Family explores city, dives into Shakespeare

Earlier this week my husband, daughter and I did two things we’ve been talking about doing for a while now. First, we spent some time outside and then we watched a Shakespeare play together. It was a big win for this homeschooling family.

We started with an urban hike in downtown Bemidji, Minnesota, the city where we have lived for the past 16 months. An urban hike is just a hike that doesn’t happen to be out in nature. I was first introduced to the concept by the Charlottesville, Virginia, Hike it Baby crew and I’m glad we did it here in Bemidji.

There was so much to see, including many murals, sculptures by various artists (like the Humpty Dumpty we took a photo with, above), interesting widow displays, Halloween decorations and more. We also stopped for some treats and coffee and tea to warm our chilled hands.

After that, some relaxation on the couch sounded good. So, we watched a recording of a Globe Theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I was a bit worried my almost 8-year-old wouldn’t want to watch long. As it turned out, we made it all the way to the first intermission, which was an hour and 45 minutes! We’re going to finish the last hour another day.

My daughter really enjoyed the fight scenes and seemed to keep up with what was happening, with some help. I was really happy we gave it a shot.  

I first got the idea to watch this play with my family when a friend posted about checking it out from her local library. She watched it with her two boys, one of whom is older than my child, one younger. Unfortunately, my library doesn’t have a copy of the Globe Theater production of that play so I decided to purchase a digital download from the website. It cost me about $16.

Prior to watching the play, we spent some time learning about the story. Our library did have William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was adapted for a children’s book by Georghia Ellinas. It’s a picture book that is easy to understand, appropriate for children around 4 to 8 years old and has absolutely beautiful illustrations.

We also watched a short version of the play put on by children on YouTube. I can’t make a specific recommendation on that, because the one we watched was OK but not stellar. Still, it helped us learn about the characters and the basic story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

All this background work happened previously. On the day we watched the Globe Theater production all the preparation done was to make warm drinks and wrap up in a robe (that was me) and pop a ridiculous amount of popcorn. (That was my husband, who considers popcorn mandatory anytime we watch movies.)

The only thing I found it slightly tricky was telling the various characters apart and memorizing their names, particularly the young lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius. Once we got that figured out it went relatively smoothly.

Early on, my daughter commented that she didn’t understand what was going on. I told her that it was OK not to understand everything, even as an adult who loves Shakespeare plays I don’t understand everything. I just focus on picking out what I can understand and spend the rest of the time admiring the costumes, the set and the acting.

We did stop the play a couple times to talk about what was happening but most of the time we just let it keep moving. Sometimes I gave a quick recap about what was happening, talking over the characters for a short time. I asked and my daughter said that was helpful. Other than the one time when she said, “I already knew that mom.”

After we turned off the play we read another adaptation. It probably would have made sense to read it before we started, as a refresher, but it worked this way too. This version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream came from Stories from Shakespeare by Geraldine McCaughrean. This was a longer version of the story, workable for older children but not above my almost 8 year old’s head. The publisher says the book is good for children age 9 to 11. I liked how this book included a few of the more well-known quotes directly from the play on the sides of the pages.

Since then, we’ve read about Shakespeare’s life and talked more about his plays. I told my daughter about the Shakespeare plays I’ve seen, including two I saw with auntie Jennifer. “Oh, auntie Jennifer likes Shakespeare,” she said. “I guess it runs in the family. Because I like Shakespeare too.”

I’m so glad we hiked downtown Bemidji and watched A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It made for a very good day. Now I just have to make sure we don’t forget to watch the last part of the play, while it’s still fresh in our minds.