This is because of the way the curriculum has gone, it’s all to do with ticking boxes instead of making writing the enjoyable pastime that it is. It is important then to give kids the desire to write while they are young.

If, at this point, you imagine that I’m going to suggest sitting down at a table and getting a workbook out, you can think again. Get some notebooks, pencils and a camera or phone that has a built in camera and get yourself outside.  You’ve heard of a bear hunt – well you are going on a frogspawn hunt.

Gotcha.

Gotcha.

Quick note – it depends what time of the year it is and where you are. The best way to decide what you are looking for is to have a quick look for nature sites on the internet and see what your children are likely to be interested in and if you might find them.  As an example, I will use frogspawn.

So how can finding frogspawn get your children writing?

They can take photos or draw sketches of the places that you looked to find the frogspawn. Underneath the visuals they can write where they went that did not produce any samples and where they found some. I visit a pond daily to get photographs.

Look what I found.

Look what I found.

After giving them a safety talk about being near water, you can photograph or sketch the frogspawn that you find. You can then either tell your children about the life cycle of the frog or let them research it themselves. They can put all their evidence in their notebooks alongside what they have actually seen.

The next step is for them to imagine the frogspawn going from tadpole to frog. What is he or she called? Once a name has been decided upon and written in the notebook, your child could think about five things that this frog really likes and five things that their frog hates. All this can go down in the notebook as well as a drawing of the fictional frog. I will be doing more posts about story writing at a later date.

I'm called George.

I’m called George.

All of this can be done out in the fresh air and your children can run about and get exercise while getting their notebook together. It is a good idea to encourage your children to take the notebooks on further outings so that they can keep a record of their adventures.

It is important never to criticise the handwriting, grammar or spelling in your children’s notebooks. The reason for this is that the notebook is there for them to express themselves. Handwriting, spelling and grammar will all fall into place if your children learn to love writing.  This will happen if you make writing a natural part of their pleasurable activities.

This website cannot take responsibility for any suggestions that may be followed. It is up to you to keep your children safe.

 

 

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Filed under Creative Writing, Exciting Excursions, For children, Help Your Child To Be Sucessful, Parenting

Help Your Child To Be Successful – A Simple Way To Introduce Shakespeare Early

If you live in some parts of the world, Britain, for instance, your child will have to study Shakespeare to get an English GCSE. It is often problematic, so much so that students resitting the course still cannot engage with the Bard. It is taking some students three years or longer to get a C for English and it upsets me. Three years normally gets you a degree. I’m not saying that is just due to Shakespeare because I know that it is not but it is a part of it.

I’ve said this before and I will not stop saying it, it’s because the groundwork needs to be done when they are little. If your eyes are bulging at this point, I don’t mean that you should get a four year old to deconstruct Hamlet, I mean drip feed it in a fun and exciting fashion.

Start off with Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Puck is often represented as a child – this will instantly allow recognition.
  • Puck can do magic. Small children often feel powerless in a world where they really don’t have much say. They will want to creatively engage with Puck because they can imagine being able to change things.
  • Puck is mischievous – think  Just William and Horrid Henry.

4 fun ways to introduce your child to Puck, a Shakespearean character:

Through drawing

Do your own version.

Do your own version.

Set up your drawing or art equipment and then show your child the above drawing of Puck by Victorian artist Arthur Rackham. Explain that Puck is a sprite that is in a play for stage called A Midsummer Night’s Dream by a very famous man called William Shakespeare. Don’t forget to mention that he lived about five hundred years ago.

Tell them that Puck is also called Robin Goodfellow and plays naughty tricks in people’s houses and in the woods. Explain that he is also a shapeshifter and transforms himself. Invite your child to draw or paint their own version of him. When they have finished ask them why they have done it like that. How do they view Puck?

Through movement and dance

Make sure that your child is in comfortable clothes and that you have cleared a floor space. Watch this short video of Puck dancing. Ask your child why Puck moves like that in the video – is he trying to send us a secret message without words? Invite your child to copy some of the movements. When you have done that, talk about how they think Puck might move and help them to make up their own dance. You could then film it.

Through drama

Use this quotation from Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Act III – scene 1 – lines 100 – 106 (Arden)

Through bog, through bush, through brake, through briar;

Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound,

A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;

And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,

Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.

 

Talk about it being in a woodland setting so they would have to act out wading through a bog making sure that they did not sink, fighting scratchy bushes etc… Once they have mastered the landscape, they can imagine that they are Puck and they have to transform themselves into different creatures – what would they be like? How would a hog get through a bog for instance? Again, you could film the end product on your phone.

Through making up a story

It’s important to remember that before children can write stories by themselves, they need to be able to create them; doing this regularly will help your child to be successful at English. Ask your child what they would do if they could be Puck for an afternoon. What would they transform themselves into? Would they play cheeky tricks on others or would they help somebody?

Once you find out what they would really love to do, turn it into a simple story.

  • The beginning is when they find out that they can be Puck for an afternoon.
  • The middle would be the one thing which they would do.
  • The end is the outcome of what they do.

When the story has been worked out, if the child is too young to write – do it for them. There is nothing that will give a child the desire to write more than seeing their own words down on the page.

I hope this helps. Remember even four year olds can be introduced to Shakespeare if it is done simply and gently.

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Filed under Education, For children, Help Your Child To Be Sucessful, Inspiration and Us, Parenting

A Summer’s Night Shakespearean Dream.

Dogberry painted by Marks

Do events ever happen to you and you feel as if you’ve dreamed it?  Well, that happened to me the other night.  Will (the fourteen year old) and I are doing an exploration of Shakespeare and comedy this summer.  Firstly, we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing” to compare and contrast them.  We have watched David Tennant and Catherine Tate at the Wyndham Theatre  ( Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare) and also watched Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in Kenneth Branagh’s film version. (Shakespeare – Sexy Or Strangely Funny?)  The other night we went to see an outdoor professional production – or so we thought before we went.

Beatrice

Over the years, I have been to many glorious outdoor theatre productions.  I thought I was going to something similar.  At this point I must say that I think there are times when I am a bit dense.  In the past, all the ones I have been to have been in the grounds of stately homes.  This one was in the grounds of a school but me being me; I simply thought that it was a way of getting people to watch more  theatre.

I had bought my tickets over the internet not chancing buying at the gate, in case of large crowds and a sell out.  My suspicion was aroused when I was given the shooting arrow eyeball look for buying tickets over the internet.  Four ladies, positioned like sentries, guarded the table that held the cash box.  There was a certain amount of disdain in the chief’s voice as she said “so you’ve been on the internet for your tickets.”  All their eyes were on us and I began to feel like a pervert to say the least for buying my tickets in that manner.

Benedick played by Garrick

Once we were inside and passed the bouncers, I was beginning to see what we had actually come to.  We were on a school playing field, the stage was a small platform which resembled a sheep pen but could have been set up for a hanging gallows and there were about sixty people sitting around it eating from their Tupperware boxes.  We set up our chairs and Will mentioned that this really was like going to a performance from the past.

Claudio accuses Hero of being unfaithful to him at their wedding.

I bought a programme from one of the actors and Will and I settled down to look at it.  Instantly, we were approached by a white haired, extremely well spoken lady.  She asked me if she might look at my programme.  So I handed it to her.  She then says “You don’t mind if I go off with it, do you?”  Will and I stared open mouthed as she sauntered off to her seat and started reading our programme.

Ellen Terry’s Beatrice will never be forgotten.

In front of us was an elderly man and his wife tucking into their picnic.  A hairy, round man in an Hawaiian shirt approached the elderly couple.  “George, you need to go up there and thank the town council, the Lions and the Ladies Guild.  Oh and tell them where the toilets are.”  George put his sandwich quickly into his Tupperware box and shouted “What?”  Hawaiian shirt then replied, “You’re the chairman – you have to go up and make a speech.”  George shouted “What do I have to say?”  After a lot of whating and  whoing – it was then suggested that George wrote his speech down.  At this point, I was beginning to wonder if that was part of the entertainment.  George frantically scribbled on his scrap of paper and Hawaiian shirt kept repeating town council, The Lions and toilets.

The actors announced that the play was about to start and Hawaiian shirt bustled back to his seat.  George looked flummoxed, he half stood up, hesitated and then landed heavily back into his seat.  I wondered if his moment of glory had passed.  White haired lady rushed over and handed me back my programme.

This version of the play was set in World War II with Beatrice and Hero as land girls and Dogberry and Verges as the Home Watch.  Incidentally, Beatrice and Hero doubled up as Dogberry and Verges with strong Welsh accents.  The play started and the audience had to sing “We’ll Meet Again.”  Well actually, “Much Ado About Nothing” didn’t start, it was a sub play which was about Land Girls waiting for Harold to come home from the war.  The sub play was performed intermittently in “Much Ado About Nothing” to give the actors time to change as there was a lot of doubling up going on.  It was a bit like having advertisements whilst watching the television.

Dogberry and Verges.

“Much Ado About Nothing” began and my heart sank as I watched Beatrice and Benedick in their movements.  For those who don’t know, to get a play ready for performance, the movements of the actors have to be worked out.  This is called “blocking”.  There was an obvious choreographed blocking sequence which was meant to look comical but it simply wasn’t rehearsed enough and it looked like a clumsy rehearsal.  Other times, actors were standing like spare parts waiting for their turn to speak.  Beatrice is one of my favourite Shakespearean characters but this one thought she was playing a principal boy in a pantomime.  All the way through the play, I expected her to heartily slap her thigh.

The interval arrived and the white haired lady rushed up to my seat and asked “You don’t mind if I take your programme again, do you?” and off she went with it.  This time she was standing behind the audience talking to another elderly lady and wafting my programme about proprietorially.

George rushed for the stage and very politely asked the audience not to use the trees or the grass as there were toilets in the school.  I think that was meant to be a joke.

In the past, I had always sought out very good productions for us to watch.  However, to help Will’s critical skills, I had told him that we will be going to all sorts of productions as I feel that it is as helpful to see bad productions as it is good ones.  I always feel it is helpful for children to go to live theatre if it is at all possible.  They have to study plays at school and it is a whole lot easier to write critical essays about drama if the teenager has been to quite a few performances to make it real for them.

Will’s eyes were wide during the performance.  He is very serious about both Shakespeare and acting.  His first words when we came out were “I thought we were going to a professional performance.”  It wasn’t irony; he thought that I had forgotten to tell him that we were going to an amateur performance.  He was happy to be there because he said that he had learned something very important.  He is appearing in a comedy on Saturday night and had been worrying about his comic timing.  He could see how off the actors were in their timing and that made him realise that he doesn’t need to worry about his comic timing because he obviously understands it.

Beatrice and Benedick from yesteryear.

The play did not get any better in the second half but I am glad I went.  There was a certain charm to sitting in the field watching the actors in the play and the people in the audience.  I never did discover what George was chairman of, but to be honest, none of it seemed real – it was more like a dream.  Maybe I went to see the wrong play.

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Shakespeare, Sexy Or Strangely Funny?

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

 

Shakespeare – Sexy or Strangely Funny?

 

This summer Will (the teenager) and I are exploring Shakespeare and comedy.  Initially, we are watching three different versions of “Much Ado About Nothing” to discover how widely interpreted the comedy can be by the director and actors.  Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed not read.   The audiences were  the ordinary folks of the day, mostly.  I often think that objective has been lost.  I think all too often now, Shakespeare’s plays, for many people, are thought of as something which the kids do at school. Unfortunately, if we don’t demonstrate to teenagers and children that this is not so, that they are to be performed and watched with pleasure, even if we don’t have to, this notion will be perpetual.  (For those of you who are not fans of Shakespeare, I am not only referring to his plays, I also include plays by Marlowe,  Johnson, Aphra Behn and all the other wonderful playwrights from around the world of yesteryear.  It is our heritage.)

 

The first viewing was of a filmed version of a performance at the Wyndham Theatre starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate.  This version was hilariously funny using visual action to elevate the humour in the text.  For more on that read “Turning Teenagers Onto Shakespeare – David Tennant and Catherine Tate”, under “Shakespeare Diary on this site.

 

The second version is the film starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.  This is made as a film in that the setting is an integral part of the whole performance.  Branagh’s version is mainly a love story as opposed to the one starring Tennant which is mainly a comedy.  Comedy in Branagh’s version is kept to Dogberry and Verges – the constable in charge of the watch and his deputy.  It is in keeping with much of Shakespearean comedythat the laughs come from the lower classes.  Well, that is how it is supposed to work out.Cover of "Much Ado About Nothing (1993) (...

 

I have seen Branagh’s version four times before I watched it with Will.  It is set in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany, Italy.  We see a large Tuscan home surrounded by lush gardens.  Girls in long, white, floating dresses languish around the garden and there is Tudor music playing accompanied by the sound of Hey Nonny Nonny.  The setting is a typical pastoral idyll.  It is a spectacle – there can be no other word for it.  Next, the men arrive.  We see young, handsome soldiers all in smart uniforms arriving in a perfect line on their horses.  They have got long boots on with tight trousers and buttoned jackets.  The whole scene is one of distinction between the sexes.  The ladies are at home waiting for the men to return and looking soft, gentle and dreamy.  The men ride in and look masculine and sexy.  Before I continue, I have to say that I have never been a floating, feminine, dreamy sort of girl.  My grandfather taught me to get a sneaky left hook in at the age of five and I can write feminist essays which will make the eyes run.  However, I have always thought that those men riding on their horses looked deliciously sexy and have always been transported by the whole scene.

I relished being transported to 16th century Tuscany and waited eagerly for the men to arrive on their horses.  They arrived, dismounted and marched up to the house in a line.  Will hooted with laughter.  He stood up and puts his hands on his hips imitating them.  He said “we are devilishly manly with our tight trousers and long boots.”   I wanted to shove the Crunchie I was eating up his left nostril.  I could see exactly what he meant but didn’t really want to.

 

His main criticism however, was the way Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro was depicted.  (Don John is the villain behind the plot when Hero is set up to look as though she is unfaithful to Claudio before their wedding.)  Will, rightly felt that the depiction was too much of a stereotypical villain to be believed.  We had a strike of lightening at one point before he entered a room.  Will was waiting for his villainess laugh – it came, although it wasn’t too cackling.  He felt as if the Don John in the performance at the Wyndham theatre was far superior.  He was slightly camp and not too obvious.  Villains of that nature work far better as they are far more likely to fool us.

DOHN JOHN

DOHN JOHN (Photo credit: URBAN ARTefakte)

If any readers of this have got teenagers, I would recommend that you try doing this yourself as an experiment.  It doesn’t have to be this particular play – it could be any.  Get your teenager to watch two or three different versions.  You will be amazed at how it helps their critical skills.  It is far easier to form a critical opinion of something if you have something else to compare it with.

 

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Six Great Reasons To Do Family History With Kids.

I love family history, I get to be the detective, I couldn’t be in reality.  I have been doing it with my son since he was about nine.  He is now a grown up and does it without me as he is crazy about history and has got a deep interest in particular families he has discovered we are descended from.  This isn’t a post about how to do family history – there are many great books and articles out there to help.  This is a post which explains a few of the reasons why it is good to share it with our children.

My great grandmother, Alice Escritt.

History becomes a reality.  When our children do history at school, it is always other people’s history.  It might be about monarchy, political leaders or wars.  It is nearly always about the folks who are known by many but actually connected to a few.  When anything is covered about the ordinary folks it can seem as bland as my cooking.  Growing up in Lancashire, we covered the cotton industry in history at school.  I remember wishing aliens would come and cause chaos as Mr Hall droned on about the warp and the weft.  Oh how that man knew how to kill any interest in The Industrial Revolution –  that in itself was a talent.  However, much as I would love to indulge myself in remembering Mr Hall’s secret educational weapons, I won’t.  When we look at our ancestor’s lives during these periods, we truly get a sense of reality, especially in periods which cover the censuses.  For instance, finding out that your great grandmother shared one room with ten other people and had to go into the street to get drinking water, really makes us think about the reality and hardships of their lives.  Family history brings history to life for children because it is about folks they are directly connected to, people whom they share DNA with.  It doesn’t get more personal than that.

Family History Mormons

Family History Mormons (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

Research skills.  Whilst having lunch with a teacher friend of mine, we decided that one of the most important skills a child can learn is to be able to research well.  Family history is a  productive way of doing this.  Children love to discover something about their ancestors and then grandly announce it to their parents.  When my son discovered that he had a 10X great grandmother called Frances Poo, he adored breaking the news.  Of course, I thought he was joking and had to check it.  He was right, of course.  The point is that family history makes children feel like real live detectives.  The more they find, the deeper they wish to go.  It is amazing how much this aids their research skills whilst having fun.

Francis Poo

England, Marriages, 1538–1973

marriage: 24 Jan 1598 Pocklington, York, England
spouse: William Fallowfyeld

Bonding process.  In this day and age, it is all too easy for families to be in the same house and yet not really be connecting with each other.  A lot of the time, families are all doing their own thing, even watching television programmes is done in separate rooms these days.  This is where family history really helps us bond with our children.  There is something really powerful about the moment your child and yourself discover something fantastic or heart breaking about a shared relative.  It is potent and strange and something which they could not get with friends, neighbours or anyone except the family.  When I first discovered that a great grandfather of mine had spent the last twenty years of his life in a lunatic asylum –I was totally shocked.  I was new to family history and it was the first of many sad or brilliant shocks which were to come.  The only people I could share it with, initially, were my son and my mother – both of whom were from the same ancestor.

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Days Out.  Sometimes, it is hard to think of something new to do with our kids or even somewhere different to go.  We often seem to do the same activities and visit the same places.  We’ve had some great days out though visiting the places where our ancestors lived.  It can be good fun to take photos of the children in front of the church where their ancestors got married two hundred years earlier or even just discovering a market town which your ancestors lived in but you haven’t been to before.  I found a fabulous pair of Punch and Judy doorstops for £5 in an antique shop whilst visiting one of the market towns my ancestors once lived. in  Although saying that, it can sometimes backfire.  We visited some record offices in Ashton Under Lyne in Lancashire – that was fine.  We then planned to find an address where some of our ancestors had lived in the early 1800s.  It had turned into a monstrously busy road with huge trucks zooming up and down it. It made me totally stressed so I really do not know what my 4X great grandfather and grandmother would have made of it if they had travelled forward in time.

Meeting Wonderful New Relatives.  We all have an amazing number of ancestors, so logically that means we are related to an amazing number of people whom we have never met.  We were lucky enough to be found by a wonderful Australian lady whose great grandmother was sister to my great grandmother.  When she came to England, she brought her husband and children to meet us and we all had a rare old knees up together.  My son found lovely new cousins whom he bonded with immediately.  It makes family history become real for children when they get to meet the descendants of people who are simply names and numbers on family trees.

Lancashire

Lancashire (Photo credit: Neil T)

Logic and Maths. When children do family history, they have to do lots of mathematical calculations and estimates.  It isn’t the hardest maths in the world but it means lots of practise with basic maths in a productive way instead of filling in one maths worksheet after another.  In the same way, they have to work in a logical manner.  Finding out about our ancestors means working methodically backwards and making sure all the facts fit.  We cannot start in the middle, we have to be systematic and it becomes a habit.  Children who take part in family history projects become adept at careful note-taking and fact checking.  They have to do the maths to make sure that what they have discovered is both logical and correct.

Happy hunting!

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Inspiration and Us. Enid Blyton is to Blame!

Enid Blyton helped make me the person that I am today so much so that my son’s middle name is Blyton.  Before anyone suggests throttling this author, who is no longer with us, for all the pain of Loony Literature which is thrust upon you – let me explain what I mean.

I love detective stories, they comfort me when I am depressed, ill or simply exhausted – that makes me sound like a bundle of fun, I know  – but I think you get what I mean.  I would go so far as to say that detective stories are my adult comfort blanket.  I can see I am digging myself further in here – chocolate, ice-cream, a glass of wine or even loud music are the usual comforters – stories about murder? Never!  It is all down to Enid Blyton.

The first story in the series.

The first ever detective stories that I stumbled upon were Enid Blyton’s Five Findouter Mystery series.  I am surprised that although most people have heard of the Famous Five and The Secret Seven, a lot of folks have not come across The Five Findouters Mystery series.

There was one aspect of these books which made them different from all the other books I read as a child and that was the character of Fatty – Frederick Algernon Trotteville.   Fatty’s life intrigued me.  It was how I wanted my eight or nine year old life to be.  He had a shed which he used as a headquarters and in it, he had disguises galore.  Fatty would use his disguises to fool villains and solve crimes.  I was so taken with Fatty that I started rifling my mother’s clothes and anyone else’s I could get my hands on.  I distinctly remember dressing up as a Russian spy and talking in a Russian accent – well, it was my idea of what a Russian spy was like in the late 1960s.  The point is that I still have dressing up trunks, masks and long gloves – the enjoyment has never left me.  When I have parties, they are always costumed and sometimes people are given different persona’s.  The character of Fatty is still sitting on my back, watching and motivating me.

Fatty in disguise as an old gypsy woman.

About six years ago, I stumbled across Enid Blyton’s eldest daughter, Gillian Baverstock purely by chance at a literary festival.  Unfortunately, I missed her event, however, I told her how much her mother’s books had meant to me and the lovely lady talked at length about her childhood with her mother.  It was heavenly.  Sadly, she died shortly afterwards.

Enid with her daughters, Gillian and Imogen.

Of late, we have had a television drama about Enid Blyton which was not exactly a rosy portrait of her as a mother and we have heard her books being slammed for not being politically correct.  I would like to say that her daughter, Gillian spoke with lovely childhood memories of her.  Furthermore, we live in different times from when the books were written, I am not condoning anything which is not politically correct – I believe in absolute equality and respect for everyone.  However, I think that if we try to remove all trace of past deviancy with language, we remove the memory of how it should not be – that, I think is dangerous.

Enid Blyton is also guilty of inspiring me to write.  The Findouter Mystery series has stayed with me all these years.  I think that as I entered my teenage years I realised that in reality I was not going to be a freelance detective who solved crimes whilst in disguise.  Subsequently, it went on the back burner until a couple of years ago when I was inspired by my son to create Will Blyton – The Alternative Detective.  It’s not the perfect solution to my yearning to be Fatty but I can be him in my mind – sort of.

Will Blyton having a detecting moment.

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Inspiration and Us – Childhood Books – Shakespeare’s Stories.

 

Touchstone the Jester from “As You Like It.

Inspiration and us – that’s the name of a new category for the blog.  The reason I am calling it inspiration and us, instead of inspiration and me is because I want you to think about how our lives and our children’s lives inspire us.  I would also be extremely grateful to hear of your inspirational experiences.

 

As a child, I had many books which I loved but as this is about what inspires us, I shall be mentioning the main sources of inspiration.  One of my favourite books was one which was passed onto me.  I regret to say that I have no idea where it came from.  It was a big book which had many stories in it.  My favourites were some of the stories from Shakespeare’s plays.  They were the plays written in story form with some illustrations.  I read them over and over.  One which sticks in my mind is As You Like It.   It was pure escapism.  The idea of people running away from their everyday lives and living in a forest, appealed to me greatly.  As a child, I loved the idea of dressing up and being in disguise.  Subsequently, when Rosalind dressed up as a boy and pretended to be Ganymede, I was in the story with them.  This is a story which explores sibling rivalry, romance, has a wrestling match and a court jester named Touchstone.  I am proof that the story appeals to children.  If the play had been thrown at me at the age of nine, I would have been put off by its beautiful, poetic language.  However, I was lucky enough to have the plays as stories first and so Shakespeare‘s work was adored by me even before I had read a play or a sonnet.

 

illustration of William Shakespeare reciting h...

illustration of William Shakespeare reciting his play Hamlet to his family. His wife, Anne Hathaway, is sitting in the chair on the right; his son Hamnet is behind him on the left; his two daughters Susanna and Judith are on the right and left of him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

So how has this childhood book inspired me?  First of all, I think the greatest proof is that my son is called Will after Shakespeare.  Incidentally, one of his main ambitions is to play Hamlet at the Globe Theatre.  He has never had Literature forced fed to him.  I was worried that I would do that so I have always been careful and introduced it as the fun, mad and exciting subject that it is.

 

My educational route would suggest that Shakespeare’s stories also inspired me as I have an Honours Degree in Literature and an M.A. in Creative Writing.  However, I think that the most telling aspect of it is in my writing.  In my children’s book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, I have a small boy trapped in a stone called Hamnet.  He has had a curse put on him by the powerful magician Corspehound.  Not only is Hamnet trapped in the stone but the curse is on his tongue.  He can only insult people.  Hamnet is actually Shakespeare’s son who died at the age of eleven.  The Bubonic Plague was rife at the time.  Little is known about Hamnet and so I wanted to keep his memory alive by re-writing his story.  Instead of perishing before his young life had really begun, I have him living on as a huger than life character.

 

An illustration of an undertaker during the Bu...

An illustration of an undertaker during the Bubonic plague. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I have already written about introducing children to Shakespeare by using insults.  Children love language if they allowed to be playful with it – this is why they love insults – they are naughty and delicious.  This was part of my enjoyment when reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my story book.  There was great emphasis on the argument between Hermia and Helena.  It is Midsummer, they are lost in the forest, it is a time of misrule and chaos and they are arguing over men.  Hermia calls Helena – “You juggler! You canker-blossom!” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II Line 282)  Later in the heated argument, Hermia also calls Helena “Thou painted maypole.” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II, Line 296) The enjoyment of the insults as a child turned to inspiration as an adult.  In Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, Hamnet is a master of insults; most of them are aimed at Will.  The first thing he ever says to him is “thine intestines wilt be mine.”  This is quickly followed by “thou wilt regret this warty nose.”

 

Washington Allston's 1818 painting Hermia and ...

Washington Allston's 1818 painting Hermia and Helena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We cannot change our own childhoods.  However, we can be inspired by what was thrown at us and mould it.  As writers, we can turn our experiences into what we want them to be.  Although we cannot change our own childhoods, we can guide our children’s inspiration and education.  Catch them early on with Shakespeare in the form of his stories.  Talk to them about the funny characters like Bottom, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who gets the head of an ass for a time.  If you missed out on Shakespeare first time around – you might be surprised at what you find.  Who knows, you or your children might end up being so inspired that you write a book too.

 

Emil Orlik: Actor Hans Wassmann as Nick Bottom...

Emil Orlik: Actor Hans Wassmann as Nick Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummernight's Dream, 1909 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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6 Great Reasons To Read To Teens.

6 Great Reasons To Read To Teens..

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Introducing children to Shakespeare by using insults.

Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three suited, hundred pound, filthy, worsted stocking knave…” (King Lear)  I hope, dear reader, you don’t think I am referring to you.   Perish the thought, no, I simply wanted to grab your swan-like neck and swing it in my direction.  I don’t want to insult you but I do want to talk about insults and how they can be used to help children be comfortable with Shakespeare’s plays.

 Children love Shakespeare if they are introduced to his works properly.  Unfortunately, what should be an exciting journey with The Bard often becomes painful, embarrassing and boring.  I say painful, embarrassing and boring because if the background work is not done, Shakespeare’s language can seem unapproachable.  It then becomes embarrassing because the learner feels stupid.  We all know that feeling when something seems to be definitely “not for us”, we cut off and it becomes boring.  I am a great believer, therefore, of priming children with Shakespeare’s works well before they reach the teenage years.  Children who have been introduced to the stories   (it is important that children know what is happening in story form well in advance of reading a full blown play) and aspects of the language are ready to read one of Shakespeare’s plays.  It is thoughtless to expect teenagers who haven’t grown up in a literary atmosphere or a book loving household to embrace a sixteenth century play without any former grounding.  Fundamentally, I cannot stress the importance of introducing children to Shakespeare in a child friendly manner.

This is where insults are invaluable.  I first came across this exercise whilst doing a day long workshop with The Royal Shakespeare Company.  It was used as a warming up exercise to allow everyone to relax and clear out those dreadful inhibitions we can suffer from.  Everyone is given a piece of card with an insult written on it.  It can be something like this quotation from King Lear:

Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.

Elizabethan music can be played whilst everyone swiftly marches or skips around the room.  When the music stops you turn to the nearest person to you and shout your insult out at the top of your voice.  They then shout their insult back at you.  The next time, it can be whispered in a sly manner. In essence, the insults can be said in many different ways e.g. angrily or with uncontrollable laughter. It is a very good drama exercise. The insult cards can then be changed around.  Incidentally, children, teenagers and adults love this as they are actually allowed to use insults without getting into trouble – it has that naughty, delicious edge to it which allows us to let off steam and then gives us the desire to learn.  It also gives Shakespeare a bit of street cred before he gets the label of boring.

As children love to be creative, I have added an activity so that they can create the insults themselves.

Activity

They need to take an insult from the first two sections below (both of these are adjectives) and then add it to the third section which is a noun.  Add ‘thou’ at the beginning and you have a lovely Shakespearean insult.

Section 1 – base, proud, shallow, beggarly, bawdy, filthy, coward, paunchy, gorbellied, puking, droning, dankish.

Section 2  worsted-stocking, pigeon-egg,  boil-brained, onion-eyed, elf-skinned, trunk-inheriting, clapper-clawed, milk-livered, lily-livered, doghearted, hundred-pound.

Section 3 knave, rogue, bladder, bugbear, pribbling, flap-dragon, boar-pig, barnacle, apple-john, maggot-pie, coxcomb.

For instance – Thou filthy, boil-brained boar-pig.

For any children who particularly enjoy the insults, I love Elizabethan insults so much that I have them all the way through my book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow.  Will finds Hamnet, a small boy trapped in a stone, who unfortunately hurls insults every time he opens his mouth.  He is, of course, from the Elizabethan period and has had a curse put upon him by the evil, Elizabethan magician Corpsehound.  His outrageous insults get Will into trouble everywhere he goes.

“Leave me be, thou fetid, old skanky breath,” says Hamnet.

 

So thou base, clapper-clawed rogue – I’m sorry it’s become a habit.  What I really mean is “until we meet again, dear reader.”

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6 Great Reasons to Work with Teenagers.

Teenagers have always got bad press.  It is because they are fresh, innovative and rebellious.  Almost nothing can beat their optimism and joy when they are doing well at something they love.  I see this when I watch drama students performing.  Less than 100 yards away, I  also see a group of teenagers spraying water bottles for no reason except that they are redundant.  I use the word redundant because it means surplus to requirement; when I see dead eyes I am sure that this is how many teenagers feel – surplus to requirement.  These teens might still be at school or they might be unemployed.  Whatever the case, they are still redundant in the sense I am using because they are not being directed into finding what makes them want to get up in the morning.  It could mean that they will never feel  fully part of society.  I know they are told that they have to pass exams and get a job.  However, this is telling them what they have to do – they need to find out what they WANT to do.  When young people have no direction, they do not know their place in society – they are out in the margins looking in.  On the other hand, when a teenager has a self directed goal, they don’t need to be pushed to pass exams or get a job.  They WANT to do both.  Work experience is a step for teenagers finding what they really want to do with the rest of their lives.  I believe that even if it is just an hour a week, we can ALL benefit from having a teenager working with us.  My teenage son works with me.  Here are just some of the reasons it’s great to work with a teenager.

Technology know how.  I use a computer daily but do tend to be set in my ways in what I use.  I can find out how to do new things but it all takes time.  Time is not in abundance in my life so I will not use new ideas or pieces of technology because I haven’t got the time to learn how to use them.  This is where working with my teenage son helps.  He sits at the laptop and works miracles for me.  He saves me hours a week.

Laughter and joy.  I have always enjoyed humour.  When something really tickles me I can laugh until I feel like I am wearing a Victorian corset.  A couple of years ago, I  realised that I no longer laughed like I used to do.  It occurred to me that the responsibility of family finances, a career, motherhood, a home and health issues had made me a bit of a serious person.  If I am totally honest, I was horrified.  I remembered a younger me and wanted the fun part of her back and quickly.  Working with a teenager can do that for you.  When we are in parent mode, if there is a problem the parent  sorts it out.  However, when we work with our teenagers – the problem is shared.  Teenagers are more likely to laugh when things go pear shaped.  I don’t mean serious issues but jobs which can be straightened out.  Teenagers giggle and it is infectious.  Some of our catastrophes have had us bent over double with laughter.

It encourages other young people to look at your business. When a teenager is involved in your business, it gives it a young appeal.  For instance, at Loony Literature, we are trying to inspire young people to read and write more.  We put videos and podcasts out to get young readers and writers interested.  My son appears in both videos and podcasts which demonstrates that we are not a group of adults trying to lecture kids.  Also, by having a teen in videos and podcasts, it encourages other young people to do something similar themselves.

It helps us see our business through a young person’s perspective.  The children and teenagers in the world at the moment are tomorrow’s customers.  As grown ups, sometimes we are so busy, we don’t realise that people and their needs are rapidly changing.  When we have a teenager working with us, if we allow them enough voice – which we should – we are allowed into the world as they see it.  For instance, I have been amazed at the way children and teenagers play together on the internet.  When I was a child, I would meet my friends and we would play in the nearby woods.  We lived in a world of our own make believe.  My favourite game was being on a deserted island – I know – in reality it would be a nightmare but that is children for you.  Adults constantly say that children don’t play any more, that they are always on computers.  What many adults don’t realise is that children play the same sort of games that they used to play but on the internet.  My son played a game about a time travelling café with other kids on the internet for months.  It was a whole complete world which they had made up.  They have also been secret agents uncovering a mole in a top toy manufacturer.  The use of shared creativity and playfulness is endless.  If I had not been lucky enough to be shown the world through a teen’s perspective, I would not know about of any that.  Working with a teen has given me an insight which can be used to promote Loony Literature.  I think this might be the case for many businesses.

Work experience. – At school, teenagers are nearly always with other people who are the same age as them.  It is often the same in college.  Suddenly, they are in the workplace and everybody else is at least twice their age.  It’s no wonder they can appear sullen.  Their past experiences of grown ups often falls into two categories –a) family and friends who they know or b) figures of authority like teachers.  Teenagers are often self conscious.  When they are thrown head first into a dual world of work and middle aged strangers, they often retreat into themselves.  This is why they need work experience before they leave education.

Confidence –  The last two go hand in hand.  Work experience, if handled properly, can give teenagers the confidence to pursue the career they really want.  As all ex teenagers will remember, it is a time of extreme highs followed by sky diving lows.  These are emotions which come and go like cats constantly coming in and going out again.  Confidence, however, is something which sits inside us and probably influences every decision we take.  Teenagers who are given work experience in a field which they believe is “not for people like them”, might actually acquire the confidence to gain the examination results and pursue a career, they could only dream about.  Surely that would make a better world for all of us.

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